COVID-19 pushed us several years into the future with regard to video communication technology. For the past few years, most of us have used Zoom or Skype for business. On a personal level, we’ve used our mobile phones to Facetime our friends and family. Now we have group meetings, virtual presentations and webinars on a regular-often daily-basis.
Zoom has become almost a generic term, such as Kleenex or FedEx. When people ask, “Do you have a Kleenex?” they really mean a tissue of any brand. When they say, “FedEx this package,” they mean send it overnight, even if it means shipping it via UPS or through the U.S. post office. “Let’s have a Zoom call” has become another way of saying that you want a video call, regardless of the technology.
Then there’s the term “webinar,” a word used to describe almost any type of virtual presentation. I really hate the word “webinar.” It’s a three-syllable word that is so boring, I start to fall asleep by the third syllable. Okay, I’m joking-at least a little. I’ve been involved in plenty of webinars that are actually really good. The content is great. The production value-as in the slides or videos incorporated into the presentation-keep the viewer engaged and interested. That’s what made me think, “I’m a professional speaker. I’m paid to get in front of people and deliver content in an entertaining, motivational way. Is appearing as talking head for 30 minutes with some slides followed by Q&A really what I want to be known for?”
The answer is a resounding NO. So, what should I do? Really, what should anyone creating or hosting a webinar do? You don’t have to be a professional speaker. You could be a leader talking to employees. You could be a salesperson making a pitch. A talking head with some slides is easily improved by considering alternatives to the norm.
Anyone taking part in an online presentation is imparting information to an audience. It needs to be better than a boring talking head. Slides help, but only a little. If all the audience really wanted was information, they could have read it in a memo-or, in my case, the book that I’m presenting about.
The big issue is that we are competing for the viewers’ attention. There are all types of distractions surrounding the viewers, including anything on their desk, emails and messages coming in on their computers, their coworkers and more. What can we do to get them excited enough to pay attention to what we want to tell them?
Consider that Hollywood spends millions and millions of dollars on special effects to keep the audience entertained and their attention riveted on the screen. What do we have? Again, a talking head with a few slides.
Here are nine ways to leave boring behind. While not quite on par with Hollywood (actually not even close), these ideas will help you capture and keep the audience’s attention.
1. Know what you’re going to present really well. Don’t depend on your slides. In the unlikely event that the slides don’t work, you must be able to present your information with clarity.
2. If using slides, consider adding images instead of words. You know the old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Obviously, you can’t put a thousand words onto a slide-you can barely put 10 or 20. Use pictures and add short captions if necessary.
3. If you are only going to use words, make the font BIG. Some of your audience may be watching your presentation on a tablet or even a phone. The screen is small, so the words must be big-which also means there can only be a few of them.
4. If you use video with audio, realize you are at the mercy of your Internet connection and that’s just one thing that could derail a good video. Remember that using video is a risk and be prepared with a backup in case it goes poorly. If the video has sound, make sure you manage that part of the experience properly.
5. Consider an alternative to the typical Zoom or Skype screen. Usually, when you share your screen so everyone can see your slides, the slides take up most of the screen and your face is just a small box in the corner. Programs like Ecamm (for Mac) and other software or hardware will allow your shared screen to overlay onto your image. Imagine having your slides over your shoulder or next to you as part of one image. Not having to share your screen is one less thing that could go wrong and it’s easier on the viewers’ eyes.
6. Consider an alternative communication tool other than Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. A streaming program like Streamyard can be used for live presentations. Rather than going through a traditional channel, viewers can go to a private or unlisted YouTube video and experience the presentation there. Viewers can type in questions just like they would for a webinar. The layout is very visually appealing and easily allows you to switch views, bring on guests and incorporate your slides in a way that keeps you at the center of attention.
7. Watch your lighting. It doesn’t have to be professional, but pay attention to how much sunlight comes in through the window or how your overhead lights might cause glare. Consider an inexpensive ring light that will give you even lighting.
8. Pay attention to your background. Some people think it’s fun to use the virtual backgrounds on Zoom. That’s fine. Everyone knows it’s not real, but depending on the enironment and lighting, when you move it could appear that you have lost an ear, part of your head or more! If you want to put a different background behind you, consider using a green screen. Or use a “step and repeat” background with your company logo and colors incorporated into it. Or maybe the bookcase behind you is already a perfect background.
9. Audio is more important than anything! Even if your video is good, not great, viewers will understand. They know they’re not watching a professionally produced television show. However, your audio must be great. Be sure to have a good microphone that doesn’t make you sound like you’re in a tin can.
If you use just one of these ideas, you will upgrade your virtual presentations. Find a way to incorporate better visuals, good sound and a good camera, and you’ll be on your way to delivering better Zoom calls or other virtual presentations.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.