Organisations and leaders are coming to realise that there are considerable upsides to virtual presenting:

  • saves time and money
  • wider reach
  • more participants available
  • audience typically more relaxed
  • easy and straightforward to record and share presentations
  • reduces the increasing amount of carbon in the environment.

It is of course quite possible to be even duller when presenting online. You, like us, may well have yawned your way through dozens of virtual presentations in the last 2 months. Many worked well though.

What is the difference that makes the difference?


Here are the 4 key distinctions in virtual presenting and we concentrate on practical solutions so you can be more agile in the way you deliver.

1.  There is less focus on performance

Even amongst very senior people we find that a key coaching issue with old world presenting is lack of confidence or imposter syndrome (thinking you are not good enough and do not deserve to be in an exalted position of authority).

Online, this confidence issue appears to be reduced. Presenters are in the comfort of their homes, and this seems to relax them. The presenter is often only available as a small window in the top right-hand corner, so a lot of people like the fact that the focus is less on them and more on the technology and the message.

There is certainly less emphasis on the performance element. Even though the audience may be large (and of course you can present to many hundreds online) they are also probably more laid back and relaxed and there is greater intimacy and less of a sense that you have to be a bigger version of yourself when presenting. There is a greater chance in fact that presenters can be more authentic in the relative informality of an online presentation.

2.  There are way more potential distractions virtually

Have you focused 100% on every presentation you have attended online? I suspect not.

There are just more potential distractions compared to sitting in an audience and listening to a presentation back in the old world. A survey from Intercall, the largest international conference call company, finds that when we occasionally zone out on conference calls and presentations, we appear to be participating in a national pastime. Here is what we are doing when we are not fully focused:

We know that multi-tasking audiences’ attention span is short. When British bank Lloyds set out to study what causes careless (and costly) household accidents, the researchers made an interesting discovery; the average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes in 2020.

So, what happens if you are planning a presentation which could have a big impact on your career, hitting a target, getting a key message across to worried and anxious employees and it is 20 minutes long? With an attention span of 5 minutes, the average audience is going to tune out 75% of the time.

The first thing you can do is reduce your content, Less is more. Remember the Power of 3 – your audience will retain three key points rather than many. We are surrounded by 3’s in branding, messaging and it is embedded deep in our culture.

Quick examples:

  • Nike: ‘Just do it’
  • McDonalds: ‘I’m loving it’
  • L’Oréal: ‘You’re worth it’
  • Three blind mice
  • The Holy Trinity
  • ABC
  • Location location location
  • ‘See it, Say it, sorted’
  • ‘Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives’.

3.  Body language has less impact so focus on your voice

Voice is more important than body language in virtual presenting.

Unless you’re standing up – a good thing sometimes – the audience only sees the top half of you. Come on, which of us has not jumped on a remote meeting half naked?

Focus on developing variety in your voice and choosing the right words that will help you achieve your outcome to persuade, motivate, or win business.

Presenting online is a bit like the difference between performing in a theatre and acting in a film or television. When you are presenting face to face the audience is seeing all of you – your body language, your gestures, your voice, and the words you choose to use to communicate your message. You can judge the ‘energy’ in the room – virtually impossible when remote.

The audience sees a smaller version of you online. Most presentations are delivered sitting down, the shot is usually of your top half and the focus is mainly on the face and your eyes and the audience may not even pick up on gestures. And of course, you do not have the eye contact, and therefore it is much tougher to pick up on visual clues from the audience.

The key to vocal impact is variety.

What do we want to project? Do we want to connect with the audience or is it important to be credible? Or both? You can adapt your voice to fit your desired outcome during any presentation.

If you want to be a credible (the experienced, knowledgeable expert) then speak like this:

  • Slow
  • With pauses
  • Quite monotone
  • And go down at the end of the phrase.

If you want to connect on a human level, then speak like this:

  • Faster
  • No pauses
  • Lots of musicality
  • Up at the end of the phrase.

4.  You have to engage more

If you don’t sustain continued meaningful involvement, your audience will retreat into that alluring observer role, or you will just lose them permanently.

So, if you want to fail here is what you do:

  • Broadcast rather than interact
  • Use hundreds of bulleted slides
  • Speak for longer than required
  • Make it all about you and your expertise

Want to succeed?

