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Last week, I attended a Zoom presentation an entrepreneur had given to a group of potential investors in his startup. I felt it was a brilliant idea, the kind that makes you ask, “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?” However, the meeting missed its mark, and he ended the session the way he started it: with just an idea.
What happened? What can we learn from this experience so that we don’t make that same fatal error?
During his presentation, instead of dealing with the task at hand, the entrepreneur got sidetracked, coping with various interruptions and technical malfunctions. We were an intimate group of 12 participants, so it should have been relatively easy to manage, right? The entrepreneur, a brilliant guy in his early 30s, tried to do it all himself, but when he got distracted by technical issues, he lost his connection with his audience and his way to their hearts — and their pockets. He forgot to share the audio when he shared the PowerPoint presentation, and to make matters worse, things went off-track when he tinkered with his iPad link, which he wanted to use to an enhanced Whiteboard app. To top it all off, he completely ignored all the chatbox questions during the presentation. What a disaster! In other words, he disregarded what the potential investors had to say. That’s a fatal blunder. It’s like someone telling you: “Ignore me once, and I will never disturb you again.”
“Why did this happen to him?” I wondered. The answer was clear: He had tried to do it all himself. In yesterday’s world, before the pandemic, most of us were used to delivering presentations in conference rooms. Usually, we would manage everything ourselves like a one-person show; we spoke, clicked to move to the next slide and maintained natural eye contact with our audience. In other words, we could easily “own the room.”
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Doing everything ourselves isn’t so complicated when we are delivering a standard presentation. There’s no chat screen, we can maintain direct eye contact with the audience, we don’t need to open the microphone for anyone except for ourselves, and the video doesn’t freeze because of a sluggish internet connection. Consequently, it’s much simpler, and we can focus on “high touch,” instead of hi-tech. But alas, those days are over. In the age of the e-trepreneurialism, when presentations are shared over Zoom, Microsoft’s Teams or Webex, it’s a whole new game. And to win, you want to follow an entirely new set of rules. In this unique sitting, remote virtual presentations need to become a team game, even if you’re only presenting to a small group of people. That’s because if you want to make a powerful impact remotely, you need to perform several activities all at once, and doing it all on your own is merely wrong.
Hold Their Attention
Your main task as a speaker is to convey the message powerfully, in a way that captivates your audience. Therefore, during the session, you need to maintain the audience’s curiosity and engagement. One thing that can help is varying your voice in terms of rhythm, intensity, tone and pauses. To do so, you want to be focused and to keep everyone else focused. None of this will be easy, especially when you’re broadcasting alone, from your home office, because psychologically, it isn’t easy to speak with passion while looking at a computer screen.
There’s one more thing you can’t avoid, and it requires your intentional focus in real-time. You must look directly at the webcam and not at the participants’ faces on Zoom’s “gallery view.” While our gaze tends to be drawn to human faces, for our audience to feel that you’re looking directly at them, it’s best to look at the camera, not at them, to create the impression that you’re maintaining eye contact.
Master the Tech
In addition to the above challenges, now there’s one more element to contend with: the technology itself, and all of its attendant bells and whistles. That’s where the trouble begins.
During your presentation, members of the audience post on the chat board. Some ask questions, while others react to things you’ve said, and their reactions affect the mood in the entire group. Managing the chat on your own, as the presenter, while delivering the presentation itself, is almost a mission Impossible. And even if it were possible, it’s not the right way to do it. The right way is to turn your solo performance into a team effort.
Never Zoom Alone
Remember these three words. They have become my motto, and encapsulate the advice I give any manager or entrepreneur who wants to feel more comfortable delivering powerful presentations and, most of all, to be far more effective. A killer virtual presentation results from teamwork, where our personal game as speakers is just one parameter in its success — just like in a sports match.
Take Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships by combining his phenomenal talent with fantastic teamwork. Though he set new and outstanding records during the first few seasons he played on the team, he wasn’t able to win a title on his own. Not even close. The Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, had initially beat them in the playoffs two consecutive seasons. What was the difference?
At that time, Jordan didn’t have a supportive team. Even the 63 points he scored in one legendary game against Bird and the Celtics couldn’t lead him to victory. Jordan needed supporting players like Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman or Toni Kukoc to win.
So, how is all of this relevant to your next virtual presentation? Like in the NBA, one “star player” isn’t enough to achieve your goals when you deliver a presentation. It would be best if you had a winning team. Have you ever noticed that there is a “cast” in every “broadcast”? Like MJ, you should have a supporting cast.
