Tips for speakers when presenting online

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No matter how much public speaking experience you have, presenting to an audience online rather than in person brings its own set of tips, tricks, and tools. For WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. speakers presenting virtually, we’ve put together a couple of tips to keep in mind as you (virtually) prepare for your session.

Prepare your station. Prepare your station.

First things first, you need to present from somewhere right? When preparing for your session, find a place that will be largely quiet and distraction-free. Let family members and roommates know when you will be on “do not disturb” mode while you focus on your talk. It may not be possible to be in a fully sound-proofed/quiet room if only our dogs could understand but do your best to minimize distractions.

This is both for you and for attendees. Interruptions, as unpredictable as they may be, can throw off the rhythm and timing of your presentation, which is neither fun for you nor your audience members.

Likewise, aim for a room with good lighting so attendees can clearly see you. Use a headset or microphone to ensure that your speech is clear and easy to understand, with minimal feedback or echo. 

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Familiarize yourself with the platform. Familiarize yourself with the platform.

As we explore new and different options for remote presentations that best support our communities’ needs, we may find ourselves using meetup tools that are new to us. Just like you wouldn’t leave your presentation and slides for the last minute, it’s equally important to orient yourself with the platform you’ll be using. 

Get this information from the organizers ahead of time. If they’re offering the possibility of a test run, take them up on it. If not, see if you can borrow a friend or colleague to share a brief, test presentation to make sure you know where all of the buttons are and can troubleshoot any issues ahead of time. Debugging new software on the fly can be a part of your presentation, but it’s probably not what you want to focus on.

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Figure out logistics ahead of time. Figure out logistics ahead of time.

Depending on the tools you’ll be using for your presentation, it will be helpful to know ahead of time who will be doing what. 

  • If there’s an emcee in your room, what sign will they give you that they’re ready for you to start?
  • If the software includes a chat or participation component, who will be in charge of reading those comments or managing a queue of questions?
  • Who will be sharing your slides on the screen and, afterwards, sharing them with audience members?

In order to make sure all of these things go smoothly, double-check with organizers in advance of your talk to confirm which tasks are on you and which ones they’ll handle.

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Seek and plan ways to incorporate audience participation. Seek and plan ways to incorporate audience participation.

When presenting in person, we’re used to many of the common ways we can encourage audience participation: asking folks to raise their hands, stand up for questions, applause, etc. The lack of this immediate feedback (such as body language) can be a big shift when presenting online.

Prior to your session, think about what ways, if any, you would like to incorporate audience participation and feedback into your talk. What would you do in person? How can this translate into the tools available on your screen?

If you ask the audience a question, can they share responses in a related chat or channel? Does the tool you’re using offer a quick poll or survey so folks can raise their hands? Will you allow video questions?

Aim to plan this out ahead of time, at the very least to confirm expectations with organizers as well. If you’re using a tool that allows video participants to ask questions, but the organizers aren’t planning to support this feature, it’s good to know that ahead of time. 

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Make eye contact with the camera, not the screen. Make eye contact with the camera, not the screen.

When presenting in person, connecting with your audience is more accessible through things like body language and eye contact. As you look at the crowd, you can see who’s engaged with your material, who’s nodding along, and who is folding their arms in skepticism. This type of immediate feedback both helps you as a speaker and helps those attending your session feel engaged.

While remote tools might not give us the exact same methods of connecting, it can help to make sure you focus on the camera in front of you as if it were a person rather than at your screen. It’s a slight change that can help audience members feel directly engaged by your speech, rather than just looking at the slides on the screen. 

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