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Big Presentations in Small Rooms

helping ordinary people communicate with extraordinary effectiveness

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTERS: USING THE SCREEN

PRESENTATION FEAR: LOOKING BAD 

As we discuss using the screen during virtual presentations, there are two things you need to know.  

  1. The fear of public speaking is a common fear.  
  1. The fear is not about speaking. It is about looking bad. 

For many people, public speaking is not an everyday responsibility. It is an occasional necessity. And because it is occasional, it is difficult to gain the experience needed to make it less stressful. We are comfortable with our daily work because it is extremely familiar to us. We know what we are doing, and we have months, years, or even decades of regular practice with those skill sets. 

But presentations are different. Our “up-front” time might be less than 8 hours a year instead of 8 hours a day. So, it is difficult to build the confidence that comes with experience. 

This article is part of a series of articles designed to function as virtual presentation fear busters. 

A previous article discussed the 3 Mindsets that help overcome that fear. This article will focus on looking good by using the screen wisely. We will add one mindset and then look at two ideas that focus on knowledge and application.

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTER: PROVIDING WHAT IS NEEDED 

Let’s talk about mindset. Our natural inclination to focus on ourselves can be a help or a hindrance. It depends on our motivation and our wider understanding. Here’s what I mean. 

First, let’s focus on motivation. In any presentation, our goal should be to provide what is needed in that unique situation. We are here to serve. We are here to meet needs.  

The Big Presentations Mantra says,  

Know your audience. 

Know your message. 

Make the Connection. 

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTERS: USING THE SCREEN

When you know the need and fulfill the mantra, you will be effective at meeting the need. 

It is not about looking good. It is about meeting a need. Looks are important, but they are not the primary goal. Looks help us reach the goal. Remember: the goal is to meet a need. 

Be motivated by a desire to meet needs. Looks are a means to that end. 

Now, let’s focus on a wider understanding. At the beginning of this article, we acknowledged the desire to look good and the fear of looking bad. That idea was not a revelation to you. Why? Is it because you are telepathic and can read my mind? Is it because you are prophetic and could predict my words?  

No. 

It is because this is a human condition. You want to look good—just like everyone else.  

Why is this a big deal? 

Because it allows you to focus more effectively on meeting needs—or in this case—a perceived need. People want to look good. Your audience is made up of people. They are not as concerned about your looks as they are about their own looks.  

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTERS: USING THE SCREEN
People care about how they look. | Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

If you are providing content or guidance that can make them look good, then your presence will be welcome.  

Once again, your looks are important, but not primary. You are here to meet a need and you know that the audience is more concerned with their own looks than with your looks. 

Meet needs. Make the audience look good. Do these things and you will—look good!

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTER: APPLYING THE TOOLS 

With that mindset in place, let’s turn our attention to the visual options available to us on virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and MS Teams. 

For most presentations, you have three visuals to consider:  

Your image (video) 

Your slides (text, images, and video) 

Your audience (video) 

Your Image  

You are the most important visual in your presentation. Participants will connect with an engaging presenter more than they will connect to a slide—even a well-designed slide. If you are invisible, it will hurt your presentation. If your image is too small, it will hurt your presentation. If your image is lost in a sea of faces, you guessed it. Not good.  

Remember, it’s not about you being an attention seeker. It is about meeting needs. To connect, be visible, and be engaging.  

Your Slides 

First, remember this: not all presentations require slides. However, it is a common expectation. Use wisdom. If you need slides, use them in ways that best meet the needs of your audience. And avoid “death by PowerPoint.”  

To summarize, people do not want to hear you read from a script… and they hate it when the script being read is on the screen. They know how to read. Why didn’t the presenter just send an email and save everyone time?  

Your slides should support your presentation, they should not be your presentation.

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTERS: USING THE SCREEN
Seek to present your information without reading it.

You are the presenter, not PowerPoint, not Keynote. You. That is why your image matters. When people can see you masterfully share your message, when they can see that you know your stuff, then they are willing to connect. 

Your Audience 

Finally, realize that your audience might be another set of visuals.  

And those visuals will affect your presentation. If you are presenting to a sea of black screens, it will affect the energy of the engagement. If you are presenting to video feeds of empty offices or video feeds of people multi-tasking, a similar thing will happen.  

The ideal is to present to video feeds of engaged listeners while knowing that their view of you is visually dominant to the visuals of each other. The ideal visual landscape captures the roles of audience and presenter.  

Once again, it is not about ego—it is about meeting needs.  

Your Options 

How do you create this ideal visual landscape? 

Here are some things to keep in mind. 

Regarding the audience 

Try to establish and maintain a culture of visibility. If you are working with a new group, this is easier. If you are working with an established group that has a precedent of turning off their video, this will be more challenging and will require more patience. It starts with the example you set and the directions you provide.  

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTERS: USING THE SCREEN
Support a “camera-on” culture. |Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

The least intrusive way to accomplish this involves before-meeting instructions that request attendees to leave cameras on. And of course, the example you set of being visible yourself.  

Locate your options regarding the visual landscape and chose the best one for your situation. For an ideal situation where all are visible, choose an option that allows them to see you and each other while acknowledging your role as presenter. 

