Virtually Painless – Tips and Tricks for Speakers in the Virtual Conference Environment

Elizabeth Maynard, Executive Director, McKenna Management, Inc

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many associations are turning to virtual meetings and conferences to continue their professional education and member networking programs. We are all discovering that there are plenty of opportunities for connecting with attendees online and, while this channel looks and feels different than in-person engagement, we’d like to share with you some easy preparations that can ensure success.

Lights, Camera, Action! or Location, Set Up, and Backdrop

As spare rooms and home offices become our new “stage,” it’s critical to identify and set up an appropriate location for your virtual presentations.

  • Use a room with a door. Being able to close off your meeting space from the rest of your house helps reduce noise and other interruptions.
  • Light it up. Set up lighting such as a floor lamp (great for ambient light) or desk lamp (in front of you but behind your monitor) or utilize natural light to brighten up the space. Don’t rely on the “glow” from your screen and don’t place a light behind you – you’ll be a shadow of yourself!
  • Check your “set.” Your camera will frame you… and everything that’s behind you. So, if you must broadcast from a bedroom, be sure the bed is made. Reduce visual distractions and, if you plan to use a digital background, choose a completely blank wall or door as your backdrop.
  • Find your bliss. Are you someone who is most comfortable presenting in a power stance? You can still present that way – put your computer or device up on a box or crate so that the camera is at shoulder level. Ensure you can back up enough to have your head and shoulders in the frame. If you plan to be seated, choose a chair that you’ll be comfortable in for the duration of your presentation.

Wifi and Technology

Connectivity and technology are generally the biggest concerns during a virtual program. If the Wifi goes down, the meeting goes down! There are some things you can do to set yourself up for a smooth virtual experience.

  • Move your Wifi router to a central location and get it up off the floor. Centrally locating your Wifi router ensures the signal travels to all parts of your house or apartment. If this isn’t possible, consider setting up a Wifi extender to get a strong signal to the room you’re in. You can also hard-wire your device to the router if you are concerned about the Wifi receiver in your device.
  • Turn off other devices that are connected to the network. Too many devices connected to the network at one time can slow down speed for everyone – this can translate to pixelated video or choppy audio. Before you start, check that your smart TV, video game console, baby monitor, tablet, phone, and other computers or devices are turned off or disconnected from the network. If possible, try to ensure that no other devices on your network are streaming audio or video while you are presenting.
  • Plug in your device and log out of non-essential windows. Make sure your device remains plugged in for the duration of your presentation. Turn off desktop notifications and make sure your presentation files are the only ones open.
  • Run a system check to ensure that your software is all up to date. Double check your virus protection software so that downloads from the meeting software are not blocked.

Getting Ready and Presenting

Now that your space and technology are ready to go, there are a few more tips for a flawless virtual presentation.

  • Always do a dress rehearsal! Anyone who has run a long-distance race will relate to this advice – do not try something new on race day, or in this case, presentation day. Set up your space as you will on the day of your presentation, test the equipment you plan to use, and have your presentation files ready. Work with your meeting planner or conference organizer to do a run through of connection, introduction, and presentation launch. Check your mic, lighting, and camera and work out any glitches ahead of time.
  • Adjust your tried-and-true in-person presentation methods. While you can’t walk around the room, remember that eye contact with your camera equals eye contact with your attendees. If you’re someone who talks with their hands in-person, know that it’s okay to gesture while you present online, too. For more help on this, see ‘Find your bliss!’ above in ‘Light, Camera, Action!’
  • Ask the audience. Keep your attendees engaged with prompts throughout your presentation. Virtual meeting platforms have many built-in features such as pop-up polls, chat boxes, etc. Use these tools to invite active audience participation – to click in, not away.

Hopefully, we will be back together at in-person meetings soon! In the meantime, stay home and stay well. The team at McKenna Management is here to ensure your virtual conference is a success.

Elizabeth Maynard is an Executive Director at McKenna Management, Inc. Her professional interests include: government relations and grassroots member advocacy, membership recruitment and retention, meeting planning, and website builds.

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