Preparing for the small screen

By Helena Boden-Brewer

Fellow Toastmasters this is our new reality. As we adjust to this massive change to our world, for the majority that are staying at home, pause to consider those that are working to support us, from the wider community. For some this may be family and friends that work in the health service, the supermarkets and the delivery drivers. Follow the advice as we receive it. The changes are daily, and we all have to readjust again.

For our Toastmasters community, the switch to holding online club meetings, hosting events and contests, the response has been phenomenal. In such a short space of time, Zoom meetings are being held and the sense of our community is shining through. The club buddies of phoning members of within your club and checking in with members. It’s a small thing, that really matters. For those that are self-isolating or live alone, being able to join in, either online or via the dial in details, hearing familiar voices, sharing stories, are providing support in these challenging times. 

A new role of Zoom Master has sprung up. I’d like to thank all those members that have joined the Zoom Masters What’s App group and are sharing information and creating guidance, that we can all benefit from.

With these extraordinary times, comes changes to our personal lives, for some, this is about the job security and certainty. The shift to moving job interviews online is something new to many. From the posts I put on Facebook and What’s App last week, there are volunteers stepping forward, offering to help those seeking support for online interviews. Contact me if you require support in this area. 

Last year for Toastmasters I wrote a series of articles about preparing for the small screen. There are similar tips if you are preparing to conduct a webinar, host a virtual meeting or be interviewed online.

Here are ten tips for you to consider.

1 – Are you sitting comfortably?

If you are delivering a webinar you will be sitting in the same chair for at least an hour. Ensuring you are comfortable, with good back support will help. Then there’s the position of your laptop or camera in relation to where you are sitting, which parts of you can be seen. Movement is tricky, if you lean forward towards your camera, the audience will receive unexpected close up.  Think about your habits, do you rock in your chair, place your hand under your chin, rub your ear or flick your hair? All small things, but easy to become distracting for your audience watching you.

2 – Who are you?

If someone has booked to attend your webinar, they may have done so for several reasons, such as you’re an industry expert, your webinar has been recommended, or they liked the subject matter of your webinar. Providing a brief induction about you and the purpose of the webinar helps settle the attendees. If you have over 20 attending, it may not be possible to allow time for them to introduce each other. However, if it a business meeting, a small conference or an interview, it is definitely worth knowing who else is there. Allow time for introductions as simple as name, position and company. This will assist you in knowing if all key stakeholders have joined, and if not, have they sent a representative instead.

3 – Can you hear me?

This is the biggest issue when delivering online training sessions. You need to check in with your online audience that they can actually hear you. The blips and crackles on the sound mean that you are battling with software and putting it this right, rather than delivering your webinar. Joining virtual meetings there is sometimes odd background noises which the attendees are unaware of from their location which is very loud. If you can control muting attendees, do. If not, then encourage them to mute themselves whilst listening. There may be times that despite all the checks that the signal just isn’t good enough. Be prepared to redeliver key points when you recap.

4 – What does that mean?

There are many turns of phrase that are quirky and very British. One recently which had a TV audience thinking about its meaning, ‘put jam on your shoes and invite your trousers down for tea.’ Whilst this may be an obscure expression to some, others will know exactly what is meant by it. When you add turns of phases or language which are not readily in everyday use, consider how your attendees will interpret them. A webinar on an industry subject with a global reach delivered in English, all the whizz bang technical jargon will be fully understood. It will be something else, that will trip you up. Consider the questions and time it will take for you to explain why you would put jam on your shoes and invite your trousers down for tea. 

5 – It’s behind you!

Whilst you are busy focussing on the camera, have you checked what’s behind you? Whenever possible a clean background is the simplest. If you work in an office that has glass screens, walls and doors, it can be distracting for your audience to have people walking behind you when you are delivering your presentation or pitch. If it’s a virtual interview, definitely clear up the clutter and check what photos and artwork is on the wall. You need to ensure ample lighting for your face, particularly if your background is dark. Does any of the lighting cast shadows on the wall behind you? If it does, change this.

6 – Testing, testing, one, two, three!

It is worth conducting a run through of any presentation you give. Treat online the same way and practice with a test session. If you are handling technical aspects, it’ll give you one less concern when you are delivering. For webinars, definitely consider recording and watching the test session. You can use this to make any necessary changes. Also, if you have technical problems on the day, you can always use this version to send out the attendees of your webinar later. If you are working with a software package, check out if they have on-line tutorials that you can watch, the tips may prove very handy, should the technical gremlins decide to come out to play.

7 – Lookin’ good!

Just like meeting people face to face, you have to look the part, your appearance matters. Being well groomed will help you and your confidence, particularly in an interview situation. It’s not just the clothes, your hair, beard etc…. neat, tidy and professional. In the world of the big and bigger screens, makeup is the norm for a reason, for presenters and actors. Consider how to take the shine from your forehead, taking out redness from the face or conceal dark circles under the eyes. The camera picks up all those blemishes and to you, they will seem to be magnified and you will focus in on them. Be confident and use makeup if you need to.

8 – Any questions?

Be prepared to answer questions. Something to ponder is using systems which provide you with options, for example attendees message rather than interact vocally. How will you manage this? You may want to consider having support to deal with the online questions as they arise. They are likely to follow themes based on what you have said. You can have some standard responses ready which you can add into your webinar as you go along. If you are managing the live stream and the questions by yourself, pause after key points check in with the audience that they are following you. This is a good time to ask for questions, which you can then address before you move on. As you presenter you control this and when you are ready, confidentially state that you will take any further questions about the queries after the webinar.  

9 – Reading between the lines.

Try to avoid reading from notes. You will look down and your audience will have a great shot of the top of your head. If the notes are on screen, the movement of your eyes will look odd. All the warmth you will have generated will be lost as you are more likely to come across as stern and robotic. Know your presentation inside out, so that you appear natural. Having prompt cards with key words on that you can glance at helps with when delivering presentations. How about using post-it notes on the side of your screen? You can see them, but the audience can’t. 

10 – And action! 

Start on the scheduled time. Greet your audience, colleagues or potential employer with a smile. All the skills that you have developed presenting in person apply here too. You have to engage your audience to ensure they receive your message. A mic or headset maybe required, if you are waving your hands about, you may knock this. Endeavour to keep your hands out of shot, if need be, sit on them. Be aware of your nonverbal communications, your eye contact, body language and facial gestures, all come into play. Allow the best of your personality shine through.

Remember to keep a steady pace of speaking, take pauses at transition points and breath. Endeavour to engage with your audience by checking in with them and addressing their questions. Keep to the time stated. 

See you on the small screen soon.

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