We are all inundated with virtual content right now. To make up for the loss of in-person events, organizations everywhere have gone virtual, and your calendar is likely as filled as ours with online events. So, when you land a coveted speaking role, in the midst of dozens of talking heads that people are seeing each week, how can you use the opportunity to set yourself apart and be memorable?
Types of Virtual Speaking Roles
In the pandemic/post-pandemic world, most daily content seems to have taken a few different looks, either formal presentations with a Powerpoint (“Can you see my slides? No?”) or panel discussions. Whether it’s called a webinar, a seminar or a roundtable, the content tends to go down one of these two paths, or a hybrid mix of the two.
While we’ll cover both here, we tend to lean toward recommending conversational events more, especially in a virtual environment. Unless, of course, you’re doing a formal educational session… Those almost always benefit from the accompanying visual presentation. However, in our Google-driven world, enough information to get by on just about any topic is available in the search bar. What isn’t available is your expert take on those topics – and that’s where you connect with the audience. Not in a bulleted Powerpoint slide. Even if it means a little less screen time, we will always choose a moderated conversation over presentation format.
Bringing Your Presentation to Life with Stories
Obviously, a different strategy is needed for both types of presentation, but for either, the thing that makes them come alive most – and, good lord, when we’re staring at a screen for hours upon hours do we need presentations to come alive for us – are your stories. Real-life anecdotes that help your viewers grasp the meaning of the bullet points and data you’re throwing at them.
This was important before we were all subject to the virtual environment, and we would argue even more so now. Don’t rely on your bullet point lists to get your point across. Invite people into your real-life anecdotes and client testimonials (respecting necessary confidentialities, of course). Where in your body of work are the “wow factor” stories that will make even the people going through their e-mails while you speak straighten up and listen in?
Preparing for Your Virtual Speaking Role
For moderated discussions, the most important thing you can do in prep is to play a role in writing the pre-determined discussion questions. Make sure that the questions are written in a way that help you tell your best stories and get your top points out.
We moderate lots of panel discussions. In fact, it’s a service we provide through Momentum Public Affairs, and one that we very much enjoy doing. But we are amazed at how seldom we get feedback on our draft panel questions, because when we’re invited to sit on a panel, we’re all over them. We just take it to mean we got them right the first time!
For formal presentations, we won’t go into the best practices for a strong Powerpoint, as that’s a college course in itself, other than reminding you to work real-life stories into your comments.
Instead, the biggest piece of advice we’ll give here is to test, test and test. Everyone’s used to technical problems that happen in virtual meetings and the associated awkward jokes that come with them, but they’re also tired of them. Don’t spend all kinds of time building your presentation and then lose people’s focus by fumbling around with Screen Share.
Why Are You Taking On the Virtual Speaking Role in the First Place?
That’s not a question for you to think about right now. It’s a question that you need to ask yourself in regards to every speaking role you accept – one that you should address early on, because how you present yourself should meet your goals for the event. “Because they asked” is rarely a good use of your time.
Most speaking opportunities that you might receive through a chamber or business association generally frown upon turning them into a sales pitch. People know this, and unfortunately sometimes go so far out of their way to NOT make it a sales pitch that they completely miss the opportunity to connect with the audience in a way that could lead to sales. If getting in front of prospects is your reason for doing it, then that needs to be worked into your presentation.
How? Well, the simplest thing to look at is what are you wearing. We know how people dress for video calls, and that it’s not always the most professional. You want to be professional, so you wear what you’d wear to a live event. If the topic calls for it, or there’s some kind of licensable credibility you need to show that comes with business dress, than that’s good.
But how much do people care in a virtual setting? We’ve found the answer is very little. So, our recommendation is to pull out all of the logoed golf and button-down shirts you have and make them your virtual meeting attire. If you’re wearing something more formal, throw on a lapel pin of your logo. Throw up a virtual background with your logo on it. You don’t want to do an infomercial in our presentation, but you certainly can make people look at your branding for sixty straight minutes as you’re dropping knowledge on them.
You Be the Moderator
Another way around the sales pitch that we like to have our clients do is to actually be the moderator for the discussion. You aren’t going to find a lot of people who actually like doing the moderation, and fewer who are good at it. Many times, that’s because the moderator isn’t an expert in the topic. If it’s a topic that you specialize in, who better than to steer people through the conversation than you?
Here’s what that does: Yes, you’re not one of the “experts” being “interviewed” in the discussion. But you easily get the most screen time, and it is impossible for viewers to miss the fact that you’re steering the dialogue. In addition, your questions are far more intuitive than if the hosting organization had someone moderating, allowing your expertise to show.
Posting and Replay
The beauty of virtual events versus their live counterparts is that you automatically have a recording of your presentation or discussion. That’s gold, because it is instant content for you to share with your network. Especially if the topic is timely, make sure to follow up with the event host for the replay. They’re all very busy, and getting the video from your speaking role produced and posted is not always their top priority.
When you post to social media, pull out the time stamps on your own questions to direct people to them, and include the moderator’s question or your presentation topic in the actual post. And always tag your fellow speakers and the host organization in any follow-up to the event. They will all appreciate the plug.
Many organizations (including ours) are reporting that they are getting better participation and more engagement with virtual events than they ever had in-person. It’s not surprising, but it’s something we should pay close attention to. They are here to stay, even when in-person events open up again. If you’ve got expertise and a story to tell, get yourself some virtual speaking roles. Then, make the most of them when you do.
For our clients, we not only seek out (or create) the best speaking opportunities for you, but coach you on how to get the most out of them. Want to learn more? Schedule an intro call with us today !