Like it or not, the prevalence of conferencing software use is increasing and likely to continue to do so.  For this reason, developing video presentation skills will give an advantage to students who want to ace the presentation, win the interview, land the job, or impress the client.  As an SoC communication instructor and ASBE program evaluator, I have watched hundreds of presentations over conferencing software, mostly Zoom.  The following is a discussion of the 5 most frequent- and annoying- mistakes Zoom presenters make and how to avoid them.

  1. Dress for the occasion!

Just because we can’t see all of you doesn’t mean you should slack off on your appearance.  Neat grooming & professional attire serves 3 beneficial purposes: first, it tells the audience that you are taking your content- and them– seriously.  Second, dressing for the occasion psychologically helps you to adopt a proper tone, posture, & energy.  Third, you will avoid the possibility of an accidental, embarrassing reveal!

  1. Your surroundings are part of your appearance- dress them appropriately too.

Pay careful attention to your physical space: open window blinds can cause stripes across your face. Turn off distracting ceiling fans. Prevent lights from facing into the camera; avoid backlighting (e.g.: don’t sit in front of a sunny window); and place a light source in front of & slightly above you for best lighting effect. Clean up the room and make it esthetically pleasing (an organized bookshelf & a plant are good background prop choices); eliminate clutter; and beware of mirrors which may be revealing the mess in the corner. Ask someone to take care of your pet for a few hours. If you are in a dorm room, try hanging a plain bedsheet to create an artificial wall, then add a few sophisticated props to dress up the space.  It takes some effort and pre-planning, but is totally worth it when you consider that your audience’s first impression is going to be visual and bias their opinion of the rest of your presentation.  (Virtual backgrounds scream “I’m hiding something” and should only be used as a last resort!)

  1. Position yourself and the camera for maximum effect.

Make sure your head and shoulders are visible and take up most of the screen (this will also reduce the amount of background dressing you will have to do).  Ideally, your eyes should be 2/3 up from the bottom of the screen.  Set your laptop on a box so you don’t have to angle your screen toward the ceiling (and the audience isn’t looking up your nose).

  1. Practice immediacy behaviors.

Immediacy is the creation of psychological perceptions of interpersonal closeness.  In short, it is establishing a sense of connectedness with your audience.  You can’t make real eye contact, but you can simulate it by frequently looking at or near the camera rather than the video image of the people you’re talking to.  It feels weird at first but gets easier with practice.  To perfect eye contact, turn on your camera and take screen shots of yourself as you look at the camera and other positions near it- that way you can pinpoint the exact spot to “fake” looking into your audience’s eyes.  Smile! This lets your audience know you are friendly and approachable- it will also boost your own energy level.  Use vocalics– especially those that indicate enthusiasm, like volume & pitch.  Few things are more boring than a monotone voice.  Did you know enthusiasm is contagious?  If you seem excited about your subject, your audience will be excited about it too (the reverse is also true: if you don’t seem excited about it, they won’t be either).  Avoid the temptation to read a script- the audience can TOTALLY tell, and it will destroy your credibility, prevent immediacy, and put your audience to sleep.  Instead of talking AT your audience, have a conversation with them: use a few talking points to keep your presentation on track, then imagine you are sharing your great idea with friends. No one will notice if you forget a piece of information, and perfect sentence structure is not important- but connecting with your audience IS.

  1. Do a practice presentation and record it.

Is your internet connection good? If sketchy, relocate somewhere else. How is the sound quality? If you hear an echo, try placing a pillow against the wall next to you (outside of the camera’s view).  Did your PPT or video share work well?  Is the text size on your slides large enough for viewers to easily read? Are the colors pleasant to look at or do they irritate the eyes? Things look differently over video, so check it out!  If you are presenting with a team, practice your segues- that is, your transitions from one speaker & topic to the next speaker & topic.  Segues are important for a smooth, professional presentation.  Example: “…That concludes our market analysis. Now, Jane will discuss our distribution plan.”  Finally, take note of the name displayed on your video feed- it should be yours, correctly spelled, and consist of your first and last name- not abbreviations or silly nicknames. For example, No: nnichols ; Yes: Nicci Nichols

Many of these tips will seem artificial and strange to you- but they won’t seem that way to the audience. Keeping them interested is priority #1, because even the most brilliant idea will fall flat if the audience is too bored or too distracted to listen.  Ready to crush your next Zoom prez?  You’ve got this!