Strike the Right Note with Your Next Virtual Presentation

By Kelly George, CAE

Virtual presentations might not be your forte, but it’s safe to say Zoom meetings are here to stay. Temporary at-home workspaces have become more permanent, and web conferencing has become an everyday tool. Whether you’re presenting to staff, an organization you volunteer with, or the board, here are some tips to help you improve your performance.

Change Your Tune: Technology Adjustments

  • Position your camera approximately an arm’s length away from your face and aim to have it at eye-level. Similar to a headshot, or if you were standing across from someone at a desk, you should see the neck and some of the shoulders. A giant, dismembered head can be overwhelming and distracting so make modifications as needed.
  • Avoid backlighting as it will cast a shadow. When possible, have natural light facing you. If needed, bring in supplemental light (Amazon sells some for around $20), or experiment with virtual backgrounds and using a spare monitor with a white webpage on display to cast more light on you. Not only can virtual backgrounds hide messes or kids/animals popping in, but they can actually enhance your picture.
  • Close out all other windows and applications. The last thing you need is a chat popping up that was meant for your eyes only. Consider kindly asking your audience to do the same so they can focus on you. This minimizes distractions and maximizes bandwidth.
  • Join early and test your equipment. Allow yourself time to troubleshoot should unexpected issues arise upon connecting so that others won’t be waiting on you.
  • Utilize the engagement tools available to you – show videos, poll the audience, encourage them to type in the chat.

All the Bells & Whistles: Web Conferencing Pro Tips

  • If you’re utilizing notes, hold them up, under your camera. This allows you to maintain eye contact more so than if you were looking down at them on your desk. Play around with the placement to find that sweet spot where you can hold the notes or prop them up just right to where they aren’t visible, and you’re still looking up.
  • Consider adding a secondary, muted device off to the side such as a tablet, which is also connected to quickly see what the attendees are seeing at any given point.
  • If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the “Touch Up My Appearance” feature under the Video Settings on Zoom; it’s almost as good as those amazing Instagram or Snapchat filters that hide your wrinkles and smooth your skin tone!
  • Wear pants. Always wear pants – just in case! While it’s tempting to stay in those PJs, if you feel put together, you’ll feel more confident, so do your hair or makeup, put on your accessories, and get dressed as if you were going to an in-person event.

The Same Old Song & Dance: Public Speaking Principles that Remain Important

  • Vocal variety & body language – vary your pitch, speed and volume. Smile and don’t be afraid to use hand motions. Be animated, have energy. If you look excited to be there, it’s more likely the viewers will walk away with a positive impression.
  • Keep it short – while being concise is always important, when people are suffering from Zoom fatigue and/or have more distractions than usual, the need to choose your words carefully and not ramble is even more critical to hold their attention.
  • Plan for intentional pauses to breathe.
  • Be yourself and have fun. Just as with a live presentation, don’t worry about memorizing presentations word for word. Be familiar with the content and imagine you’re communicating it to a friend. You’re always your toughest critic – remember that the people on the other end are likely rooting for you and wanting you to succeed.

Like so many other things in life, practice makes perfect. I encourage you to join Toastmasters, organize a regular Zoom social with friends, participate in training session with coworkers, or just sign up for as many interactive virtual education sessions as you can until you feel more comfortable and have the ideal setup. Pull out all the stops and you’ll surely strike the right note. If it’s done well, you may even receive a request for an encore!

Kelly George, CAE is the Director of Membership, Marketing & Communications, Wilderness Medical Society and 10-year TASE member. She is the VP, Public Relation for TSAE Toastmasters and recently earned her Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award. For more information on TSAE Toastmasters, visit

Photo credit: Lloyd

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