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Chris Dawes

Expert opinion: How to be effective online in meetings, training and presentations

Chris Dawes, founder and managing director of Swindon-based Open Dawes Training, which provides CPD accredited public speaking and presentation training, looks at how presenting and training have needed to be adapted to make them work well online.

Lockdown led to a boom in online meetings, webinars, presentations, demonstrations, and training, and is likely to be here to stay to some extent.

Businesspeople who formerly presented face-to-face have been forced to turn to video software such as Zoom and Teams, and we have all probably experienced the full quality spectrum of them.

Indeed, it is not just presenters and trainers who have moved online. Company owners and managers are now networking, meeting and liaising online with their teams, customers, prospects and suppliers.

This boom has many advantages, not least in cutting travel time and carbon emissions. But not everyone has found the transition easy or natural.

Speaking and presenting effectively and with the same levels of impact online requires a new skillset and mindset.

Here is some of the advice we give to our clients:

  • Remember you are having a conversation, and that will help you talk more naturally and fluidly (just as you would if you were chatting online to friends or family or taking part in the lockdown craze of online quiz nights). You should look at your audience, and that means looking right into the camera on your computer or tablet, more than at your screen.
  • You’re not taking part in an audition for Britain’s Got Talent or the X Factor! You are talking to people who are interested in what you have to say, because you are there to share information and knowledge. So, relax, just be yourself on a good day, and add a little 10% extra to make it engaging.
  • Slow your talking down. This will help you avoid excessive ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ and will also give you a little thinking time. If you take an occasional sip of water, this will help slow your pace too. It also overcomes potential technical lags too.
  • Deliver your talk with conviction and enthusiasm. If you think ‘boring’ you will sound boring. Enthusiasm is contagious and helps engage your audience.
  • Smile, sit tall and look interested. This will get oxygen into your lungs (which is calming) and give you greater presence on camera. In fact, this also applies to how you sound, so also follow this tip when you are on audio only.
  • Remember your body language. Still use hand and facial expressions, just as you would in a face-to-face talk if you were standing. It helps convey your message and give energy to your voice. Most of us do it when we are on a dramatic phone call!
  • Make a plan. You don’t need a script – nobody wants to hear you reading that – but list your points and objectives and that will help you keep on point. Less script means more of you!
  • If you allow questions let you audience know when it is OK to ask them: all the way through or at the end? It is perfectly OK to pause to think before you answer a question.
  • Don’t end the talk straight after questions. Have a powerful closing statement or call to action and repeat or say last what you want the audience to remember most.
  • Remember: presenting may open doors you didn’t even know were there, so give it a go and don’t shy away.

Chris Dawes is founder and managing director of Swindon-based Open Dawes Training, which provides CPD accredited public speaking and presentation training.