Loading up the washing machine, feeding the dogs, checking my Facebook updates and making a cup of coffee are just some of the things that I sometimes end up doing whilst “watching" an online presentation.

I am not alone.  The research from Intercall shows that multitasking during online presentations is epidemic with colleagues managing emails, responding to calls and completing other work whilst watching a virtual presentation.

This is why creating ENGAGEMENT is the most important thing to bear in mind when writing our online presentations.  We must create a connection, get people involved and stimulate their interest.  If we are not going to engage our audience then we might as well send them a video or written communication.     

In the Presentations Made Easy With Steak, Sizzle and Style article we talked about the 3 things that every audience is looking for from their presenter:

  • Steak – Show me you are prepared, organised and knowledgable
  • Sizzle – Make the material interesting
  • Style – Bring yourself to the presentation

These three elements apply in the virtual world and require a few ammendments so that we overcome the challenges of technology and being physically apart.

Steak (Preparation and Content)
1. Hardware

Equipment recommendations

  • Laptop or desktop with inbuilt speaker and microphone
  • A phone or tablet should be avoided for presenting as the small screen makes it difficult to run and manage the session
  • If you can set your internet connection up with Ethernet rather than WIFI that will provide extra security
  • A cheap headset with a microphone will normally give you a better quality result than the inbuilt microphone in your computer
  • A second computer whilst you are running the session so that you can see what your audience can see

Check your equipment before the session

  • Make sure your internet, webcam and microphones are all working
  • Put your phone on silence
  • Switch off all desktop notifications
  • Free up bandwidth in the house by asking other users to come off Netflix, X-box etc whilst you are presenting.
2. Remote setup

Camera setup

To maximise the audience’s attention, ensure that the camera is capturing your face properly. You want to have your face and upper torso framed so that the audience can see your body language.


Help your face to come over clearly by front lighting yourself. This is simply done by placing a light behind your camera.  Avoid being backlit by sitting in front of a window.   You can use an ordinary house lamp or get something more specialist like this which can be angled.    An example of the lighting effect on this video.

Background noise

If you are in an environment with a lot of background noise then the app Krisp is really useful to give great audio focus on the presenter.  

Camera angle

The most attractive profile is when your camera is placed slightly higher than your head so you have to tilt your head up very slightly. 

3. Navigate the software

Whatever meeting app you are using be it Blue Jeans, Zoom, MS Teams, etc you must take time to get familiar with the functionality so that you can drive your presentation seamlessly. Here is a list of suggested functions you may want to get familiar with.

  • Switch yours and your participants video on and off
  • Mute and unmute particpants
  • Share your screen
  • Operate the chat
  • Use emoticons
  • Hand up icon
  • Use of whiteboards
  • Annotating functionlity
  • Setting up break out rooms

4. Planning your virtual presentation

Who is the winner in a game of golf?  The person who goes around in the least no of strokes.

The same is true for virtual presentations.  The audience loves a presenter that can cut to the chase and help save them time.  The challenge is it often takes us longer to make a virtual presentation than a face to face presentation.

Therefore we need to be ruthless and consider what material contributes to our presentation objective and message and what is superfluous.  Normally you need to cut 30% of your material if transferring a face to face presentation to online.

A planning document to help you construct your virtual presentation can be found here.   It is a very detailed document but the key is to get you to focus on engagement.  What are you doing every 90 seconds to 3mins to create engagement?  You won’t consider this in the moment.  The pressure will drive you into broadcast mode and disengage you from your audience.  If you do the planning up front then the engagement will be seamless.  

Remember:  Don’t include everything that you COULD say.  Just include what you MUST say.

Planning Document

5. Start and End with a hook

Audiences remember the beginning and end of your presentations.  The start of your presentation sets the tone and your audience will relax.  A good start gives you momentum and helps you find your stride.

Starting with a hook that carries the message of your presentation is a powerful way to start.  It is a great way to connect with the audience and get participation from the begining.  Remember the best presentations are dialogues not monologues.

Hook ideas

  • Asking a question that needs to be answered in the chat box
  • Having a question on the screen as people come into the presentation

If you end strongly with a clear message and call to action then your audience will  forgive you for any hicuups along the way.  As in face to face presentations it is ensuring that you keep momentum going right to the end and don’t allow the last 60 seconds to be a self conscious fade.

Give your audience some how-to ideas in the last couple of slides.  These last couple of slides shouldn’t be too information heavy.

Have a clear ending and if possible link to the hook that you used at the beginning so that your presentation has a nice circular feel.

Ideas to finish with hook

  • Ask the audience to share in the chat box “What was most useful for them here today?"
  • Go around the group and ask each person to share one action they are taking away.

6. Look the part

Do you sometimes feel that your presenter could have made a little bit more effort in how they dressed for their presentation?  It is so easy to neglect this part when many of us working from home.  Match the style of your audience and if you are not sure then go a little bit smarter.  It is always better to be overdressed rather than undressed.  You will unconsciously be giving your audience another message about your credibility when you are well dressed.

If you are able to wear something that helps you to standout from your background that can be helpful and any clothing that helps bring some colour to your face without being distracting.

7. Virtual Backgrounds

If you are working in a messy room that is likely to be distracting for your audience or the clutter is drowning you out as a presenter then think about using a virtual background.  All the free stock photo websites such as Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay have special categories.  If you wanted to create more of an office feel with a  logo then Virtual Office may be of use.

One super simple idea is to take a picture of your home office tidy and use that as your backdrop so that whenever you jump on a call you never have to worry about how tidy your room is.

Key points to consider when considering a virtual background:

  • Keep in clean and simple.  It is there to support you the presenter not distract with more noise.
  • Consider contest.  Ideally you the presenter should stand out from your background.
  • Pseudo reality can feel awkward.  Pictures of streets, pseudo bars and waterfalls can feel weird.

