Delivering a memorable, high-caliber presentation is no easy feat, especially when the stakes are high. As the Covid-19 pandemic pushes more work into the digital world, business owners and leaders are experiencing the added challenge of creating presentations that engage and inform their teams and customers from a distance. But without a thoughtful plan for design and delivery, many of these presentations will, unfortunately, fall short of expectations.

Based on my past and current experiences delivering online presentations -- from workshops and courses to webinars and even keynotes -- I've learned that the most powerful and polished presentations do the following things before, during, and after the event.

Before the presentation: Match the message to the medium.

Many leaders worry that a virtual presentation will feel impersonal and long-winded, since they rely on the energy and body language of a "live" audience to guide their delivery. That's why the design process is so critical -- and you need to think about how you'll match your message to the medium. Consider making these your guiding design principles:

  • "Chunk" your content. Break down your ideas into bite -size portions that can be easily grasped and digested. Chunking lessens the cognitive load of learning online and makes your presentation more understandable. 
  • Use visuals wisely.  Images should compel, not compete. Unlike in-person presentations, where images blend into the backdrop, visuals tend to have an outsize effect in virtual presentations (especially in Zoom or Skype, where they dwarf your video thumbnail). Your facial expressions, tone and cadence will convey just as much meaning as that slide you're dying to show. Words can make impressions, too.
  • Make interaction a priority. With a small amount of effort,  you can turn virtual presentations into interactive experiences. In a recent online client workshop, I used  Zoom's "breakout rooms" feature to let participants solve a remote-work challenge in real-time. Zoom allows hosts to pre-assign participants to breakout rooms, which can be especially useful to owners and team leaders who want to use collaboration for strategic purposes. Integrating real-time polling with web-based tools like Slido or Poll Everywhere can bring the right amount of spontaneity when you need it. And assigning partners to discuss an issue through Zoom's private chat can provide a focused environment for collaboration.

During the presentation: Be your own A/V pro.

Just because your presentation is virtual doesn't mean you should sacrifice quality. Paying attention to the sound, lighting, and optics of your "stage" will make a difference in how your presentation is perceived by others. As your presentation is about to get underway, check your audio and video settings to make sure they're at optimal levels. Your background should be tasteful and professional, free of clutter and visual distractions. 

If you're presenting through Zoom, share hosting privileges with someone on your team (or, if you're presenting to an outside group, with an event organizer or lead) to manage production duties like sharing screens, advancing slides, or cueing external online content. These tasks, though minor, can break your flow and cause unnecessary delivery drags.  And for additional support, consider turning your phone into a confidence monitor by logging into Zoom as a participant (you can adjust the settings to go incognito) to see what your audience sees. 

After the presentation: Share resources and reflections.

Your presentation may be over, but if you want your message to matter, the work's not quite done. To help your attendees review, retain, and revise their next steps, share post-presentation resources and reflections with attendees that not only summarize the main points but offer guidance on how to follow up. 

After wrapping up an online training for a client or industry group, I create a post-presentation playbook that features a full recording of the session, a transcript of the chat discussion (which I use strategically to collect insights and ideas from attendees), a run-down of key learnings and round-up of related readings and research for further study. This may seem like overkill, but I can't tell you how many people find the playbook instrumental in helping them transfer and apply new knowledge.

Even when conditions allow for groups to gather in person, the impact of a well-designed, thoughtfully executed virtual presentation should become part of your communication platform. Not only can you widen your reach, but you might even stretch your horizons.