Natalie Butler, UK Manager, WebEx, and Karen Moyse, MD, KineticFuture, explain why digital presentation skills are more important than ever… and why businesses need to adapt to compete

The balance between face-to-face and remote communication is changing. Over the last few years a number of factors have contributed towards a growing trend for employees to conduct business via digital channels. Now the challenge is to ensure that any form of virtual communication remains as effective as the in-person alternative, and that the all-important art of face-to-face communication and charisma can be transferred to the digital world.

Virtual presentation skills are a relatively new phenomenon. Despite humble beginnings with the first, clunky video conferencing systems of the 1980s, it’s now commonplace for businesses to use digital media to communicate – for example web conferences, social networks, online video, podcasts and blogs. The reasons for this shift are threefold: concerns about the environment, the need to reduce the time and costs associated with meetings, the changing nature of technology and how a new generation of knowledge workers is communicating with each other.

The green factor has been especially prominent in recent years as global efforts to fight climate change increase, encouraging businesses to consider their own carbon footprint and demonstrate corporate responsibility. Now more and more businesses are considering the environmental cost of air travel – and suddenly a round-trip to New York for a two-hour meeting seems far less appropriate as it may have five years ago. Specific targets on organisations’ emissions, while not yet in force, are likely to be a key business consideration in the near future, and with studies showing that businesses and individual consumers alike are taking environmental factors into consideration when making purchase decisions, the importance of sustainable business practices is not going to diminish anytime soon.

The current economic climate also brings travel into question, on a basis of cost. The US credit crunch and fears of a subsequent recession mean corporate belts are being tightened across the world to maintain margins, efficiency and competitiveness – and business-class travel is one expense that can be trimmed in an instant. At the same time, the meteoric rise of consumer Web 2.0 applications, social networking tools and user-generated content is changing the way employees interact with each other and is fuelling the rise of digital communication even further. The next generation of office workers is already accustomed to using the internet for fairly advanced communication, whether it be managing an event via Facebook or sharing multimedia content through sites such as Flickr and YouTube. As a result technology vendors are now scrambling to add similar elements to their products to attract and engage customers for whom online networking has become second nature.

With these factors in mind, businesses are cutting business travel knowing that they can save money and cut their carbon output by replacing it where possible with technological alternatives. These include highly advanced web conferences with the ability to share any document, presentation or application, high-definition ‘Telepresence’ systems which give remote colleagues the sensation of sitting around the same table, or live sales and marketing events streamed over the internet. Using these tools, remote colleagues, partners or customers can collaborate efficiently on practically any issue without leaving their desks. The time employees save from not travelling can then be put to better use, increasing efficiency and productivity.

Using such technology organisations can bring practically any face-to-face meeting into the digital domain. For example, a sales presentation could be made to prospects or clients located anywhere in the world, or a large number of geographically dispersed staff could all attend the latest company training session simultaneously. Blanket broadband coverage and the ease-of-use of this type of application means getting into an online meeting is simple – the difficult part is making sure nothing is lost in the transition from face-to-face to online. It’s easy to assume presenting remotely rather than in person is less challenging, but in reality it does require a different set of considerations to be a success.

Karen Moyse, Managing Director of specialist communications training agency KineticFuture, outlines some of best practices for online presentation below.

Film director Martin Scorsese talks about “The Psychic Lens of the Camera”. What he means is that the camera exaggerates every emotion. So if you lack confidence or look ‘shifty’ you can multiply that impression by ten. Equally, being a strong digital communicator gives you a major advantage.

The goal for digital presentations is to look and sound like a relaxed and confident leader – not a “digital criminal”. But in the online world you will have to work harder to keep your audience’s attention. Our digital presentation training team has this advice on how to adapt your technique for the medium:

1. Understand the technology.

Find out about the new opportunities offered by these digital visual technologies, and work out the demands and limitations for you and for the audience. Make sure you’re familiar with all the different features so you can use them to their maximum effect. Check whether you can use visual aids, such as images or video content, and have them ready in advance. Understand the more advanced features, such as live audience polls, so they can be used to back you up as and when required. Practice with the tool of your choice is essential.

2. Get into a dialogue.

If using a webcam, try to see through the camera and talk to the audience normally. This will allow your natural charisma and passion to come through. With or without a camera, never rush – take time to receive information and react to it. But at all times keep your language precise and clear.

3. Use relaxation techniques.

Excess tension in your face and shoulders or excessive blinking will make you look paranoid if you are speaking direct to camera. It’s very different from being interviewed by a TV journalist. Stress or tension can also be detected in your voice so even if you won’t be on screen you should always take time to prepare and compose yourself properly before joining a conference.

4. Learn film star skills.

Don’t look directly into the camera. Use a point slightly above it and to the right. Vocally, use a normal volume – don’t shout or project too much. Use your hands to make key points but you may need to tone down your normal gesticulation.

5. Maintain your energy and stay alert.

On camera, your eyes are critical. If you lose the passion or switch off for a moment, you’ll lose the audience. Without a camera, you have to rely solely on your voice, which can prove more difficult. If you have someone else in the room with you try presenting to them as you speak – this helps maintain your energy and flow.

6. Use more interaction & variety.

Just like a TV programme, you need a way to hook the audience back in every five minutes. Make the message and format as exciting and interesting as possible. Then, keep using individual names, ask for active contributions and keep each segment as short as possible. The advanced features of web conferencing can really help here. If you can detect the audience flagging you could, for instance, launch an instant poll or quiz to gauge opinion on a particular point of interest, or break the presentation up with videos or other interactive content.

7. Be honest.

How good are you? These new skills are important. Get yourself filmed and take specialist advice.

KineticFuture is a specialist communications training company for leaders. For more information about digital communications courses contact Karen Moyse on karen@kineticfuture.com or www.kineticfuture.com

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