Regarding the slides 

If you need slides, what type of slides are best? It depends on the purpose and the content of the slide. When you are sharing data, charts and graphs can be helpful. Once that information has been digested, then the focus needs to change. So, it would be wise to shift the focus back to yourself. Visually, this means your presence takes center stage.  

Quick internet searches will help you discover the most up-to-date ways of accomplishing this. Simply search the platform name and screen-sharing options. 

For example, search something like Zoom screen sharing options. 

It is also important to consider the content and layout of the slides. 

What font type and size are most legible on various screen sizes? If people are attending from their smartphones, will they be able to read the words and make out the images? Will the presentation be recorded? If so, where will the presentation end up? And how can it be accessed—on a laptop or a phone?  

Chariti Canny says it well in her article for Duarte.com. She says,

“screen size goes down—font size goes up.”  

How much content should be on a slide? This will be limited by the answer to the questions about font size and type. Also, keep in mind this fact–attention will be drawn toward whatever is on the screen. If you have three points and they all appear simultaneously, the audience will quickly read them and then be frustrated by your slowness in addressing them. Revealing them one at a time allows you to control the pace of the presentation. Remember that you do not need to have all the information on one screen. You can split it into multiple slides so that the font size is ideal, and the verbiage is not overwhelming.  

There is much to consider regarding slides. The investment will pay off in great presentations.  

Regarding your presence 

Now let’s focus on your personal presence. Your presence is the most important visual. This is true for in-person and virtual settings. This does not mean that your image must be the biggest visual at all times, but in most situations, your image should be the biggest for most of the presentation. An exception to this would be a data-driven presentation where your slide deck is a series of charts and graphs and there is very little storytelling or observation-sharing.  

Appropriately energetic audio and high-quality video allow your presence to be powerful. And since your presence is so powerful, it should involve careful preparation and practice.  

Consider what the audience will see and hear. 

Your body:  

What are the expectations regarding grooming? If you have facial hair, is it trimmed and neat? If you have no hair at all, do you have a glare? If you have long hair, curly hair, or spiky hair, is it controlled in the way you want? 

Your clothing:  

Is there a dress code? Do the colors look good on you—on video? Is your clothing uncomfortable in ways that create distractions (you keep tugging at the neck or adjusting the sleeves)? 

Your background:  

What is behind you? Are you in a busy place? Do you have options? Be purposeful about your location. Most platforms have virtual background options. Be careful with those. The blur around the edges of your body can be more distracting than your actual background. Sometimes they are helpful, but not always. Test your options and use wisdom. 

The lighting: 

Indirect natural light is ideal. Avoid being backlit. Purchased lighting for video can be affordable and portable. If you have the resources, this is a worthwhile investment.  

The sound:  

Thankfully, most computers have built-in microphones that are adequate. Within many platforms, there are microphone settings to help with background noise. If you can invest in a higher-quality mic, your sound will be even better.  

Your body language: 

You can look good and look bad at the same time. How? By being well-groomed, well-dressed, and having distracting or offensive body language. A combination of practice and video review can help. Be purposeful with the non-verbal messages. Sometimes focus and stress can look like anger. So, if this presentation is stressful and requires a lot of focus—be careful! If your body language creates the wrong perceptions, it can overpower the message you want to send.

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTER: PRACTICING FOR NATURAL DELIVERY 

We’ve addressed a lot of items. For each one, make decisions that will ensure the audience sees and hears things that will connect them to your message. Know your options. Make wise choices. And do your best given the limitations and the choices made. 

And then get to work preparing an effective message and practicing the delivery of it. Let’s focus on the practice. The more realistic the practice, the more effective it will be. Realistic practice also allows you to troubleshoot multiple elements of the presentation.  

You might discover awkward wording. 

You might observe issues with the slides—such as distracting transitions, typos, or messy image layouts. 

You might notice appearance issues (your hair, clothing background, lighting, etc.) 

You might hear problems with the microphone. 

So, practice as best you can with the time and the options available. 

The ideal is to run through it at least 5 times for familiar content and at least 10 times for unfamiliar content. The ideal is to run through it at least once with an audience—even if it is only a friend or coworker. The ideal is to record your practice and review it. 

Your schedule might not allow for the ideal. 

So, what does your schedule allow? Do that. And make the most of it.

VIRTUAL PRESENTATION FEAR BUSTER: CONFIDENCE  

You got this! In the Big Picture, you are in familiar territory. It is all about making connections. Preparation is required. And your skills will improve with time.  

You can honor these mindsets on any platform. Live in-person settings, live online presentations, or even recorded messages can honor the mantra: Know your audience. Know your message. Make the connection. 

So be willing to adapt. Use the tools at your disposal to make connections—connecting the audience to the message.  

Embrace the mindsets of connection, preparation, and improvement and you will overcome presentation fear and be on your way to making Big Presentation in Small Rooms. 

Want to know more? Start at the beginning and follow the blog at Blog – Big Presentations 

Would you rather listen? The same concepts are addressed in the podcast at Big Presentations on Apple Podcasts 

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