A step by step guide to using visuals online to enhance your virtual presentation rather than a dull, listless voice-over PowerPoint by Paul Archer from Archer Training The Real-World Comparison
Let me take you back to the last in-person presentation that you enjoyed. I think you can recall a good presenter engaging with you, giving you eye contact and expressing their character. Interesting, with stories, metaphors and clear diction. Maybe some humour but particularly stimulating.
She has visuals, probably a large screen showing excellent PowerPoint. She stands to the side, maybe in front, as she moves around the “stage”. She interacts with her visuals which add massive value to the topic. She is the main focus of your attention and uses visuals to back up and further enhance the message.
Not always common in the corporate world, but I’m sure you can remember a similar real-life presentation.
The trick is to emulate this in the online environment. Let me show you how.
Presenters need to learn to present to the camera lens as though they were standing in a boardroom talking to a group of people.
Why Do We Need Visuals Online?
The whole point of online presentations is to utilise the power of visuals; otherwise, you might as well just be using the phone. And there’s inherently nothing wrong with the phone.
Using the online platform allows coaches and trainers to add pictorials to help the person understand what they are saying. Salespeople can use visuals with clients to describe complicated concepts. Sales managers can use them to help with their coaching and 1:1s.
The main reason for using visuals is that the world is geared that way now. We all have large TV screens on the wall, view adverts on bus stops and train stations that move. Carry phones with magnificent visual displays and are glued to the internet on our laptops and tablets, with a plethora of images.
Younger generations probably are more visual now than any generation before them, having been weaned on tablets and phones since a tender age.
Visuals are ubiquitous.
Who’s the Primary Visual?
The presenter, that’s who. Most platforms default to the presenter sharing a screen on PowerPoint and remaining virtually hidden whilst she narrates the slides and presents the topic.
Since this is the default for most presenters, it has become the “go-to” way of presenting. I believe this is nonsense. Presenters need to learn to present to the camera lens as though they were standing in a boardroom talking to a group of people. They should “stand and deliver”. No sitting at your desk talking to a laptop.
Standing is natural when presenting; you have energy, poise and volume. Find some space in your office or room where you can talk from. Your stage, so to speak.
It’s not a big space needed – 2 metres by 2 metres is more than enough to move a little, gesture with your arms and enhance your message through body language.
Position your camera at eye level to you. A tripod, a gooseneck attachment will allow you to position a separate webcam. Or you can perch your laptop on a highchair and a few books if you have to.
On the topic of webcams, ensure you have a model that is good with autofocusing, as you will be moving backwards and forwards as you speak.
Have some lighting ahead of you, behind or above your camera. You could even light the wall or background behind you. Although this isn’t essential, just light your front.
Care with what’s behind you just as you would when presenting for real. Because your audience will look at whatever is behind you.
Finally, your microphone. The superior option is to don a lapel microphone that connects wirelessly to your computer. This gives you freedom of movement. An alternative is to have a boom microphone just under the camera. The worst option is to use the webcam mic.
Now you’re dominating proceedings and controlling the presentation like a conductor in the orchestra, you can point to visuals to help you support and enhance the message.
The Default Shared Screen Option
Zoom, Teams and all platforms give you the option of sharing a computer screen or application, so your audience gets to see this on their PC screen. Tiny thumbnail images of you and the audience appear along the boundary. Still, most of the monitor is taken up with the shared screen.
All the platforms attempt to help your video image appear more graciously alongside the shared screen. These can be clunky and difficult to control whilst in full presentation flow.
You can share anything that’s on your computer. PowerPoint tends to be the bookie’s favourite as we all use it when presenting in real life. PDFs, a web browser, and even a digital whiteboard can be displayed.
There are hundreds of apps you can fire up offering all sorts of visual stimuli. Zoom and Teams both give you instant access to these apps. But essentially, you’re just sharing a screen with your audience, and sitting tends to be your default position as you have to operate these apps from your computer. This is why most presenters sit when presenting online. Close to their mouse.
Let’s remember that when you present in real life, you don’t have the option to operate a computer mouse. On a good day, you had a clicker in your right hand, small enough to be hidden as you gestured with your audience. We’ll keep the clicker online, which you use to advance PowerPoint.
Simultaneous Streaming of You and Your Visuals
Now we’re stepping things up a little. Imagine the old school presentation. Your audience would see you alongside the slides. You would orchestrate the whole scene, bringing up visuals when needed. You can emulate this online with a video streaming app.
Let me explain.
Rather than relying on your webcam to send a video stream to your webinar platform, you choose a stream created by software. This way, you select a different video option created by the software.
The software allows you to combine your PowerPoint visuals alongside your video image. Some call this picture in picture.
There are dozens of software options to choose from, and I suggest you try a few out. Capture, Vmix, Prezi; the list goes on.
I use a Blackmagic Atem Mini to do all of this for me. This clever box of tricks controls what goes into my video stream. I have four options. My PowerPoint visuals and three camera angles in my studio.
Imagine a BBC News studio with three or four cameras showing the newsreader from different positions. I can also combine these four options to allow picture in picture. It’s pretty cool, and the ultimate coolness is the four large buttons on the console that you just press once to change the view everyone sees. No fiddling with a mouse operation whilst in full presenting flow.
The picture in picture operation shows me presenting and, alongside me, my slides. I can position my sliders next to me, above me. In fact, anywhere on my screen. However, the best feature is the green screen or chroma key feature.
Behind me, attached to the wall, is a green screen that I can pull down from the ceiling. This lets me display my visuals behind me. Weatherperson style. I can interact, point to images and words and move from left to right.
Just like I used to do with a real audience presenting in front, I can concentrate on my presentation and my audience behind the camera lens with the touch of four simple buttons.
Livestreaming v Zoom
The last point in this section might push you beyond the boundaries of Zoom and Teams. Once you can produce a video stream created by your software, you can livestream rather than present via Zoom. Live streaming is very different to Zoom. It’s a dedicated app that streams your video anywhere, live. You can stream to YouTube, a website, Facebook. The list goes on. Livestreaming allows real HD quality from your end, and your audience can pick it up on any device. Exciting.
Other Visual Options
Remember the old school presentations? Many speakers and trainers would use a flipchart or whiteboard. There’s no reason why you can’t do this either. So long as you have good lighting in your room, you can position a flipchart or whiteboard to allow you to use these in front of the camera lens.
It’s that easy.
My Atem Mini has a camera angle already set up to present my whiteboard behind me. I use big whiteboard markers to allow my audience to read my drawings. I like the whiteboard. It’s different, very interactive and allows me to build a picture or story as I speak.
Just like I used to do in real-world training rooms.
Mixing it Up for the Ultimate Effect
Every successful real-life training or speaking event involved mixing it up. Never would a presenter simply sit there and talk to a group for hours on end. She would present for 5 minutes, then shows some visuals, maybe some flipchart work. She might then sit down and run a group discussion interspersed with group activities.
Presenters may run a short Q&A and facilitate some brief group activities but mostly present. And that’s where visuals come into their own. They allow the message to hit home, help the audience engage and enjoy the topic and ultimately take action.
Remember, it’s about emulating what you did in the actual boardroom. It can be done, is being done to significant effect, and you are now expected to up your game and do the same. Gone are the days when you can “get away with a slide deck” hidden discretely behind the slides sitting at your desk with a ropey webcam and tinny sound.
You owe it to your audience.