When I arrive for training sessions at big international companies I can’t help feeling from the delegates a slight sense that little of what they are about to learn is going to help in their cross-border, multi-time-zone environment. Casting their minds back to what they have learned in the past about principles such as body language, eye contact and voice projection you can just see them thinking: ‘none of this really applies now that we are communicating via Webex, Skype, and other conferencing technology’.
Recently I have even heard mention of The Curse of Google Hangouts, with dark mutterings about inattentive and even partially absent audiences, canine interruptions and doubts about visibility and audibility generally.
My response to people facing these challenges is threefold:
First, you still need traditional presentation skills, because you have got to be capable of ‘owning the room’ before you can expect to engage anyone beyond it.
Second, make the machinery work to your advantage. One client came to the realisation: “We should move the cameras so that they get us in the best position – probably alongside the screen”. I responded that absolutely he should – the machines are all simply tools; they are not meant to drive you!
Third, another reason you still need traditional presentation skills is that many of them become even more important when you are presenting down the line. For instance:
- Strong eye contact
- Firsts & lasts as the most important elements of any presentation
- Absolute clarity of the proposition up front
- Not starting until everyone is ready and free from distractions
- Clear chunking of content
- Variation of vocal tone
- Uncluttered slides
- Storytelling approach to graphs
- Q&A management
…just for starters, have always been fundamental to successful presentation. When your audience is not actually in the room, then getting off to a great, high clarity start as you look straight down that camera lens becomes absolutely crucial. As for retaining your distant audience’s attention, you need to nurture both the skills mentioned and a variety of pacing techniques so that you can accentuate them when communicating via technology.
Increasingly I find myself advising clients to ‘be a bit bossy’ when stepping up to present. For those few minutes, I say, the floor is yours and your audience will usually respect that – as long as you assert yourself. With technology, the airwaves - rather than the floor - are yours, but you need to be extra ‘bossy’ when you are not face–to-face with your audience. So:
- Greet them in a big way
- Don’t start until you have acknowledgement from everyone that they are present, able to hear you and ready to start
- Keep seeking reassurance they are with you and understand what you are saying
- Build in controlled inter-activity to ensure their engagement
- Accentuate the announcement of fresh headings and agreements reached
- Choose visual images that will be both engaging and memorable enough for them to want a copy
- Stick to the time limit you have pre-announced and be strict with invitations and agendas
When PowerPoint was first introduced nearly 30 years ago it became ubiquitous very quickly, largely because it was immediately acquired by Microsoft and embedded in Office. Sadly it acquired the ‘Death by’ tag because, with so much focus on technology, traditional Presentation Skills – that were still needed – took a back seat.
Now the technology has moved on again and we continue to need traditional Presentation Skills, but in a supercharged way. And you can’t achieve that until you have mastered the basics.