Find Your Superheroes
Based on my personal experience and the experience of hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives, I’d like to recommend that you add two critical roles to almost every virtual presentation you deliver. The first, taking its inspiration from comic-book lore, would be a new superhero joining your team. Let’s call them Chatman. Chatman is the one who manages the chat during your presentation or meeting. So, which jobs should you delegate them when you’re presenting remotely?
First, Chatman will manage and operate the chat window. Chatman will get instructions from you on how to do it right, i.e. when to allow participants to react, when to close the chat window to keep them entirely focused on what you have to say, whether or not participants should be permitted to send personal messages to each other (and when to do so) or, alternatively, allowing them only to send messages to everyone in the group — or only to you, the hosts.
In many cases, Chatman plays another pivotal role when managing the chat window by responding to the comments themselves, empowering participants, making them feel good and even repeating short sentences and wits you’ve mentioned to boost their impact. An effective Chatman can make people smile more, enjoy themselves and internalize your messages. All of these things help you achieve your goal.
In some instances, based on the format you’ve decided on, it’s best to take short breaks when you convey your messages and stop sharing the PowerPoint file. That is something I’ll elaborate on in a moment. You can use this time to invite your Chatman to share the questions and reactions that appear on the chat screen aloud so that you can respond to them audibly.
One of my customers recently asked me, “Gil, why do we need another person to share the chat messages?” Well, effective remote meetings work well when they make people feel that they’re having a conversation, they feel included and there’s a sense of togetherness. As it happens, participants like taking part in meetings where a conversation is underway between you and them, moderated by the Chatman on your team. It’s like the difference between watching someone speak on a television show and being interviewed by a TV anchor on that same show. It strengthens the feeling of having a human connection with everyone involved.
Therefore, the Chatman becomes like the Oprah Winfrey of your presentation. They can take the reactions and the questions on the chat screen and reframe them to virtually impact the success of the meeting. Of course, this requires coordination between the two of you.
Now, who is the second person you want to have on your team? It’s best to bring on board someone with extraordinary technical abilities. In professional jargon, we’d call this person a producer. However, I prefer to see them as another superhero: your own virtual Spiderman, helping you focus on your main goal of connecting with your audience. Though this Spiderman may not have eight legs, they will have to operate as if they have eight arms, eyes and ears.
The Spiderman has several simultaneous roles to play. They will help you focus on getting your messages across and creating empathy and an informal atmosphere with your audience while providing you with the technical support you need: muting and unmuting the participants’ microphones, based on instructions and signs you’ve coordinated beforehand. If you prefer to have your producer control your presentation while you speak, that’s an option, too.
Often, you’ll want to stop sharing your PowerPoint presentation and move to a more intimate, face-to-face conversation with your audience. At that time, your producer can allow you to exit and re-enter your presentation screen share smoothly and rapidly. That’s important to ensure that you don’t lose any precious time or allow any of the participants to engage in competing activities. It’s challenging enough to maintain your audience’s attention, and whenever you aren’t providing value, you’re creating opportunities to check out.
In some cases, you’ll want to share various screens and applications on Zoom, and as a professional, you don’t need to do this yourself. The producer is your technical right-hand man or woman, who can also provide technical support to other participants at the meeting if they need it. Again, you’re the performer. They’re the producer.
If you’re hosting professional meetings and presentations at which you’ll want to put your participants into breakout rooms, the producer is the one who will divide the participants based on instructions you provided beforehand. At times, this can include new instructions or real-time changes to them. The producer is also the one who will bring up the polls at the appropriate time and reveal the results at your request. He or she will control the recording. (Have you ever been to a meeting at which the presenter had forgotten to press the “record” button”? A producer who works with an accurate checklist doesn’t forget.) The producer will also be in charge of security, preventing unwanted guests from entering or handling disruptions from “Zoom Bombings.”
Your Spiderman can use various technical aides that make it easier to work, just like the control room used in television productions. At the touch of a button, the producer will let the audience see you from a different angle or integrate sound effects. The Zoom platform’s shortcut keys also allow you to operate much quicker, but again, I recommend not doing this alone in important meetings. Unlike the type of person I suggested as your Chatman, your producer/Spiderman can, in many cases, be a freelancer.
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Rehearse and Prepare
Lastly, one of the most important things to do before delivering any presentation is to rehearse it, along with your entire team. If the presentation is incredibly crucial, you had better conduct several rehearsals and leave enough time to practice, control the interface and coordinate the messages you’ll send to each other, keeping the audience utterly oblivious to those messages. Preparation and practice are professionals’ habits, allowing you to ensure that you’ll perform professionally and flawlessly in front of your audience.
So, at your next virtual presentation, build a team. Use a Chatman and a Spiderman to make sure you focus on delivering a compelling and unforgettable presentation. Who knows? That just might make you Superman.