Fall 2020 Meeting 2: Three Key Elements to Great Online Presentations

Job interviews, conferences, thesis defenses, and community engagement activities will be online for the foreseeable future and aspects of them will likely stay online even when we can travel again. So, investing time practicing how to deliver a great online presentation is more important than ever, and this means rethinking how you use online conferencing software and taking advantage of new tools to engage your audiences.

A piece of wood being jammed into a circle board.
Pictured above: The process of delivering an in-person presentation in an online setting without making any changes to the format.

There are several articles that list factors that contribute to Zoom fatigue, and I argue that there’s one more: everyone get exhausted watching presentations that are being delivered online but haven’t been changed–at all–from their in-person format. New platforms require a new way of thinking about your audience and how best to deliver your messages, and there are several advantages to presenting in a virtual setting that we just aren’t trained on.

The best online presentations have three elements in common: they demonstrate, participate, and elevate.

1) Demonstrate:

Everyone watching an online presentation has a front-row seat, unlocking our ability to put methodologies directly in front of the viewer. You no longer need to rely on diagrams – show your audience directly, in a personal way.

2) Participate:

Keep your audience’s attention by putting them to work. Identify spots in your presentation where you can bring your audience into the process, and use several different kinds of engagement tools throughout. These include Zoom polls, whiteboards, Poll Everywhere, word clouds, the chat boxes themselves, etc.

3) Elevate:

There is no rule requiring you to give a presentation from behind a desk. Teleport your audience directly to your field site or laboratory. Just bring a tripod to keep that camera steady. Also, bring in other perspectives from across the world. Diversify the expertise!

Some other tips and tricks:

  • Log in to your presentation using two devices, one being your “main camera” and the other being your “demonstration camera.”
  • Audio is the most critical element to your presentation – and not all microphones are created equal! Make sure you test the quality of your microphone with a buddy before giving your presentation to be sure it doesn’t crackle or squeal.
  • Set your camera at, or just above, eye-level.
  • Take advantage of my pillow trick for dampening echo: https://youtu.be/pF0NdKFAx_Y?t=429
  • How you sit can make a big difference! Give the seated-Superwoman-pose a try: https://youtu.be/pF0NdKFAx_Y?t=786
  • Pop in strategic videos/GIF slides to give you a break from speaking every 7-10 minutes. These breaks are great to re-center yourself, take a drink, and pause for your audience to digest what they have heard so far during your presentation.


Michelle Jewell is the Department of Applied Ecology’s science communicator and co-lectures AEC 495: Applied Science Communication every Spring semester. 


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