Unit 9: Speaking to an Online Audience
You may be asked to deliver a presentation online, which can take on various forms. However, online presentations contain most, if not all, of the elements of presenting that we have studied so far. Your presentation aids should be the same regardless of the delivery method. You should incorporate the same elements of presentation style we have discussed throughout this course. The particular format of your delivery largely depends on the technology your audience has available.
In this unit, we examine some common online environments and technical guidelines you should follow to ensure a smooth and professional delivery online.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.
9.1: Presenting Online
First, we review an overview of online public speaking. Then we explore three broad categories of digital presentation environments: live, recorded, and webinars. During a live presentation, you meet with your audience during the same or "real" time (synchronously), via audio or video conferencing. Some use the phrase teleconferencing. A recorded presentation is delivered and watched by the audience at a later time (asynchronously). Webinars are presented to a "live" digital audience, but usually recorded for those who want to watch it later.
A mixed delivery format refers to presentations given to live audiences and recorded for later viewing. A webinar resembles a live face-to-face presentation given to an online audience, although you may not be able to see everyone in the audience. The communications software, such as Adobe Connect, Skype, WebEx, or Zoom, allows you to share your presentation aids or slides, such as a PowerPoint presentation. You can also record your presentation for those who want to watch it later.
It can be difficult to interact with a large group when there are technical limitations, but most software platforms have creative interactive tools to engage your audience. For example, you may be able to see several audience members at once via multiple webcams, poll the audience for feedback, offer closed captioning, share documents, or display other websites during your presentation. Most webinar platforms have a chat-room discussion board, so you and your audience can type in questions, share links and resources, and converse digitally with other participants.
9.3: Guidelines for Online Presentations
While many presentation formats are available, some general guidelines can help you take advantage of some standard features. The preparation advice we have discussed so far still applies!
9.3.1: Screen Presence and Camera Placement
Anticipating what your audience can see throughout your presentation is especially important in an online space. For example, can you control the video transitions between your face and your presentation aids? Can your audience see your head and shoulders at all times? Should you sit or stand during your presentation? Will others be part of the presentation? If so, where should they put themselves for maximal effect? How much material can you cover during your presentation time?
Make sure your camera frame includes a small amount of headroom (the space above your head). When you are seated, the camera should capture everything above your ribs. When you are standing, the camera should capture everything from your waist up. In all cases, make sure you are wearing the clothing you want your viewers to see, but plan for last-minute changes if you want to portray professional business attire. For example, you may not want to wear jeans with your business suit jacket if you need to stand up during your presentation.
Most webinar platforms allow you to use the camera on your computer so your audience can see you during your presentation. Consider adjusting your camera location, lights, and microphone to maximize quality. Make sure your room is lit appropriately, with all sources of light originating from behind the camera, so you do not appear as a shadow. Also, ensure the camera can focus clearly on all of the people and items that will be part of your presentation that you want your audience to see.
Whether you present from your office space or home, focus your camera on a blank wall space to eliminate distractions. If that is not possible, clean up your office shelves and remove any mess from your camera shot. You do not want to include anything that will distract your audience from their connection with you and your message.
Taking your surroundings seriously demonstrates you are fully present to your audience. Put the cat in another room, the dog outside, the kids next door, and attach a sign to your door that communicates your need for privacy. Avoid anything that can make noise, including your phone, doorbell, air conditioning unit, and street traffic. Finally, close out any personal and irrelevant applications on your computer that could interrupt your presentation, such as email or messaging alerts.
9.3.4: Sound and Vocal Delivery
Test your sound equipment to make sure it works the way you want it to. For example, some microphones garble or distort your voice if you speak too loudly or are sitting too far away. Some limit your range or voice dynamics. You may need to ask your audience to adjust their volume controls if your microphone does not adequately broadcast your voice.
9.3.5: Eye Contact
It can be difficult to make proper eye contact with your audience during an online presentation. Often, you will want to look down at your computer rather than at your webcam to view your slides, monitor the conference chat room, and watch for your audience's reactions. Try to look directly into the camera, as if you are looking into your audience's eyes. Glance briefly at your screen from time to time to check on audience reactions and monitor other aspects of your presentation. When you receive a comment or question, it is better to look at your computer monitor to gather more information from your questioner and get a better message.
How you hold yourself reveals what you feel about the topic and the presentation. It is easy to forget people are watching you when you are alone in a room with a camera. Maintain a strong posture and avoid leaning back in your chair or slouching on your desk. Keep your back straight and maintain eye contact with the camera. Glance at your audience to read their feedback, but present to the camera as much as possible to help them feel you are presenting directly to them.
Keep in mind that your space is limited, and small movements can take you out of the picture. Do not place your hands in front of your face because it will hide you from your audience. Also, because the camera's scene is so small, your movements will be amplified onscreen. Limit your movements as much as possible, but make sure any gestures you wish to display are within the camera's viewing area.