Zoom Presentation Tips
September 8, 2020
by LIOR ZOREF @lior
Yesterday I watched a lecture by an eminent economics professor, a sought-after speaker from one of the leading US universities. His talk was delivered via Zoom. I could barely see his face. He shared slides and for 20 minutes he talked while showing a blank slide with 5 words in a small font. Then he moved on to the next slide. Again a few words in a small font, on a white background that filled the screen. Even if he was talking about something interesting, it was impossible to listen to him without wandering to emails, Instagram, etc.
It is no wonder that most people are sick of Zoom. Especially when it comes to presentations with no interaction, while the speaker shares a terrible slides whose sole function is to help him remember what he’s talking about.
Lately, I have been fortunate to deliver more keynotes than before COVID-19. The first lectures were difficult. Today this has become natural and feels like second nature. I learned how to interact with the audience and use Zoom to enhance the experience instead of working in opposition to it.
Here are some tips on how to present using Zoom:
* In both physical and virtual presentations, it’s critical to listen to and ‘feel’ the audience. The role of the speaker is to give value. When delivering presentations physically, it’s easy to feel the audience. We can see people listen, smile, hear their laughter and applause. With Zoom we need to work much harder to “feel” the audience. We need to learn when to look at the camera and when to look at people (in Gallery View). It is necessary to decide how and when to initiate interactions. In one of my talks, I suddenly saw a cat licking the face of one of the participants. I stopped and asked him to talk about his cat. This help create a sense of group intimacy during a Zoom presentation.
* We need to know how and when to ask questions. Sometimes people ask questions using chat and it is very difficult to read messages while delivering a presentation. Therefore, in big keynotes, we need someone external to help with managing the chat and bring important messages to the speaker (WhatsApp is a good option). We can also use surveys, polls and other interactive tools (there are lots of them).
* One common mistake is to start screen sharing with a poor PowerPoint presentation. Even before COVID, most PowerPoint slides were busy and mostly served the presenters by reminding them what to talk about. Zoom screen-sharing with such presentations is even more destructive because then you hardly see the speaker. They appear in a tiny box (this could be changed but most people don’t know how to do it). The role of the speaker is to decide when there is no value in the deck and it is best not to share the screen all the time – only when there is a valuable slide.
* I highly recommend showing videos. This is a great upgrade for any Zoom presentation. Zoom presentations are far more similar to a TV show than to a meeting-room presentation. The more things move on the screen, the more interesting the presentation is. You can also speak while showing videos that illustrate your point.
* Presenting with Zoom requires some technical skills (or asking for help). Do not sit behind an open window with sunlight, check and improve the quality of the microphone, make sure the camera is at face level (I’m tired of watching the ceiling or the lecturer’s chin), use a wired Internet connection, etc. You must master the mute function. For most professional style presentations, I recommend using an SLR camera, a professional microphone, a video mixer, a background designed for video, and more.
* It is important to understand that there will be glitches. Always. I have yet to have a faultless Zoom presentation. Sometimes these are small – small like a camera or microphone that stops working for a few seconds until the problem is fixed. And sometimes it’s something completely unexpected. A few weeks ago I went to deliver a lecture from a military base. I was alone in a conference room and the participants were at home and connected through Zoom. I connected the computer to electricity, had professional lighting and a high-quality microphone. Then, in the middle of the presentation, I discovered that the power was not working due to a fault in the electric jack, meaning that in a minute the laptop’s battery would run out and I would disappear from Zoom. I couldn’t fix the faulty electrical outlet and after 2 minutes I disappeared. I immediately connected using my mobile phone. To my surprise the rest of my talk was received very well.
* Do not forget the basics – give value! Teach, make people think, be surprised, laugh and get excited. Even the most boring business presentation can achieve all these things.
Delivering successful Zoom presentations is much more difficult than giving physical presentations. It requires far more preparation, technical skills and practice. It’s difficult to interact, difficult to deal with failures in real time, it’s difficult to receive feedback. This is hard.
But it is possible.
When you succeed, the responses can be nothing less than in a frontal lecture.
It’s especially exciting when participants come from all over the world. In recent weeks I have been fortunate to present in front of audiences in Dubai, Lagos, Australia, Singapore, India, Mexico and even one participant from Afghanistan. Here are photos are from a lecture I am giving tomorrow in Seoul, South Korea, at 3 p.m. To my delight the lecture is recorded. Next week in Connecticut at 2 p.m. This time live. What a crazy world.
Next week I’m delivering a virtual workshop on presenting with Zoom (in Hebrew). Here’s a link with more information.