By Guest Contributor Lyn Roseaman
The pandemic has transformed online from a choice of how we communicate to our personal and business essential. We’re all learning to be more better communicators online, but your webinar requires specific and different skills from ‘being in the room’. Let’s look at the skills you need:
I’ve been doing pitches and giving talks and since the 1980s and I was the terrified person clinging to the lectern so you couldn’t see my hands shaking, knees locked to stay upright and my breath so shallow that I sounded as if I was about to burst into tears. I didn’t realise then that nerves are normal:
“There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars” (Mark Twain)
Feeling nervous is our brain’s way of keeping us safe, but it makes our audience feel uncomfortable and concerned for our wellbeing. Online, they may choose to abandon us and stop listening. To ensure our listeners focus on what we’re saying and engage with our message we need to bring confident energy to the screen. This will mean that our audience can relax and connect with us and what we’re saying. Here’s how.
Ready for your close up?
When you go online from home, it’s easy to overlook your familiar surroundings. What’s on the walls and behind you that the camera will pick up? Are there people or sounds that may interrupt? Is the space you’ve chosen sending out the message you intend? The garden shed or a toy filled family room is probably not the ideal place to use if you want to look businesslike.
Think about being online as having a close up. On the small screen the camera will pick up every detail, expression and gesture. Is your lighting setting you off to best advantage? Is the light behind the camera so that you’re not plunged into shadow? Is dazzling sunshine bouncing flare onto your face, especially if you wear glasses? Capture a photo/screenshot before you go live to make sure you’re looking the part.
Having to work with technology can be a tad stressful. Online, we need to convey a feeling of calm and control when we host a meeting or event, handle technology and ensure everything runs smoothly.
In spite of doing all the appropriate tech checks, things can still go wrong. And people accept that this can happen. What’s important is that you handle it calmly and efficiently, explaining what’s happening. And even better if you have a participant to take care of the tech for you.
Harness your body language
Think of all the non-verbal ways you can convey confident energy online:
- A genuine smile is particularly hard when you’re nervous, so smiling conveys confidence.
- An open and stable posture that is relaxed and assured. If you’re seated, push your bottom to the back of the chair and sit upright, both feet firmly planted on the floor. This will help prevent any swaying!
- Dial down movement and gestures. Big gestures that work in a large venue will overwhelm or fall off screen.
- Steady eye contact and the correct positioning of your camera lens at just above eye level helps you to come across as open and sincere.
- So close to the mic, people may hear your nerves in your voice. Breathe into the abdomen and relax your upper body so that your vocal tone is rich and strong.
Taking care with your setting, your tech and your body language will all help your confidence come across online.
Looking back to my early conference speaking I remember that my audiences would applaud politely and head for the coffee! At the time, I wondered why other speakers had people queueing up to talk to them. I felt as if I’d been talking to myself. And, online, you may be doing just that if your listeners don’t connect with you and what you’re saying.
Those with people queueing up to talk to them had connected, both in terms of the value the speaker gave to the audience – their relevant message – and the way the speaker made them feel.
As a webinar host or presenter, it’s your responsibility to know what your listeners are expecting from you, i.e. answering their all-important ‘What’s in it for ME’ question – as quickly as possible – so that they have a reason to carry on listening. To achieve this, you need to know your participants. Find out who they are, what makes them tick and why they’re attending.
‘You’ is the magic word
‘You’ is the magic word when it comes to being relevant and engaging online. In the English language, ‘you’ power comes from being both singular – a one-to-one conversation – and plural, including everyone. You-focused language creates a strong feeling of inclusivity and simultaneously provides a personal connection with each listener.
If you can create a sense of ‘we’re in this together’, encouraging interaction between presenter and participants, then you hit that ‘sweet spot’ of co-creation. However, to ensure things run smoothly online, it’s important for people to listen to each other and avoid talking at the same time!
Fewer the bullet points
Storytelling comes into its own online. When we tell a relevant personal story, openly and honestly, our listeners can relate to us as people. Stories not only create connections, but they are both engaging and memorable. As I say in my book Now You’re Talking:
“Engaging speakers share their message through stories. They can move an audience, even in business settings, to feel, laugh or cry, and are memorable for all the right reasons.”
In contrast, sharing your screen and rapidly pushing through bullet points is neither engaging nor memorable and is a quick way to lose your audience. I recommend prioritising relevant storytelling at every opportunity.
With our world currently turned upside down, online meetings, events and conversations are our opportunity to remain visible, explore and share change and start building our future together. In a few keystrokes, search engines can tell us what’s new and different online. If we want to stand out and keep our listeners interested we need to ensure what we have to say is relevant and on-point.
Start at the end of your presentation or meeting with how you want your listeners to think, feel or act after they’ve experienced what you have to say. Identify your message – one that is refreshed and relevant to now – and then incorporate only content that supports it.
Make it easy for your audience to follow
Our attention spans tend to be short. Online, there is even less appetite for digressions than when you’re in the same room as your listeners, so get to the point and stay relevant.
Structure and signpost your talk so that it is easy to understand and follow. Consider a clear structure, such as a timeline or pros & cons. Break up your presentation into small ‘chunks’ of around five minutes each and top and tail each chunk with what you plan to cover and a keyword to sum it up as you move on. Signpost what you have to say so your audience understands the ‘road map’ for your presentation.
To communicate effectively online you need to think about it differently to being in the room with your audience. Online communication is vital right now and will continue to be important going forward. Take the time to hone your online communication skills and ace every opportunity you get to speak and influence an audience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lyn Roseaman is a Distinguished Toastmaster at Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org
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