Creating engaging online meetings takes no more effort and involvement than in-person meetings. Keeping your audience engaged requires a greater effort of skills and awareness to maintain audience engagement.
Here are some ideas for delivering a web-based meeting / webinar / presentation that keeps your audience engaged, focused, and entertained.
1. Use good lighting
Make a point to conduct your on-camera web meetings in good lighting. Dim lighting casts a dim image, and can make you appear older and ominous. When you’re well-lit you appear more healthy, younger, and professional. Good lighting can also help your on-screen communication through a better display of our facial expressions and gestures that we make when speaking.
- A fluorescent ceiling light is common, but can often cast a cold and flat skin-tone.
- Incandescent or halogen lighting from most desk lamps are better, but they can cast harsh shadows, although better when there are two for a balanced lighting on your face.
- Diffused natural lighting- by a window or outside- can be terrific.
- But for best results, consider an LED ring light or bi-color video light. These newer technology lighting solutions are designed to help you look great on camera, by keeping the lighting balanced and warm.
Conducting your web meetings in good lighting is a small fix that can make a big impact.
2. Dress appropriately…you are on stage
People often fail to make the connection between dressing at home and dressing for work. If you’re in a work web meeting from home, dress as if you’re at the office. Image matters. And there’s no second chance to make a first impression.
Stay away from t-shirts or extra-casual clothing. Reduce complex patterns that are distracting or colors that clash. Choose solid, bold colors such as blue, orange, or red. Tend to your teeth, hair and makeup, using powder or blotting papers to reduce reflection. Keep a brush or comb nearby for quick touch ups during breaks. Consider how you would dress if you were a television reporter.
Men, a button-down or polo shirt can be great. For the million-dollar touch, a simple black blazer or jacket worn over your shirt can amplify your professionalism. No need for a necktie.
Women, a simple conservative top covered by a jacket is terrific. Makeup can be helpful. Keep your jewelry simple. Avoid earrings that swing and dangle or accessories that make sounds when you move.
Not only will you look better when you’re dressing up, you’ll feel up too. Dressing well can have a positive effect on endorphins…which can translate to greater confidence and command of the event.
3. Avoid harsh angles and head space
Camera angles can elicit emotion. Looking down into the lens of a camera (with your camera angled up at you) can send a subtle message of dominance, hostility, and control. Conversely, looking up into the lenses of a camera (with your camera angled down at you) can send a subtle message of inferiority, subservience, and weakness.
Imagine that you’re a little kid on the ground, looking up at an angry parent. You might feel intimidated or even want to cry. But you have an advantage. Your angle, looking-up, can deliver a perceived appearance of innocence and weakness through the eyes of your high-angle parent.
Camera angles have played a major role in motion pictures, deepening the drama of characters and subtly driving emotions. But drama is no place for a webcam meeting.
Aim for a straight-on face-to-face image between you and your camera. Position your webcam directly in front of you with less than 15% of empty space above the top of your head. Headspace can send a subtle message of imbalance and unease. Worse, those who know about proper camera positioning might make judgments or hold a bias for someone who doesn’t properly position themselves on screen. Study how others appear in television interviews and aim to emulate their positioning and appearance.
4. Minimalist backgrounds are best
When preparing for a web meeting, consider the ambiance and effect of the background. A neutral office cubicle or conference-room is fine for sending a signal of business. But home-offices sometimes send a mixed message; drawing into question whether you’re casually working inside your home…or whether you’ve created a true domain for work and productivity.
Aim to create a similar no-nonsense conservative setting for your web-meetings with your business colleagues. Try to create a clean and simple background and work to ensure you and your foreground are not overtaken by an ambiance of clutter. That clutter includes family photos, which sometimes appear en masse in the background of home-based web meetings. They can be warm and loving, but keep them to a minimum, as they might become an unwanted focal point.
A wall unit behind you can send a professional image, as long as it’s clean and organized. Organized bookshelves can reflect intellect and academia. Diplomas and awards can reflect accomplishment and dedication. And artwork on the wall can project affluence and culture.
If you want to cover something in your background, do it with class. A flat white bedsheet hung from the ceiling might appear garish and cheap, whereas a lightly textured blanket or comforter, hung properly, can exude a richer texture and project a sophisticated setting.
Zoom’s virtual background is an amazingly awesome feature that until recently would have been considered a high-end special effect. It’s a great way to reflect the message of your program with any relevant personal or stock photo. Using a photo editor, you can also create a virtual corporate “news set” and title block.
Zoom’s motion backgrounds are also great, but they can also create problems on low-bandwidth networks which might choke trying to display it properly. If you’re concerned about the connection quality of your audience, stick with a static and simple background.
Backgrounds are best when simple, soft, and non-obtrusive from the foreground (you!). In a business meeting, tone down the loud colors, and aim for colors that are more neutral; greys, tans, or sandstone, working to make the background complementary to you and the colors that you are wearing.
Separating your personal space from your working world on camera using a business-themed background can have a subtle but strong payoff on your audience’s professional perception of you.
5. Eliminate motion-based transitions and animations
Animation is valuable for keeping focus on one point at a time. For conference room business meetings, I advise people to keep their PowerPoint’s animations and transitions simple and conservative, sticking to wipes, dissolves, and fades. But with web meetings, even these effects are usually too much. Web meeting software usually have lower frame rates, and typically don’t display these effects properly.
