No matter how many presentations you’ve led, it’s normal to have butterflies.
Especially if you're hosting a virtual presentation for the very first time.
A virtual presentation is when both the host and the audience attend the presentation remotely, whether it be from home or an office building across the country.
It’s understandable to be unsure of how to approach a completely virtual presentation. You not only have to consider the design of the slides but also how to keep a remote audience engaged from afar.
As technology and presentation software evolves and the demand to move presentations virtual continues to increase, it’s in your best interest to master the skills needed to lead an effective virtual presentation.
How to create a virtual presentation
Before you can sit down and turn your webcam on, you first have to map out how your virtual presentation will look from start to finish.
Choose the right presentation software
The first step in creating a winning virtual presentation is to choose which presentation software you’ll use. While building well-designed slides can go a long way, the right presentation tools can make it easy, even if you’re not especially tech-savvy.
Some benefits of using presentation software include:
Being able to communicate in an organized and digestible way
Engaging listeners of your presentation visually and orally
Providing the slide deck as a post-presentation resource
Converting listeners to leads through interest and engagement
No matter your industry or the reason you’re turning to presentation software, you’ll feel empowered to create an eye-catching visual that will hopefully engage your audience long after the presentation is over.
As you create and map out your presentation, don’t forget that your audience can only remember and retain so much information at once. This is called cognitive load theory, and it’s important that you respect your audience and how much they can handle.
With cognitive load theory in mind, keep your presentation as simple as possible, and don’t be afraid to find ways to stretch out your content to help break down the information into bite-size pieces.
Put yourself into the shoes of your audience. It’s likely that when they see a slide with a long list of bullet points or multiple paragraphs of text, their eyes will start to glaze over and they’ll lose interest fast. If you find yourself creating a slide like this, consider breaking it up into three separate slides.
Use colors effectively
When building out your slides, don’t forget about color. While in some cases you may be limited to brand-specific colors or company brand guidelines, sometimes you’ll be able to get more creative with the type of slides to include.
When this is the case, pay attention to the specific color scheme you’ll want to use. Steer clear of anything hard to read or overly flashy. If anything, the colors you choose need to complement the purpose of the presentation and the points you’ll be making.
For example, you may consider going with a complementary color scheme if you’re explaining two distinct elements and how they differ from another.
Create meaningful titles
On a similar note, consider the titles of your slides and make sure they’re meaningful. The title of each slide plays an important role in your virtual presentation, as they let viewers know the context for what is being discussed.
They also help viewers follow the presentation more easily, especially those who may be viewing the slides post-presentation.
Choose a safe font
When choosing a font type, make sure it’s easy to read on your slides.
It’s in your best interest to steer clear of script typefaces that have a more formal and decorative vibe, as they can be difficult to read and often won’t match the tone of your presentation.
Pick something traditional that people are familiar with, and keep it consistent across all of your slides. You should also consider how fonts will look across varying devices by factoring in smaller and larger screens where the font may be skewed.
Limit the amount of data you present
Certain elements will enhance your virtual presentation and some will simply be distracting.
While charts and diagrams can help present data more convincingly, presenting too much data can overwhelm your audience. Instead of explaining and making data appear clearer, it will only confuse them further.
This goes back to what we previously discussed about cognitive overload. It’s best to only use charts and graphs as needed, like when the information being shown needs to be simplified.
Related: Unsure of which chart or graph will show your data in a clear and concise way? Discover the 67 types of data visualizations you can incorporate into your virtual presentation.
The same can be said about transitions and animations. Because your virtual presentation will be shown over the internet, there is always a chance that you may experience some lag or that some audio elements will be out of sync with the presentation, depending on the quality of each viewer's connection.
Because of this, keep animations and slide transitions to a minimum. They’ll only be a distraction to your audience if they’re overused.
Make the most of white space
If you know a designer, they’ll tell you just how important white space can be. While you may not be able to pinpoint when it’s used properly, you’ll know when it’s not.
In your virtual presentation, white space is any clear and empty space around the elements of your slides, like images, titles, and text boxes. When you have enough white space incorporated, each slide will be easy to read and will appear less busy. It will also make it easier for you to convey the desired message of the presentation.
6 tips for giving a successful virtual presentation
Once you have your slides created, complete with meaningful titles, effective white space, an easy-to-read font, and simple diagrams, it’s time to actually present your virtual presentation.
Before you turn on your webcam, there are some tips to follow to ensure success.
1. Plan ahead
You may think that planning ahead simply means creating your slides before the eleventh hour… but there’s more to it than that.
Use a professional background
There are certain elements you’ll need to consider before you begin. For starters, your virtual background.
While you may think your refrigerator and vintage tapestry look great, they aren’t ideal backgrounds for your virtual presentation. Take the time to ensure that whatever is behind you is visually appealing, isn’t distracting, and doesn’t showcase the cluttered corner of your living room.
