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Going Remote: A Guide to (Not So) Public Speaking

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Simon Deignan2021-05-03
2020 certainly threw us in at the deep end. The unexpected mass exodus from office buildings across the world left us with no time to prepare for our ‘new normal’. Those ‘How to Speak in Public’ search results began to seem outdated and irrelevant, especially as people began using video conference tools 50% more than ever before.

All of a sudden, our live audience was gone, replaced by tiles on a screen. Worst of all, we were presented with a small distracting tile of ourselves. But how exactly can we become better digital speakers?

The art of digital speaking 

Whether speaking from our kitchen, upstairs office or commandeered children’s room, we quickly learned that speaking to a remote group was a unique experience. Many of us struggled in the beginning but now we have some useful tips on how to improve this experience. 

1. Imagine you’re on set

No longer will we take for granted the comfort of a fully equipped meeting room with a stable internet connection and minimal distractions. To recreate this comfort be sure to treat your space as if it were a TV studio. Your surroundings need to be as professional as you are.

First and foremost, be sure to look at your preview screen and ensure that nothing noteworthy is in the back of shot - no Starbucks cups, no distracting lights and no chance of unwanted guests! Also, be sure to position your webcam at eye level also so you really appear like a real news presenter

2. Where to look?

For years we have been taught to maintain eye contact in order to appear confident, assured and engaged. But what do we do when those eyes are just pixels on a screen? It’s so easy to get distracted by the image of ourselves that appears on screen, scrutinizing our hair or our complexion. But remember to focus on the webcam. 

This is not to say that we need to stare ceaselessly into the webcam; think of it more as a reference point. Continue to look at your presentation or the images of your audience when you get into a good flow, but be ready to refocus on the webcam. Much like eye contact, this helps promote a sense of confidence. 

3. Don’t forget to move

This may not seem like a big deal but, for someone like me who walks around the room and gestures frequently when presenting, the transition from a standing position to a seated one was unsettling. A sedentary position can make us appear wooden or, even worse, seem unenthusiastic; something we desperately want to avoid. 

It can be tough to feel at ease when speaking digitally but trying to express yourself just as you would in person can help smooth the transition. Hand movements, gesturing and smiling are just some of the tips Eileen Smith promotes. If possible, try standing. Now, setting this up may be tricky but this is a great way to transfer some of our public speaking experience to our new digital speaking learning process.

4. Allow for tech issues

‘Wait... I can’t hear you? But can you hear me… no… why not?’ This has been a constant refrain this past year. Tech problems happen and oftentimes there is little we can do to avoid them. First things first, make sure your internet is stable and running smoothly. Minimizing issues on your end will go a long way to relieving any stress or anxiety you may experience. 

As for your audience, note down a list of common problems and be prepared to troubleshoot (here’s a good starting point). Asking people to arrive to the meeting a few minutes early can help identify and clear up any potential issues without eating into your allotted time. If possible, record the meeting so those with connection issues don’t miss out. 

5. Structure your Q&As

Can’t stop interrupting an audience member during a Q&A? Too many people talking at once during a discussion? These awkward moments can be limited with a little bit of planning and some clear instructions.

See yourself as a moderator and encourage those listening to use built-in chat and Q&A features. Structure this period and use it to your advantage. Participants excited to engage with a speaker can often over complicate or fail to pose a question. Writing their thoughts in a chat or Q&A feature - like ours here at Mentimeter - can help them structure their thoughts while maintaining brevity. 

A skill for the future

While some may be raring to get back to the office, others will be hesitant to go back to how things were. A study by Forbes Insights notes that ‘88% of executives say their companies plan to increase their use of video conferencing.’ So where exactly does that leave us and what are meetings going to look like in the near future?

The rise in video communication will soon combine with in person meetings and our future will resemble something of a hybrid scenario. Soon (if not already) we will presenting in front of both a live and online audience and thus both public and digital speaking skills will be required. 

The skill of digital speaking is only going to become more and more important as we approach another ‘new normal’. Mentimeter is here to help you make these online meetings, conferences and talks more engaging and interactive.  

Be sure to check out our blog for more resources on navigating the world of presentations.  

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