Clear communication in the age of distraction


30-08-2021
car sitting in front of computer screen

By Point Taken Training

A guide to presenting online via popular video conferencing apps.

Love them or loathe them, video conferencing and messaging apps like Teams and Zoom look set to remain as part of our work lives for the foreseeable future, with everything from job interviews to board level presentations now likely to include an online component. We look at some of the pros and cons of the rise of Teams & Zoom and key things to consider when presenting online:

Attention deficit

There’s a reason Hollywood directors like Christopher Nolan and big studios like Disney want you back in the cinema. For the type of movies they make, the cinema offers them the most immersive way of presenting their work – simply put, it’s the best platform for their new work to make its best first impression on the audience. Now, in a time where Covid has meant many of the movies that once would have been considered as “blockbusters” head straight into our homes via streaming services, many directors/ studios fear the impact of their work will be diminished or lost. What was ‘spectacle’ has been, they argue, reduced to the role of ambient entertainment – competing against tablets, phones and countless other household distractions for the audience’s time and attention.

Increased competition

To many of us who newly find ourselves Zooming or Teams’ing through the workday, this is a familiar plight. InterCall, the world’s largest conference call company, found that audiences are engaged in a number of activities while on conference calls: everything from doing other work (65%), to eating or making food (55%), to online shopping (21%). We may well bemoan the loss of control offered by a board room environment or the focus of a phone call, but while audiences have seemed keen to return to cinemas, the current wave of opinion is that Video Conferencing is here to stay.

Smile, you’re on camera

Most of us will be familiar with using video apps for internal meetings or connecting with family and friends but with many companies set to continue to offer remote work, many will now be holding external meetings or job interviews online and we are having to adapt our skillset accordingly. At Point Taken we work helping companies or individuals improve or learn new communication skills, covering vocal coaching, body language analysis and group presentation skills.

Here we’ll focus on some of those principles and how to apply them in remote video presentations when working from home, but if you’d like to know more about how we can help you with your communication skills, please get in touch at info@pointtaken.training.

Before presenting

Are you, your room and equipment ready? (or please don’t skip the basics!): Yes, this has nothing to do with presentation skills…and yet it’s still where most mistakes happen. Number 1! Software updates can happen near daily, and they can really affect your connection so PLEASE do check all your software is up to date before you begin here…

Preparing the room and equipment are two elements that need to be done together. Make sure your environment is clutter / distraction free – if using a digital background consider something plain – anything that can move focus away from your presentation should be avoided.

Make sure you pay attention to the position and placement of your camera; sitting too close is a common error here, keep yourself clearly in frame but don’t take up the whole screen. (You don’t need to lose too much time searching for a flattering angle but equally most people will appreciate not having to get too ‘up close and personal’ with your nostrils!)

Make sure your face is well lit, a light in front of you, shining directly onto your face is best, and your camera lens is clean (wipe gently with a lightly damp cloth – the lens I mean, but it’s also worth checking your face / hair / teeth ahead of the call too!)

Lastly, make sure you are in the right head space. Are you clear on your objective for the meeting/presentation? Have you cleared away all distractions and is your mind focused on the matter at hand?

Pro-tip. Make sure you are comfortable (but don’t slouch!)

If you continually have to shift yourself or your equipment it can break your flow / audience concentration, so take a few minutes to make sure your set-up is suitable for the time you’ll be using it. If you think you are going to get a numb bum, why not try delivering the presentation standing up? Remember the camera is always on you so it is good to maintain good posture.

Your audience is watching you. Try to build a connection with them by using eye contact (as much as is possible online) and facial expression. Get comfortable using your body language. Your audience may not be able to see it, but it really helps to add colour and expression to the voice. It also helps to project your voice better, come across as more engaged and it helps keep the airways clear to minimise the risk of a coughing fit. On a related note, it’s also handy to have some water at the ready in case of the dreaded dry mouth!

Test the sound:

Is your voice clear and echo free, is your breathing audible? Is there too much background noise?

Being in a quiet space and getting the volume correct is hugely important, so check your mic and speakers in the app settings. Use the record /playback here to test for the above before the call. If you use a headset, be sure to check for the sound of your own breathing and adjust volume or move the mic away from your mouth until the issue is resolved.

Test the length:

The longer your presentation, the more vital pacing will be – it can be a good idea to really practise speaking to camera. Most people have a tendency to rush if they can’t see their audience, so remember to look at the faces of your audience – it will help you gauge if they are keeping up with you. As a voice coach I very rarely have to tell clients to “speak faster and quieter” and very often have to say the opposite – so I suggest recording yourself and hearing for yourself, as it’s likely you could be rushing. If you must stick to a time limit, check you are using it to its fullest and not over-running or coming in short. ”Breathe. Speak clearly and slowly” – it’s probably the thing we have to say the most to our clients and should never be far from your mind - pacing is that important.

When presenting:

Begin with a sound check and an intro: Sounds simple but take time to ask everyone if they can hear you and wait for any sound issues to be ironed out before you begin. When everyone is ready it can also be a nice idea to start with a quick itinerary page, so your audience knows what to expect and how long to expect it for.

Breathe. speak clearly and slowly – it’s a basic that we all need reminding of from time to time, no matter how seasoned we are!
Top tip: Put post-it notes around the computer that say, ‘slow down, speak clearly’. These will catch your attention of time to time and act as a reminder.

What is your first sentence? Think about this to avoid “so, Ok, right” before you start the presentation.

Use slides to reenforce your words: Slides can help frame a discussion and keep focus on the topic at hand, but they can also detract from what you are saying and start the audience on tangents. Only use slides that are clear, concise and help you summarise your points. Unless you are specifically analysing detail, refrain from using slides that rely on close inspection to be understood. Make your slides stand alone and don't just repeat word for word what is on your slides.

Be prepared to repeat yourself and deal with interruptions: Although pacing is important, the reality is you’ll often have to deal with a variety of interjections, bad speakers, dropped connections or (in most cases) cats spoiling your flow – be patient and try not to get flustered – it’s okay to take a pause. The reality is you are far more likely to have to deal with unforeseen interruptions online, so just keep calm and carry on! If you really want to avoid questions throughout your presentation, take a moment before you get started to say that there will be time for Q&As at the end, so please hold all questions till then.

Breathe. Speak clearly and slowly – You see what we're doing here?

Use the camera to check in with and engage the audience: Without the direct feedback of a “real” audience it can be easy to simply go on speaking until the end – but attention spans can easily wander, so for longer presentations, plan intervals to summarise points and ask if there are any questions from the audience.

Please visit www.pointtaken.training if you would like to find out more about how we can help you or your team with communication and presentation skills.

 

 

Point Taken is a training consultancy specialising in building an individual’s ability to communicate effectively and with confidence.

PointTaken Training