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The Subtle Art of Online Speaking

Have you attended a virtual summit recently? Chances are good you have. If you’re like me you’ve probably noticed there are some speakers who are so good you can almost forget you aren’t watching them live and there are others who make it painfully obvious you are watching them online. So what’s the difference? How can you become the speaker who makes your audience forget they are sitting behind a computer screen? 

Here are some of Speaker Nation’s best tips to level up your online speaking and make you stand out as a speaker who brings top quality presentations both onstage and on screen.

01

STAND UP

I was competing in a Toastmasters area contest recently when I noticed something that disturbed me. Of the 5 competitors, three of them gave their talks SITTING DOWN! Can you believe that? I was shocked people thought they could win a public speaking competition sitting down. Unfortunately, this was just one of many examples I have seen of high level public speakers choosing to sit while they give their online presentations. 

As a professional speaker there are not many times when you would sit down onstage, perhaps during a more intimate moment you might sit down to shift the energy, but in general most great public speakers stand up so they can use their body language and movement in their speech. So why should the virtual stage be any different? 

Standing up dramatically shifts the energy of your presentation. It allows you to breathe more easily, move toward or away from the camera, make larger gestures, and most importantly it gets you into ‘speaker state’ the same physiological state you would normally be in on a live stage.

Taking the time to set up your space in such a way that you can stand up when you give your online talks will set you apart from so many other speakers and will work wonders for the quality of your online presentations.

02

Use A Good Microphone

Audio quality is perhaps the most important aspect of a good online presentation. Most audiences will tolerate low quality video, but bad audio is hard to listen to and fatigues your audience very quickly.

The built-in microphone on most computers can be sufficient for some things, but when it comes to professional level online public speaking it just won’t cut it. When I speak at virtual events, I prefer to use a lapel or headset mic just as I would use on a live stage.  This allows me full freedom to move around without my audience experiencing any changes in the volume or quality of my voice. 

Using a microphone that can be positioned close to you will also help to limit the amount of background noise that gets picked up. This helps the audience focus on hearing your message.

A microphone upgrade is an inexpensive and easy way to significantly level up the quality of your online talks.

03

Use YOUR CAMERA PROPERLY

On most devices, the camera is mounted above the screen. This means when you are looking at the monitor as you speak, your audience feels like you are not meeting their eyes. When you look directly into the camera the audience feels like you are looking right at them. But looking into the camera can be a challenge when you are looking at your audience or your slides on the screen. The solution is simple.

Use an external camera, and place it on a tripod directly between you and the screen.  That way as you look at the screen you will automatically be looking into your camera.  This creates a much deeper connection with your audience and makes them start to forget you are not in the same room. 

You can also use the camera to your advantage. For example, moving right up close and staring into the camera will make the audience feel like you are speaking to them personally, while moving away from the camera will make them feel like you are addressing them as a group. Using your camera effectively is one of the simplest ways to create connection with your audience even from afar.


04

good lighting

One of the mistakes I see speakers make over and over again in their online presentations is having inadequate or poorly positioned lighting. Cameras in modern devices adjust their setting based on the light in the image. This is an advantage because you don’t have to worry about adjusting the camera settings as you move around during your presentation. It is a disadvantage because it means one badly positioned light source can completely ruin the video for your online calls. 

Have you ever been on a zoom call and noticed sometimes you can see a person’s background fine, but their face is super dark so they look like they are in the witness protection program? That is the result of having too much light shining on the wrong part of the scene, and not enough light shining on you, the main focus. On the other hand, sometimes speakers will have so much light on them they become washed out and you can’t see any details.

Lighting is a tricky thing to get right, but it is worth spending the time to figure it out because having good lighting on your virtual talks will really make you stand out as a professional. As a rule of thumb you want to make sure you are lit at the front rather than the back, you want to make sure the light you are using is diffuse rather than direct, and you want to make sure the light comes from multiple angles to avoid creating weird shadows.

Positioning your camera in the middle of a ring light can be a cheap and effective way to really boost the quality of your online communication.

05

check your background

It surprises me how many speakers give presentations with messy bookshelves, cluttered desks, crooked paintings, family members, and so on in the background. It’s so easy to just start up the computer and get on a zoom call to give a talk that many speakers simply forget about their background. But for an audience it can be extremely distracting and hard to pay attention to a speaker when you are busy looking at all the stuff going on behind them.

Consider hanging a backdrop behind you so your background looks clean and the only thing the audience sees is you. Having a flat, single-coloured background also makes it easier for the camera to focus on you, which helps improve the video quality.

If hanging a backdrop doesn’t work for you, at least take the time to arrange your background in a visually pleasing way. Some basic furniture, attractive plants, or a simple piece of artwork against a plain wall can create a nice atmosphere and act as a set for your online presentations.

Some online conferencing software offers virtual backgrounds as an option. I think these are an interesting option for creating a good background, but you have to be very careful with them. If you use a green screen as your backdrop and you have a powerful video card in your computer, a virtual background can look very good. But I find, more often than not, virtual backgrounds look very fake and make it hard for me to focus on the speaker.

Ultimately the backdrop you decide to use is up to you, but the important thing is to remember to log in for your talk BEFORE the audience is there so you have an opportunity to check your background before you get started.

In conclusion

As a speaker who presents in the online space, it is important to pay attention to the little details that can really add to or take away from your presentation. Your message is equally as important whether you are on a live stage, a livestream, a pre-recorded webinar, or a video. The format you are delivering the talk in is irrelevant. You absolutely must do everything you can to ensure your presentation is top quality.  

If you find yourself doing a lot of online speaking gigs, or even if you spend a significant amount of time on video calls it is well worth the effort and investment to create a space to use a dedicated studio for presenting in. Find a quiet corner of your home or office where you can set up your background, your lighting, your audio equipment, your camera and everything else you need for your presentations permanently. This allows you to tweak your setup and improve it over time without the hassle of setting up and tearing down every time you have a speaking engagement. You might even consider doing things like running a hardwired internet connection to eliminate the possibility of WIFI interference or dropouts during your talks.  

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. But everything you can do to improve the quality of your online speaking engagements will help boost your appeal as a speaker. It will help the audience remember you in a positive light, and it will improve the chances of you getting booked on other online speaking platforms. Approach your online speaking with the same level of professionalism as you would approach your onstage speaking, because really the only difference between the two is the venue.

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