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Presentation styles and approaches, videoconference

Time For Your Videoconference Close-up. What Now?

What does it take to conduct a successful videoconference? Should you talk to the camera or to your audience? What's the difference?

Equipment issues aside, questions inevitably come up as to what it takes to conduct a successful videoconference. The best advice: Start with the fundamentals of effective presentation techniques. Beyond that, know the techniques of reaching beyond the camera to the other participants in the meeting, whether it's a small group or a large audience. You're still talking directly to people, just as you would be doing in an in-person meeting.

Our tips for conducting an effective videoconference:

First, prepare.
Start by setting your objectives. Keep these to a small number, ideally three to five key bullets. Make sure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting. Know what you expect to accomplish. Give the other participants time to prepare. Unless you're planning a surprise announcement, provide the other participants with an agenda to help keep the discussion focused on the key points.

Before the meeting, rehearse your presentation. Get comfortable with your surroundings and the equipment you'll be using. Practice focusing your eyes on the people in the room, if there are any, or on the camera. That'll help you to speak comfortably through the camera to the others in the meeting.

"Dress in muted or solid tones. Avoid red (it tends to bleed) and bright white (it can overload the picture's contrast)."

Keep it moving.
As the conference begins, ask everyone to identify themselves and their location.

You want the meeting to be interactive, and you may well want a lively discussion. But you don't want a free-for-all. In videoconferences, allow the presenter to speak without interrupting. It's preferable to then follow with a Q&A period.

Eliminate distractions.
Don't move around nervously while someone else is speaking. Avoid side conversations.

Dress in muted or solid tones. Avoid red (it tends to bleed) and bright white (it can overload the picture's contrast).

Be animated and natural. But be aware of gestures and movements that distract rather than reinforce. (See our article on non-verbal communication, While You're Talking, What Is Your Body Saying? in our Spring 2003 issue.)

If at some points your visuals are the only thing on screen, be aware that you're then in "radio" mode. Speak clearly, with vocal animation, without overdoing it.

Take a no-frills approach to your visuals. These should be straightforward, with less rather than more flash. As you would in a live presentation, speak not to the visuals directly, but to your audience. The visuals are there to enhance your spoken communication, not to overshadow it. Simple, clear, concise, still works best. That applies even more when using video.

Verbal cues can help viewers orient themselves to your slides, but there are limits and, done to excess, this can quickly become tedious. Remember also that you can't simply pull out a laser pointer to focus your viewers' attention on busy elements of a slide. Pointing should be built into the slide with arrows, circles, or other elements of slide design.

Videoconferencing, while it remains a useful alternative, doesn't carry the impact of in-person communication. However, if you do use this medium, it pays to get it right early on.


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