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The past year has brought a magnitude of changes for the marketing teams that most people thought would take a decade to take hold. The immediate impact of the pandemic was cancelled events, and sales presentations and marketing activity had to be re-geared for a virtual environment. Of course, the entire world of business communications had to change. 

The past year has condensed a huge amount of learning into a short space of time, and there’s plenty of best practice you can start incorporating right now. So even if you’re not sure whether your marketing activity, sales presentations or other activity will be online-only or a combination of both, here’s some best practice that will make sure your presentation stands out, no matter what format you end up working in.

Understanding the difference when events and presentations move online

Even before the pandemic, presentations weren’t always easy to get right. Too many presenters would cobble together mismatched decks from wordy slides that almost said what they wanted, and then bore their audiences into submission by reading bullet points aloud. So the bar was pretty low to start with, but moving everything online introduced an entire new set of factors that could make things even less engaging. 

It’s much easier to dial out (either physically or mentally) of a boring meeting when it’s online compared to when you’d travelled to attend in person. The presenter can’t rely on their own presence or charisma as easily, and an entire world of distraction is just a click away.

The main difference is that you’re now separated from your audience. With most people opting to mute themselves and switch off their cameras (sometimes so they can get on with a few other tasks) there’s no natural feedback for the presenter to work with. In addition, the presenter’s face is a small box in the corner of the screen. Unlike a conference room where the audience can easily see both you and your slides, you’re now in competition for space. 

On top of that, you have no control over the technology environment that people are watching with. Can they hear you and see you okay? Can you hear them? Is it easier for them to virtually put their hand up to ask questions? Will the detail on your graphs be visible if their laptop screen is too small? Will their connections be stable? 

The hybrid twist  

While hybrid events may have only recently entered most people’s vocabulary, the concept isn’t new. There have always been meetings where one or two people have dialled in remotely. Unfortunately, they often ended up being slightly ignored and it was a poor experience. That might have been tolerated 12 months ago but that certainly won’t be the case in the future. 

Even as we look at the calendar for 2021 most event organisers still can’t give a cast iron guarantee they’ll be able to run in-person to the same extent they did in 2019. A lot of attendees are also re-evaluating whether it’s even necessary to attend every event in-person. Some events might be worth the investment, but some might be easier to justify if you’re attending from home. 

That’s turbo-charged the idea of hybrid events and meetings – with a mix of remote and in-person attendees and presenters. 

Best practice for running virtual events and presentations 

Content is king: The key to running successful online sessions is to create compelling content, that means both top slide design and a worthwhile message. The things we need to do to make a presentation compelling are the same no matter if you’re presenting remotely or in a hybrid set-up. Meaningful visuals and animation to impart meaning not only engage the audience but also keep things moving. One of the biggest mistakes we see is presenters talking for five minutes over the top of static text-heavy slides the audience read and then ignored in ten seconds.

Use interaction to help with pacing: You can try and replicate some of the traditional elements of a conference – scheduling small discussion groups around certain topics, with cameras on so that delegates can still network and socialise. Most people will find their attention flagging after about 10 – 15 minutes, so use that as a rough schedule for when to break, mix things up with participation, change the presenter or move to another element of the event.

Nail your technology setup: Understanding and testing your technology set up will have a big impact on the accessibility and engagement of your presentation. That means the all-round audio and visual experience, regardless of whether your event is purely online or hybrid. 

For conference-room style meetings with fewer attendees, investing in multiple cameras to make those in the room feel visible to remote viewers for example, and microphones positioned around the room which capture all of the conversation. 

Similarly, make sure people meeting in person can see online attendees – that applies to both events and meetings. It isn’t a deal-breaker if not everyone joining online is visible all the time, but having at least some of the online audience visible to those in the room will help remind everyone they are there. 

Rethink your formats

Having two presenters can really break up content for an online audience. We can extend this concept and use multiple presenters – one in the room, one remote – to make sure that we’re definitely not ignoring those who aren’t in the room.

The remote presenter can monitor the chat, respond to points, advocate for the remote audience, and present some of their own content (from their own machine) to make it really clear that remote participants are ‘equal’.

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