How to stand out in a world of crappy online presenters

I once made myself a coffee, responded to an email, and brushed my daughter’s hair, all while ‘watching’ an online presentation.

I’m not proud. And I’m not alone.

Then again, I also recently watched a specialist in a niche that I a) work in and b) find fascinating absolutely butcher the topic — sending her audience to sleep, making me grind my teeth into stumps, and ensuring that I would not sign in for the remaining two of her three sessions. So there’s that.

But the latter was, to be honest, a truly CRAPPY presentation.

Is the crappiness of the presentation always the speaker’s fault?

Not entirely.

Today, many people are skittish about Zoom, Teams, Webex, Demio, WebinarJam, etc. They’re thrown off by being on-screen rather than on-stage. And — if I’m honest — many of the ‘experts’ who currently offer online training were not the world’s most riveting orators to begin with, even in ‘the old days’.

Now, I get that teaching online is scary and new and different.

I do.

So when you’re dealing with all of the unfamiliar pressures that accompany digital presentations, you must ensure that all your other ducks are in a row.

Here are some quick content, design and presentation tips for you:


1. Is your content meaningful, in that it’s either a) something no one else is saying or b) being delivered in a way no one else is delivering it?

2. Are you using custom presentations, created especially for each event and audience — or is it the same generic blather from last time? Always, always take the time to customise. Even if it’s just the top (intro) and tail (close).

3. Have you asked demographic and psychographic questions about the audience, with enough advance prep to use the answers? This is one of the reasons my presentations are effective: I create them for the viewer.

4. Craft a narrative, but don’t overfill the audience’s bucket. You can use more text on your slides than when you present in person, because there’s less in-room distraction, but structure your slides like mini-billboards.

5. Be prepared to use more slides than you used to. Attention spans dwindle during virtual presentations, so spread your content over additional slides so there’s more frequent on-screen change. (I sometimes alternate black on white slides with white on black slides, to wake people up.)


6. Design your slides as if you’re creating them for viewers sitting at the back of a large auditorium. Use larger fonts and plenty of empty space, and try not to situate things near the outer edges of your slides.

7. Does your slide design include Comic Sans, WordArt, cheesy animations or excessive bullet points in a size 12 font? If you have to use a template, make it a good one. (But if at all possible, rather don’t.)

8. [I’m guilty of this one myself. >>] Try not to rely on an obvious or over-used idiom to make an image relevant; i.e. a pic of shoes for ‘One size fits all.’

9. [Oy vey; I’ve also done this before. >>] Just because you think a picture’s striking or beautiful doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for making your point.

10. If you’re going to refer to numbers and statistics, always put them on a slide. Otherwise they fade into thin air and the audience forgets them.

11. If using bullets, animate their appearance — one by one — and dissolve their disappearance, so as not to overwhelm your viewer.

12. You won’t be able to see how your slides display on your audience’s screens, and your viewers’ settings for contrast, brightness and colour may vary. So stick with high-contrast colours and avoid tone variations.


13. Make friends with the pause. It’s a great tool for giving your audience a chance to process what you’ve said. There are other strategic uses for the pause: a pause before revealing something important can build anticipation, while one at the end of a sentence can reinforce a key point.

14. Draw your audience back in. Often. Assume that people aren’t looking at their screens the whole time, and say things like ‘What do you see below the picture of the woman on this slide?’, ‘Look at the data on the right-hand portion of your slide,’ or ‘Drop a YES into the comments if you agree.’

That’s it. Go off and be awesome. Good luck.

Tiffany Markman gives good advice on words and writing. Want some?

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