There are 3 major things you have reasonable control over if you want to keep your internal and external audience engaged throughout.

Your 3 control areas are You, The Technology and Your audience activities.

You the presenter

You need to be present when you present. You cannot just hide behind the technology.

Here are 6 controllables:

  • Pre-Suasion is what savvy communicators do before delivering a message in order to get it accepted. It was coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini and published as a book in 2016. You may remember the maxim from Sun Tzu, the military strategist: ‘Every battle is won, before it is fought’.

So, what can you do to pre-suade before a virtual presentation? What works?

  • Send out a teaser
  • Ask for contributions from your audience beforehand
  • Send your purpose and agenda ahead
  • Have a snappy title
  • Identify key decision makers and lobby them in advance
  • Get yourself into a resourceful state by warming up. Your audience will pick up on your nerves. However, they will be energized if you are confident and relaxed. Warm up your voice beforehand. And then use it to its maximum effect.
  • Look directly into the camera. Surprisingly few presenters do this. The camera lens is the equivalent of eye contact. Avoid looking at your audience or looking down at your notes or across to your slides. These behaviours can make you look shifty, nervous or that you are losing interest. Instead look at the lens.
  • Use a spike. You have 8 seconds to grab the audience’s attention at the start of any presentation. You need a quick, clear way to convey your thoughts to your audience. A spike is a sentence or phrase that gets to the heart of your presentation. For example, a mobile communications director said to an investment group: ‘50% of the world’s population have neither made nor received a phone call’. Jeremy often starts his keynotes by saying ‘presenters are made, not born’. At one of our recent leadership skills training with Sodexo, a presenter started a presentation on sustainability with ‘there are 70 harvests left in the world’. Memorable!
  • Use humour and surprise your audience. Here is how my frieNeil Mullarkey did it in his latest Corona video: Business Not As Usual
  • Control time – we suggest virtual presentations need to be no longer than 20 minutes. Start on time, allocate specific time for all activities and finish as agreed.


The old-style webinars in which you start speaking, have no engagement and finish your soliloquy an hour later are dead in the water. If you are still delivering these – stop immediately.

You have great platforms to choose from now. Maybe you can decide which to use, or perhaps they are mandated by your organisation.

Get to know the technology. Otherwise you’ll fall into the trap of either blaming it if things go wrong or you’ll miss out on simple ways to use technology to engage every audience.

Get the basics right first:

  • Buy a decent webcam if you need to
  • Consider an audio or Wi-Fi upgrade
  • Make sure you are well light
  • Ensure your camera is at eye level
  • Reduce clutter behind you
  • Silence your pop ups

Online, if the technology fails, your whole presentation can fail. If possible, get a colleague or technical expert to help. Especially if there are large numbers on the presentation.

Always do a technical run through, as well as practise your presentation.

Finally, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This makes sure that your participants join with their sound off, so you don’t get background noise that can disrupt the flow of your presentation.

As with many new things, technology can be daunting to start with. You can get can up to speed and master these challenges quickly.


Engage throughout. The days of long, boring webinar broadcasts are increasingly consigned to the dustbin of virtual presentation history.

Engage in the first 2 minutes and never go longer than 5 minutes without giving your audience another activity.

So how do you make your presentations interactive and engaging?

You can:

  • Run polls and create immediate word clouds showing audience thoughts or ideas
  • Ask questions and get responses in the chat area
  • Break out into groups and brainstorm options or solve problems
  • Run a quiz and gamify your sessions
  • Create a virtual hot seat

I strongly recommend Mentimeter. This software builds interactive virtual presentations to elicit curiosity, increases the fun quotient and informs using the power of the audience.

You need to encourage active and individual engagement. Why?

Research shows that a person appearing to have a heart attack on the underground or subway is less likely to get help the more people there are on the train. This phenomenon is known as diffusion of responsibility. If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Avoid this in your presentation by giving people tasks that they can actively engage in so there is nowhere to hide.

For example, define a problem that can be solved quickly, assign people to groups, emphasise a task time limit and tell them you will take ideas from each group. This will encourage real focus and responsibility.

So, in summary, 4 key distinctions with virtual presenting:

1.  There is less focus on performance

2.  There are way more potential distractions virtually

3.  Body language has less impact so focus on your voice

4.  You have to engage more

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