For a no-nonsense display, avoid anything that moves (motion-based), and keep your animations and transitions to a simple appear-in and appear-out as needed.
6. Display (and test) your PowerPoint in Slide Show mode
PowerPoint’s Slide Show mode has taken a back-seat since the growth of web-based presentations. Once a hallmark of conference room presentations, this prime feature of PowerPoint displays a presentation in full-screen mode with animations, effects and slide transitions. But these days many people simply share their presentations in edit-mode, and page-up/down through their deck.
Even though it’s better to keep effects on a web meeting to a minimum, displaying your presentation in Slide Show mode sends a message of completeness & professionalism. It’s best accomplished using a two-screen setup, where you can display the slide show on the second monitor, while maintaining your first monitor (or laptop screen) as your control panel and meeting view-screen. In PowerPoint, you can select the monitor to display the presentation (Slide Show ribbon, Monitor).
PowerPoint’s Presenter View is a great feature for displaying your notes and reviewing timings on a second monitor (typically your laptop screen)- while your external monitor displays the full-screen presentation. But if you’re already using your first / laptop monitor for your Web Meeting controls and meeting view, and your second monitor for the full-screen presentation display, using the Presenter View for a web meeting is best accomplished only with a system that can support a third monitor.
Your PowerPoint or Keynote presentation might appear perfect…in edit mode. But things aren’t always as they appear, and that’s why testing your presentation in Slide Show mode allows you to preview the appearance, animations, and effects.
If you can conduct a test web meeting using two computers (host and audience), make sure there are no errant effects and that fonts, colors, videos, and other elements all appear properly. It’s also a great chance to practice and prepare!
7. Minimize distractions
From children running around in the background, to family/friends/pets making guest appearances, to household appliances asking for attention, home-based web meetings can be fraught with disruptions and distractions. Unless you live alone or have a private office with a sound-proof door, minimizing these interruptions takes consideration and planning.
Take an inventory of any devices that could distract you (or your audience) while you’re presenting, and take a pre-emptive “silence strike” on phones, alarms/reminders, apps, televisions, and music. Before starting your meeting let those in your household know you’re going into a business meeting and you need your area extra quiet. Consider hanging a sign or blocking your area with chairs or furniture to prevent homegrown meeting crashers.
If there’s noise outside your home that’s disruptive to you or your meeting (such as yard maintenance crews or garbage trucks), you can deal with it and wait for it to end, or relocate to a quieter location in your home. Turn-off your video and mute your audio while you’re relocating.
If you’re coughing during your meeting, mute your mic except when you need to talk. Coughing can sound extra loud and ominous over a mic. If you’re coughing while talking, consider leaving (or rescheduling) the meeting and tend to your health.
Try not to make a big deal about your troubles with the distraction; on camera complaints themselves can appear dramatic and disruptive. Expressing anger to family or friends for the interruption can be stressful and cause more harm than good. Roll with the punches, stay calm, and carry on.
For more tips on presenting like a pro when the unexpected strikes, check out my article, Dealing with Distractions.
8. Showcase your company’s brand image
Conference rooms are great venues for showcasing brand image. Logos on pens, notepads, coffee mugs, and wallpaper are all on display, promoting corporate pride and team spirit.
You have the same opportunity to carry your company brand into your home-based meeting venue. A company coffee mug on display, or a company photo with their logo on display are great ideas to connect you and your home together with your company and colleagues.
Consider integrating your company’s colors in your fashion. A shirt that includes your company colors is a subtle reflection of the brand. Wearing a shirt or cap with the company logo and colors is also brand-centric, as long as it’s not too casual or tacky. For management or important meetings, try a company pin in the upper lapel of your jacket.
A little extra effort will go a long way in sending a message that you’re a team player who cares about your organization!
9. Keep your notes nearby
Notes are often necessary to help presenters stay on-track and focused on the message. If you need to look at some notes, don’t let the process of searching for your notes throw you off from delivering your message. Work to maintain eye contact with the camera (and your audience).
For digital notes, display them on a second (or third) monitor, or tablet device. For printed notes, keep them organized and near you. Consider taping them on the side of your laptop and next to your camera, which will help you looking forward and focused. Memorize as many points as possible and keep a notepad and pen handy to make some notes with as little visual disruption as possible.
10. Project your presence, not just your picture
As we navigate the new normal of quarantined living and home-based web meetings, we are each seeking our own source for calmness, familiarity, and meaning. Appearing on camera for a web meeting is simple and straightforward. But during these times of uncertainty and stress, projecting your true and unique presence to your online colleagues can be more meaningful and sublime than ever. The web meeting is a rich opportunity for each of us to take stock of the situation and in ourselves while cultivating a deeper and more powerful profound connection with your audience. Share an inspiring story. Send a message of unity and hope. Rise above the fear and uncertainty. Smile, breathe and let your true colors shine.
It might be a long time before we return to the office conference room in groups. Until that time, we should treat the “web meeting” with the same reverence and importance as any live, in-person event, focused on communication and connection, as we all pull together during this time of opportunity and union.