How should I structure my virtual presentation?

September 5, 2021

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We’re clambering out of the other side of the covid pandemic (fingers crossed!) back into something that feels like “normality”.

However, there is a consensus that some of the old normal will not return to how it was circa 2020, and the way we work is one of those changes that is hereto stay.

Home offices, virtual meetings and a cut down on commuting is how it’s going to roll for the foreseeable so, like it or not, you need to be equipped to adapt to the new working world if you want to succeed within it.

If what you need to succeed in is creating and delivering good presentations, but nowadays you need to do so online, stay tuned. This blog will cover the basics of how to structure you presentation and how to capture and retain the audience’s interest whilst delivering it via screen.

When presenting online, you lose three lines of non-verbal communication that you would have benefitted from had you been presenting face to face: the audience with you, the audience with each other and you with the audience. In a room together, the odd nod, wink or raised hand could well have positively assisted the presentation progression. When lacking the presence of body language and gestures you will need to think and plan clearly about how you are to build rapport and retain attention with your voice and flat screen image alone, especially considering distractions are only an email ping or doorbell ring away!

·      Be yourself to make a connection and hold the audience interest. Human beings like genuineness and sincerity. Don’t be a robot!
·      Don’t adlib, but don’t be rigid either.Plan your speech, leaving room for manoeuvre. You want to know what you’re going to say, but practice saying it in a way that is naturally fluid and be prepared to go off course if asked a question or interrupted in some other way
·      Encourage audience participation to engage your spectators early on. Keep them on their toes and attentive
·      Maintain interest with visual aids and rich media. Slide after slide and paragraph after paragraph alone will not prevail in the new virtual meeting world. Or any world these days to be fair!

Now you understand the importance of the role you, the presenter, plays we can move on to the presentation itself. The starting point for planning is the message. What is it you’re having to convey, and how best to convey it? Do you need to be informative, persuasive, entertaining, inspiring or a combination of these styles? This decision will depend on the presentation’s purpose and it’s spectators. Once you’ve established your genre, take some time to build a title page that appropriately and efficiently sums up what is about to unfold. You can always amend this along the way, but starting here will help you with the direction the presentation will take and aid you in listing the initial notes and points you want to cover.

Once you have the “filling” it’s time to make the“pie”. This is where you begin to scaffold what you have to say into the story. Storytelling is a skill that the cream of the presenting crop will have in spades and you must develop if you want to triumph in this field.

There are a number of different story plots that you can use as a basis for a truly good presentation, depending on what type of journey you want and need to take the audience on. Here is a selection of a few favs:

1. The Rise and fall
This style of structure taps into the audience’s emotions encouraging them to care and support you in your desire for change. To begin you paint a picture of the current situation, moving on to demonstrate the contrast between “what is” verses “what could be”, rising and falling in succession until you reveal the hopeful new bliss at the end.

Use this structure to:
·      Inspire your audience
·      Build enthusiasm and hope
·      Create patronage

2. The Monomyth
From Mulan to Harry Plotter to Lord of theRings, this structure is an absolute classic in the world of story plots. You start with how things were – perhaps not perfect, but you were doing ok untilWALLOP! A problem arrives that cannot be ignored. When presenting in this style, you will need to explain how you rose, or how you intend to rise, from rock bottom, “back home” again with a reward and/or newfound wisdom.

Use this structure to:
·      Pass on how you learned a valid lesson
·      Show how risk taking can be beneficial
·      Keep the audience captivated with “TheHero’s Journey” storytelling technique

3. The Climb
Similar to the monomyth, this presentation style presents an uphill struggle, over an obstacle (or several small ups and downs) before the descent to the happy conclusion. To build drama, showcase two routes to reach the goal – one that is underwhelming and one that inspires, obviously indicating that the inspirational option is in fact the only valid option. To end, include a little added benefit to finish on a high.

Use this structure to:
·      Progressively build suspense and tension
·      Explain how you overcame a series of challenges
·      Satisfy with a gratifying ending

4. The Ka-pow!
Have you noticed that more and more a modern tale have explosive beginnings? In this day and age humans crave, ne, demand action packed, high-octane, immediately impactful stories, so consider starting midst of plot with your presentation to grab attention from the word go. The in media res style of storytelling will not work in every instance, particularly for longer presentations, but if gripping your audience instantaneously is of benefit then “The Ka-Pow!” could be for you. Begin by plunging them into the most crucial or exciting part, then work back wards explaining how you got there. Don’t give too much away though, reveal just enough to tantalise their tastebuds before rewinding to set the rest of the scene.

Use this structure to:
·      Initiate focus to a pivotal part of the presentation
·      Secure full attention from the start
·      Wet the audience’s appetite for resolution

5. The Story within a Story within a Story
I’m sure we would have all at some point heard an anecdote of how a person impacted another person’s life in a positive and influential way? This resembles a technique of storytelling where you layer multiple narratives within each other around a core theme. You begin and end with the story that holds the important lesson, then you use other stories around the central principle to explain and amplify the message.

Use this structure to:
·      Demonstrate how you were enlightened with a certain wisdom
·      Link analogies to highlight a central concept
·      Show the process of how you reached an inspiring conclusion

These are just a mere handful of the ways in which you can structure your presentation, there are so many different techniques out there, you just need to find your right fit. What is absolutely key however, and the point I’ve been trying to drive home, is to really engage your audience you must tell a story. There lies the power in a good presentation. Be it a talk on tarmac or a speech on spandex, release the raconteur within and you’ll have them eating out of your hands.

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