If public speaking makes you nervous, the uncertainty of presenting remotely can be a real recipe for cold sweats. Use these strategies to prepare and present with confidence.
Snakes and roller coasters. These are the literal things of my nightmares. Slimy, slithery, twisty, loopy—these adjectives, for me, represent the fastest path to cold sweats. But for the majority of people, the most fear-inducing idea of all is speaking or presenting publicly. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety (known as glossophobia) affects about 73 percent of us!
I'm one of the lucky ones who's never really feared public speaking. But we've been presenting remotely these past several months. It's made me realize just how many tricks and tools that have enabled me to speak confidently in public are no longer available to me. Things like stages, microphones, and being physically present with an audience or a team—not to mention professional childcare!—have all served me well as a speaker.
Public speaking anxiety (known as glossophobia) affects about 73 percent of us!
And now, like many, I find myself presenting regularly by way of a variety of virtual meeting platforms. The game has truly changed!
I’ve heard from several listeners that presenting remotely with confidence—whether to your team, your whole company, a client, or a prospective employer—has become a challenge. So today I'll share a set of tips I’ve picked up in recent months. I hope you find them as useful as I have.
Set yourself up for success
If you’re still working remotely, as much of the American workforce is, there's a lot about your setting that you can’t control. You may be in a tiny apartment in a city full of background noise, or in a big house full of children and animals. And those are realities it's difficult to change.
Within the confines of any situation, you can do some things to dial up that professionalism factor and boost your confidence in the process.
But within the confines of any situation, you can do some things to dial up that professionalism factor and boost your confidence in the process. Here are the areas to focus on.
I don’t know much about technology. But I do know that certain spots in my house offer me a more stable internet connection than others. So, when I’m presenting anything, I claim an internet-stable room ahead of time, alerting my family to steer clear for that hour.
No one expects you to repaint or furnish a room. But do your best to declutter whatever is behind you so the visual chaos doesn't become a distraction for your team or audience. If you can point your camera toward a blank wall, great. And if not, you might consider playing with virtual backgrounds to mask the scene behind you.
Putting on work clothes reminds me to sit up straighter and put my professional hat firmly on.
Chances are, your audience will see you only from the shoulders up. And yes, in March I was rocking presentations in my jammies. But by April I’d realized that putting on my grown-up pants made a big difference. Putting on work clothes, and even shoes, reminds me to sit up straighter and put my professional hat firmly on.
Lights, camera, action
And finally, there are a lot of videos out there showing you how to position your camera and some lighting. In short, you want your camera slightly above eye level (I prop my laptop on some books) and you want lighting behind your computer, pointing at you (I use a simple desk lamp).
Knowing you’ve got the basics under control will help your confidence soar.
While I take care to set the scene and remind my family to steer clear, things somehow manage to happen. By “things,” I mean dogs and kids, primarily, but also doorbells and lawn mowers and what have you.
I tell my clients at the start of each meeting that “there have been recent complaints filed about my colleagues in this co-working space, but thus far management has been slow to respond.”
All I can say here is please don’t sweat this. If you allow yourself to be anxious about what could happen to interrupt the presentation, your audience will sense that you're distracted. So be upfront about it. Even make a joke. I tell my clients at the start of each meeting that “there have been recent complaints filed about my colleagues in this co-working space, but thus far management has been slow to respond.”
Okay, it’s not hilarious. But it’s a lightly humorous way to say hey, I’ve done my best to clear the room, but things may happen. Let’s move on. Stating the worst-case scenario out loud gives you permission to stop fearing it. Less fear equals more confidence.
Keep your objective front and center
No matter how you slice it, data tells us that virtual calls and meetings are more energy-draining than in-person ones. This is not permission to skip them or shy away. But it should remind you to keep your presentations as short as you can in service of achieving your objective.
So … what is your objective?
Last week, in my town, the school board hosted a meeting to present the long-awaited school reopening plan for the fall. Hundreds of anxious parents dialed in hungry for details. And the presenter spent 28 minutes upfront delivering a lesson that could've been titled The History of COVID-19.
Be thoughtful about what your audience needs.
I understand that it might have felt important to the presenter to start with a justification for the board's decisions, but parents weren't there to hear about the realities of coronavirus; we just wanted to learn how the school would approach our children's education this fall. The presenter's long-winded windup left people feeling frustrated, angry, and anxious.
The board didn't seek my feedback, and I didn’t offer it. But I invite you to learn a lesson from their mistake. Be thoughtful about what your audience needs. Design your talking points and flow in a way that gets them quickly to the finish line.
Let’s face it, virtual meetings create a lot of temptation for multi-tasking. I’m guilty of it, too, when I’m not the one driving.
So take steps to keep your audience participating as much as possible. Don’t call out individuals by putting them on the spot, but do address people by name when you’re raising a question or point that might resonate with them.
Further, invest in learning the ins and outs of whatever platform you’re using. Many of them —Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx—offer capabilities like chat, hand raising, polling, and white boarding, all of which can help you shift the balance from away from you lecturing to an environment where your audience participates, asks and answers questions, has small group discussions, votes on possible outcomes, and more.
Sometimes I invite a team member to be my tech-deputy by helping me manage the interactive functions so I can focus on the audience.
The more people are able to participate, the more engaged your audience will be. And the more engaged they are, the more confident you’ll feel.
Own the virtual advantage
And finally, while presenting virtually has its challenges, don’t overlook the advantages it offers.
When you’re presenting live, there's little room for hiding tricks up your sleeve. But in the confines of your home office (or closet), you have access to space that those in your virtual audience can’t see. This space is perfect for hiding some tricks. Here are just a couple I’ve picked up.
Use a Bird’s Tail
"Bird's tail" is term coined by Whitespace at Work founder Juliet Funt. She writes a series of words or short phrases on Post It notes—all designed to capture the flow of the conversation—and she posts them all around the outside of her computer screen, like a flower. Posting notes can serve as a mini teleprompter, and having them can help reduce some of the pressure around remembering everything you want to say. The beauty of it is that you’re the only one who can see these notes.
Keep a browser open
When I’m presenting via Zoom or Meets, I’ll often have a few additional windows up in my browser. These may include pages I want to be able to reference during my presentation or a couple of LinkedIn profiles in case I want to reference details about anyone in the meeting. It’s a strategy that keeps me feeling more informed and prepared.
And there you have it. Whether you’re leading a conversation of two, pitching to a persnickety client, or gearing up to drop insight and inspiration on a virtual crowd of hundreds, I know you’re ready to take it on with grace.