It is well known that there is an art to addressing a crowd. Many communications professionals provide coaching to help others master the secrets of addressing a large public. In 2020, following the shift to virtual, very few experts discussed the challenges of speaking to a virtual audience. And yet, this is no easy task. Quite the contrary. With the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, it is easy to grow weary of virtual presentations, which frequently end up being quite similar.
Mirella Di Blasio, president of Lulu Événements and virtual event lecturer for Infopresse, will reveal to us her 7 tips & tricks (plus one bonus!) for successfully maintaining public engagement when speaking at length in front of a virtual audience:
#1 Eye contact
By looking directly into your camera lens rather than at your computer screen, you will give your viewers the impression that you are maintaining eye contact. It is much more pleasing to feel watched when being spoken to. In order to hook viewers and keep them captivated, maintaining a level gaze through the camera will help them feel that they are being personally addressed, as though you are having a on-on-one conversation, with eye contact, even though you may be speaking to 500 people at once.
Judicious framing is important. In order to keep the virtual public’s attention on you as a speaker, it is important to ensure that any background environment that might be visible to the camera lens be stripped of distracting elements:
→ Use neutral lighting (avoid backlighting or overexposure)
→ Stay away from windows to avoid uncontrollable light sources or hair-disturbing wind!
→ Consider everything that could be present within the frame: all attention should be solely focused on you. Anything else that might be visible to the camera must be carefully deliberated and approved.
#3 Desktop images
Ah! Fake background images! They should be PROSCRIBED! Without access to a greenscreen or a photo studio that can ensure a certain level of quality in the final result, it is not uncommon to see videos where there has been an attempt to mask a messy environment or to hide children in the background by using poorly-placed frames that occasionally obstruct the speaker’s face!
The same rule applies here as in television: avoid striped or patterned clothing such as polka dots, zebra stripes, plaid… Occasionally, depending on your environment, certain colours might render poorly on screen, which can prove to be an annoyance for your viewers. The rule is simple: conduct tests, watch your own feed!
It’s reflexive: when attending a meeting, we disable our cell phone’s notifications. Now that the times have changed, it is important to remember that we should also deactivate notifications on our computers. This is, naturally, to avoid causing unpleasantly aggressive background noise, but also to ensure that when screens are shared, that text message you just received from your wife will not be displayed on-screen! Moreover, it is every bit as relevant to consider disconnecting your landline extension, should you have the opportunity to work from the office!
It is extremely important to be dynamic. The computer screen is a barrier, and it is essential to work that much harder to transmit your energy through it and to the viewing public. Smile with your eyes. No, this will certainly not be an easy task when you’re alone in your living room, talking into your computer. What’s the trick? Picture a good friend for yourself in the camera’s eye, and address that person naturally: speak with your hands, move, smile. It is in this manner that your audience will feel genuinely involved with your statements, and even hunger for more!
#7 The camera
Remember to disable the image of your own camera feed on your screen to avoid spending too much time compulsively observing yourself: how you look, how you’re acting. Your viewers are guaranteed to notice that you are acting self-consciously about your appearance and are compelled to observe yourself. Disregard your appearance and focus on your words!
BONUS! – #8 Practice
The key to success? Practice, practice, and still more practice. Launch a Zoom session and observe yourself! Practice your speech, conduct sound tests, experiment with framing and lighting, swap outfits to find the most appropriate choice! Go wild, break out of your usual habits, try new things, and be original; this is the best time for it, while no eyes are on you!
Ultimately, content is certainly significant in a virtual environment, much like it is in a live environment. Once the basics have been mastered, it is important to work on form, which differs from what we have grown accustomed to. In order to maintain your viewers’ interest, who we must remember are already generally spending most of their days in front of computer screens, we must distinguish ourselves and excel through the quality of our interventions. With a modicum of practice, a touch of dynamism, and a broad smile, it will be much easier to keep your audience engaged and interested!