Some video conferencing software offers virtual backgrounds that take the guesswork out of determining if your apartment is camera-ready or not.
Invest in some basic lighting
Looking to really shine? Then you need some decent lighting that isn’t just a tableside lamp.
While natural lighting is good, it can be incredibly unpredictable. Maybe a rogue cloud will go in front of the sun and your face will all of a sudden be in a shadow.
You don’t need to purchase anything overly fancy or expensive, but if virtual presentations are something you plan on doing more than once, it’s worth the investment. Even something as simple as a ring light can make a big difference.
We’ve all heard the jokes about only getting half-dressed for virtual meetings, meaning you wear a professional shirt paired with sweatpants or workout shorts.
When presenting, you must take the time to dress professionally from top to bottom. After all, you never know when you may have to unexpectedly stand up and blow your cover.
When planning an outfit, go with something simple. Don’t pick a shirt with a crazy pattern or one that’s neon green. Your outfit needs to be able to translate on camera, and anything too busy can be distracting.
Layout a schedule
Whether you do so to eliminate nerves or to remain organized, you should always create an in-depth schedule of how your virtual presentation will go.
For example, as the host of the virtual presentation, it’s imperative that you start on time. There’s no such thing as being fashionable late when you’re the host.
However, you may experience that some attendees are a little late in joining. Because of this, consider having two openings. One that is “soft” and designed to get your audience engaged without diving too deep into the content, and another that will be your “hard” opening. This second one will be reserved for when everyone, or almost everyone, is in attendance.
Also, be respectful of your audience’s time and end promptly as well. They may have other meetings to attend to or a child to pick up from soccer practice. At the very beginning of your presentation, make it clear how long it’s expected to last and if there will be time for questions at the end.
Make sure to provide your presentation schedule ahead of time so your audience knows exactly what to expect.
When it comes to giving your virtual presentation, it's in your best interest not to "wing" it... meaning make sure you practice beforehand!
This includes not only running through your slides and what you want to say a few times, but also practicing how to use the software and setting up your background.
Once you've given it a few run throughs, listen to how you sound. This is where you'll be able to test the audio to make sure there aren't any playback issues. You'll also be able to listen to ensure your pace isn't too rushed.
2. Know your audience
Understanding your audience is an absolute must when presenting virtually. Find out who they are, why they decided to join, and what pain points your presentation can hopefully solve.
Also, find out where they’re located so that any main objectives you plan to touch on translate across varying cultures if necessary.
3. Vary the content
When presenting in person, whether at work or at a conference, you can keep your audience’s attention by making eye contact and through specific body language. When presenting virtually, your content will have to do the heavy lifting.
Because of this, you’ll want to vary the type of media that they can interact with.
Keep in mind that you’re not trying to overdo it or overwhelm your audience, but rather you’re making an effort to combat the boredom that comes with seeing slide after slide of bulleted points and paragraphs.
4. Use engaging slides
Add engaging elements to your slides in order to avoid slide hypnosis. To make your audience feel like they’re involved with your presentation, consider incorporating surveys, polls, or a Q & A session at the end of the presentation.
However, make all engagement worthwhile and not a fluff piece of the presentation. When asking the audience a question, make it meaningful and ensure that it has value.
Also, when planning the run time, don’t forget to factor in time for interaction so it doesn’t fall to the wayside or feel like you’re rushing through it.
If you’re presenting from your home office, put your smartphone out of arm's reach, and don’t forget to turn it on silent.
Turn “Do Not Disturb” on for any notifications that may sound from the device in which you’re conducting the presentation, like email or text messages. Not only will this be distracting for you as you present, but your audience will hear these notifications on their end.
Also, close the door of your home office or wherever you’re presenting so you don’t get distracted by a pet that may wander nearby. It will also help to drown out any noise from other members of your household that your audience may be able to hear.
6. Keep the conversation going
When your virtual presentation is wrapping up, make sure to end on a thought-provoking note. Whether it’s asking a question or even giving your audience some homework to complete on their end, it’ll help to engage your audience long after it’s over.
Also, don’t forget to ask for feedback from your audience or encourage them to engage with you on social media to discuss any points further.
Break a leg!
You’re now ready to lead an engaging and well thought-out virtual presentation. Go through these steps and tips every time you have a presentation to create.
Don’t forget to have some fun along the way, laugh with your audience, and roll with the punches.
Take your learning one step further and explore five expert tips on how to create an effective marketing presentation.
Mara is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at G2. In her spare time, she's typically at the gym polishing off a run, reading a book from her overcrowded bookshelf, or right in the middle of a Netflix binge. Obsessions include the Chicago Cubs, Harry Potter, and all of the Italian food imaginable. (she/her/hers)