Some additional resources for elegant backgrounds

8. Clear Instructions

To keep an interactive and engaging presentation on course you need to be providing super clear instructions to your audience. This is particularly important when we are asking people to make contributions.  We need to be clear whether we want these contributions to be made via chat, whiteboard or vocally.  If we don’t mange the session it can feel like a runaway train.  We stop acknowledging all the contributions and the audience disengages because they feel ignored.

Examples of good clear instructions

  • “In the chat window, type your answer to….."
  • “Click the hand up icon, and I will invite you to unmute."
  • “Use the green tick if you have any experience of………."

Sizzle (Make the material interesting)

All elements of your presentation – steak, sizzle and style – give you an opportunity to enhance engagement.  However, the sizzle section probably gives the most latitude.  A one way monologue of you sharing your expertise is dull.  Instead, stop regularly to tell a quick story, ask a question, run a quiz, take a poll, share something funny or organise break out groups.

Keep your audience awake, keep them interested.

9. Bring key points to life through visuals

Great visuals in our presentations help to engage the audience, provide an easy way to explain ideas and give audiences a better chance of remembering the information.  If we read text only then we are likely to remember 10% of it 3 days later.  If we add a relevant image then we are likely to remember 65% of it 3 days later.  The easiest way to help your audience to remember your information is to add visuals.

Here are some sources and ideas for visuals

Stock photos


YouTube videos

Charts / Graphs

 Data has a story

Diagrammer – free diagrams from Nancy Duarte

Presentation charts: Get to the point

GIFS and Memes


Hand drawn pictures

  • Hand drawn visuals can be a great way to convey the exact message you are look for as well as being engaging and funny.
  • Recommended free training from Emer O’Leary here Sign up for her free 5 videos.
  • If you are not sure whether your visual is adding value ask yourself the following question:
      • “The purpose of this visual is to ________"

9. Uses props

Physical props in another way to increase audience engagement and this can be done virtually.   They are often memorable and can be used to explain a difficult concept or demonstrate a product.  They key is to make sure that they support your presentation and don’t distract.

The first thing is to ensure that people can actually see your prop.  Ideally have a good size prop that is easy to see irrespective of the size of the audiences screen.

Example of props being used to make a point

10. Use the interactive tools



During a presentation, you can insert a quiz or poll with a list of possible answers that the audience can then vote on.

Can be a great way to check in on an audience at the beginning of a presentation.  Get a sense check of where they are on a topic, how they are feeling and current emotions.

Question and Answers

Such a simple but powerful way to create more interaction is simply to run a Q&A session.  Simplicity itself!


11. Use of humour

One of the most powerful ways to create a connection with your audience is through humour.  In face to face presentations when you receive a ripple of laughter from the audience it stops you feeling isolated at the front of the room and creates a link between you.  

The same is true online.  You can feel the energy crackling through the airwaves when humour is in play.  It also helps with the learning and understanding of a point.  When an emotion comes into play we are cognitively more alert.  

Humour can be introduced through a self-deprecating story about yourself, a video clip or image.  

12. Engage people by using their names

In smaller meetings where conversation is possible then call on people by name and ask for their opinion or response.  If you use their name at the beginning and end of the request this is particularly powerful.

Style (Bring yourself to the presentation)
13. Switch the camera on and show your face

To have any sense of engagement everyone’s video cameras must be switched on. This is the first thing you should do at the begining of the session and sometimes you will simply need to insist. 

It is hard for your audience to connect with a disembodied voice. You also want to be able to see your audience so that you can see how they are reacting and flex accordingly.  

By having your camera on you immediately become more likable to your audience.  Human beings are attracted to faces.  

We talk about digital body language below but by having your camera on you allow for one of the most important charisma non verbal cues, hand gestures.  It is a powerful support to everything that you are saying.  You can use your hands to wave hello and goodbye, have explanatory gestures to support your points whilst speaking and visible hands whilst you are listening.

14. Look directly at the camera

It is very easy to get caught up looking at ourselves and cursing our bad hair day or shiny forehead. When we do this we look distracted and we reduce the power of our connection with the audience.

As unnatural as it feels when you talk straight to camera that feels the warmest and most engaging for your audience.

A couple of tips to help you do this:

  • Pop a photo of your family next to your camera so that you are looking at your family
  • If you are distracted by your image pop a post it note over the screen
  • Put your speaker notes or audience view as close to the camera as possible

Video demonstrating the power of eye contact 

15. Stand don't sit

Sitting is great. Standing is even better! One big mistake a lot of virtual presenters make is sitting down instead of standing.

When you stand:

  • You bring more energy
  • You can utilise your body language better
  • Your posture is stronger and looks more powerful
  • Your breathing is stronger so you utlise the full range of your vocal power

You can use a standing desk as shown here.  Or I have my work desk and then have created a “tower" on which sits my computer and lamp for front lighting.

Remember the default mode of a virtual audience is to be bored.  Your job is to be the MC and orchestrate some energy.  This is far easier when you are standing up.  This is not about going over the top but about bringing joy, delight and interest so that you light up that remote meeting.

16. Screen record yourself

The great thing about giving online presentations is that you can practice everything in the comfort of your own home. You can practice in the same room you’ll present in, with the same lighting, with the same computer setup, and everything. When practicing, make use of the screen recording feature!

When going over your video recordings, take careful consideration of the following:

  • Do I use too many/not enough hand gestures?
  • Is my body language unnatural or distracting?
  • Do I sound loud and confident enough?
  • Do I have any technical issues?
  • Am I under the time limit or going over?

You can even send your presentation over to a friend or family member for them to review at their convenience.

Further pointers on recording yourself