How to Speak at a Virtual Event

Speaker tips & best practices from a professional moderator.

Virtual events have become the norm after the pandemic forced in-person events to go digital. While many of us got used to communicating with clients and colleagues over video, exceling at the virtual space and maintaining audience engagement can still be challenging. So, how can you be a better speaker, virtually? As the Global Head of Presenters at GDS Group and a professional moderator myself – here are my top tips!

Setting the Stage

Ahead of your virtual event, you’ll need to prep more than just your script and presentation. If you want to impress your audience and set the scene, you’ll want to prioritize these items:

  • Choose a Professional Background: If you want to be taken seriously and have all eyes on you, choose a simple and crisp background. How many times have you been distracted by a co-worker’s busy book shelf, interesting art work, or kids in the background? Choose something that looks professional and works with your overall event and message. Want to opt for a virtual background? Just make sure it’s not too busy and won’t key you out during your presentation.
  • Lights, Camera, Action: Great lighting is a necessity. The audience will need to see your face clearly, which means you’ll want to be lit from different angles. Try to stay away from harsh shadows by investing in a ring light. These lights can help illuminate your face, evenly.
  • Tackling the Tech: Knowing the ins and outs of your software is something to spend some time on. Do a dry run of your presentation so you know where all of your controls are. It’s important to iron out any kinks before going live! Have or hire a technician and ask questions on how to handle any hiccups that may come your way.
  • Top Tip: I would also suggest having a designated producer. This is someone that can have a back-up of your presentation, be able to answer or field any audience questions, and liaise with technicians and/or third parties. Once you are live and presenting, you don’t want to be distracted.

3..2..1..We Are Live!

As a moderator, I gauge the success of an event based on audience interaction and engagement. There’s no better feeling than seeing audience members nodding along to your presentation and popping positive comments and curious questions into the chat. However, audience members may lose interest if a presentation goes on too long. Cognitive scientists actually found that people seem to get bored after about ten minutes of a lecture or business presentation (Forbes). While some presentations will go over that ten minute-mark, how can you keep your audience attentive? I got you covered.

  • Share an Agenda: Similar to a newscast, giving your audience a sneak peek at the top three stories will get them excited for what’s to come.
  • Variety is Important: Don’t be afraid to add different elements to your event. Show a short video, bring a co-host or a guest up on the virtual stage, add a demo!
  • Leverage Interactive Polls: Platforms like Jugo allow for speakers to launch interactive polls with audience members. You can create the questions and multiple-choice answers ahead of time and be able to launch the poll at any point during the event. Jugo also lets you share the results with audience members in real-time to make for insightful discussion.
  • Cameras On: All speakers should always be on-camera. When your camera is turned off, many people may not form that connection or think they can turn their cameras off as well and disengage. Turning your camera on will encourage others to do the same – making it easy for you to interact and read facial cues.
  • Top Tip: When I host panel discussions, I always have a list of questions to ask, but treat them as a guide. Just because an event is virtual doesn’t mean we can’t have an interactive, organic discussion. After I launch my first question, I see who is nodding along and call on them next to ask what is resonating. I host a speaker briefing with my panellists ahead of time and encourage them to chime in and ask each other follow-up questions. The natural flow of conversation makes it feel like you are all sitting in the same room together and your audience will agree.
  • Audience Q&A: One thing desired about an in-person event is to gauge what the audience is thinking. This can easily be done virtually! Allocate time for audience Q&A. Encourage them to get involved and reference how they can ask questions or make comments multiple times throughout the event. A presentation shouldn’t be all about you.
  • Top Tip: Add a question or poll in your presentation and ask them to respond with their answers.

The End – But Just the Beginning!

An event should just be a continuation of more collaboration in the future. How can you encourage that? Here is what I think.

  • Make the Information Shared, Available: If you are able, share your slides with audience members. While some may have taken notes – others will not and could use that information you shared down the road.
  • Record the Event: Unfortunately, there will always be some last-minute dropouts or attendees leaving early for an urgent meeting. Record the session in full and share with your audience afterwards. This is a great way to gain visibility from others that may have missed the event.
  • Offer Contact Details: An event should be the beginning to future endeavours! Let the audience know how they contact you. Share email addresses, phone numbers, and LinkedIn/social media profiles.
  • Thank Your Audience: Thank your speakers, panellists and most importantly, your audience members for attending. It’s not easy to carve out a chunk of time when many are typically on back-to-back meeting and calls.
  • Top Tip: Proactively reach out to your audience post event. Send them a thank you note or message showing your appreciation while continuing that conversation.

Speaking at a virtual event can be daunting but remind yourself of the overall message. What points am I trying to get across? What do I want the audience to walk away knowing? What actions are needed post event? By breaking it down to these 3 things and following my tips above, you too can seamlessly navigate any virtual event. Best of luck and most importantly, don’t forget to smile 🙂

What is the difference between hybrid vs. physical in the event space? Read the difference here.

To learn more about how Jugo’s virtual event platform offering can help you to address the shifting virtual world, check out some more of our insights below.

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