Presentation Skills in a Virtual World

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
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While firms are making decisions about getting back to the office post-pandemic, it appears that video collaboration and presentation is here to stay. At a recent Judges Panel during Relativity's annual conference, it was noted that some virtual courtroom events may still be scheduled due to the ease of bringing remote parties together and the comfort of witnesses in certain situations. The challenges of travel are also adding to the convenience of using web-based collaboration tools, so if you have not had to rise to the occasion yet, chances are you could still be called upon to do so.

Let's say you have been asked to present to your firm regarding your team's accomplishments for the year. "Sure, no problem," you think, because you've done it many times. Then you find out it will be on by video. You may have gotten by during the pandemic with some group calls and the like but now you need to take your show on the virtual road.

I recently participated in a workshop with Hilary Kole from GK Training. She specializes in working with attorneys and Fortune 100 companies to enhance their presentation skills. Here are a few of the tips I learned, which Hilary has generously allowed me to share with you:

Before the Big Day

1. When preparing your presentation, put extra effort into making your content interesting by putting it in a story format.

You won't have the benefit of being able to move around or use large props to provide visual interest so you should try to engage the viewers with your content. My content is largely technical in nature and that can bore all but the most geeky of geeks. But Hilary points out that the way you present can be more important than what you are presenting and we should try to tell it like a story. It was amazing how much our class improved in a short time with that tip. So, try to center your topic around a story. This can be anything from having your audience imagine themselves in a certain scenario, connecting your subject matter to a recent experience or creating a correlation between your topic and something that can generally be felt and universally understood by most people.

2. Get on the platform you will be using EARLY and test, test, test.

There are several things that can go wrong as we all learned if you heard about the now famous Zoom hearing where an attorney showed up as a cat[1] (if you haven't seen this yet, it will make your day). If you are a Zoom user and you now have to appear on MS Teams or WebEx, you will want to set up a meeting and send the link to yourself so that you can test the platform. It's strange that one platform will display you at nose-hair level and another one will make you look like a distant talking head. Check your settings and determine the best distance, color, focus and angle before the big day. 

3. If you are using a slide show, practice using the share screen features, picture in picture, user views, and learn how to adjust on the fly.

Because if you don't, someone will ask you to "go back to that slide...", guaranteed.

4. Check your lighting.

I recently saw a news program where they interviewed a cosmetic surgeon and his business has gone up by 70% over the last year, which he attributes to his patients’ need for video and live streaming during the pandemic. One woman who was interviewed didn't like how she looked on screen no matter "how much lighting and angles I tried".  An article by the Washington Post highlighted this as well, stating it was largely because of video conferencing.[2] However, you can save your money and find a spot with good natural lighting that provides light in front of and on both sides of your face.  Avoid overhead lighting unless you want the ”interrogation” look.

Also, do not film yourself with your back to a window as the light will cause you to appear as a shadow. There are ring lights and inexpensive lighting kits that can be set up if you have the space but it's not necessary. Hilary suggests that if you need an inexpensive lighting solution you can use two lamps, one on either side of your body, which will balance the light around you and minimize shadows.

5.  Practice in front of someone who doesn't have experience with your subject matter ahead of time and get feedback.

They may never appreciate the heart-pounding excitement of "Analytics Workflows in a Multi-Tiered Review Environment," but if you can keep them engaged, you've won.

6. Record yourself doing your presentation until you are pleased with the delivery.

Sometimes there isn't a lot of time for that, but it is the fastest way to show you what can be improved. You can just use your phone to record yourself on audio and play it back. You will catch any nuances that need correction by listening to yourself.

Presentation Day – Camera, Lights, Action!

1. Think about your eye contact.

This is the easiest way to vastly improve your image on any web-based video offering. Look at the camera whenever possible. If you look at the "little boxes of people" it does not look like you are communicating directly with your listeners. You can put a Post-it or picture right next to your camera to remind you of where your audience is. Making this small adjustment will greatly enhance the quality of your presentation.

2. Keep clothing simple.

Be careful of necklines, splashy prints and contrast. We have all probably seen those bloopers where clothing got the best of people on video. You will most likely be sitting down rather than standing which is most common for a live presentation so think about how your clothes can bunch or be uncomfortable while sitting. Clothing styles that make you look credible are simple and classic with some contrast. People will expect you to dress the same as in the office when they see you online in a formal presentation setting.

3. Keep your background simple and free of distractions.

Try not to use filters or custom backgrounds unless you can be sure they are not eating up too much bandwidth on your system and make sure they do not appear "shaky".

4. Look up, sit up, stand up. If you are used to sitting, try standing.

There are huge benefits to standing for a big presentation. Hilary says you can project more and you are better grounded when standing. It will also allow your movements to create a good impression as it is too easy to hunch when sitting and it can restrict your voice. Also, any gestures or hand movements will happen organically and will not be as distracting as they can be when sitting at a desk where the movement may appear unnatural or be partially obscured.

5. Focus on yourself as an athlete.

Warm up your body by moving major muscle groups and take some deep breaths. If you "wake up" your body you will communicate better.

6. Make yourself a little checklist of these things and keep it handy for when you are called upon.

Write down any lighting, video and sound settings so they can be used again with minor adjustments if necessary. After your presentation, note where you can improve the next time while it's fresh in your mind.

Your video presentations will go more smoothly if you incorporate these tips. The time will seem to fly by, it will be over before you know it, and you may actually have some fun along the way. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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