Tips & Tricks

Creating great virtual presentations

Giving a Great Virtual Presentation

This week, we have the honor of presenting a professional development session for the Royal Statistical Society’s annual conference. Because of COVID, the conference is virtual this year.

There is no doubt that virtual conferences are different and come with challenges, but they also offer fantastic benefits and opportunities that in-person events can’t always offer. For example, virtual events can have much lower costs and have smaller carbon footprints because there is no need to travel. Plus, for many people it is a lot easier to set aside a few hours a day for a virtual conference than it is to set aside multiple days for travel. For these reasons, virtual conferences far more accessible than the more traditional in-person options.

However, it is important to remember that strategies for providing great in-person presentations don’t always translate well online. That is, you need to keep in mind that your audience will have a harder time paying attention to a computer screen for long periods of time, so your presentation should account for this.

Consider these three strategies next time you get to give a virtual presentation and you will have an engaged, attentive audience.

Keep it short

Studies show that micro-learning strategies are the best for providing audio/visual content in the online space. Your presentation should be no longer than 20 minutes, and that’s assuming you have time for Q&A. The very best informative videos on the web usually only have about 4-5 minutes of content max. Spend time thinking about how you can either keep the presentation short, or how you can break the content up into several smaller, more manageable chunks of time.

Take an engagement break

This goes along with the idea of keeping things short and sweet. Regardless of the length of your presentation, find ways to take a short break from talking to engage the audience. Ideally, you shouldn’t talk for longer than 5 minutes before you engage the audience. If you subscribe to the 1-minute per PowerPoint slide rule (which we highly recommend!), this means you should plan to engage your audience once every 5 slides. Doing this gives the audience the chance to stop and think about what you’ve said so far and refocuses their attention on the computer screen. Its a fantastic method to help hold their attention!

Your engagement techniques should be quick, easy, and take less than a minute to do. Some great examples include:

  • Ask the audience if there are any questions, then answer one or two
  • Post a poll for audience response
  • Pose a reflection question and give them a moment to think it over

Switch it up

The easiest thing to do is talk the entire time, even if it is for a very short period of time. If you are a seasoned conference goer, you probably already know the importance of using visual aids while you talk, which is extremely important virtually as well. Don’t ditch the PowerPoint presentation, it’s still an important part of virtual presentations!

However, it is also important to vary the way you present the information. Just a few ideas to consider:

  • Use an animation instead of a static image
  • Show a brief video clip from YouTube
  • If you have a co-presenter, switch back and forth frequently rather than splitting the presentation in half
  • Be sure to alternate between pictures and text on your PowerPoint slides

Don’t forget to vary the ways you engage the audience as well! Plan to use a combination of poll, Q&A, and reflection question breaks. Engaging them the same way several times in a row can get tedious.

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

Use these strategies and you will be well on your way towards creating an engaging, exciting, and unique virtual presentation!