Four Virtual Presentation Hacks I Wish I Would Have Known Earlier

Four Virtual Presentation Hacks I Wish I Would Have Known Earlier

The first time I finished a live webinar several years ago, I ran into the living room, exasperated, and told my husband, “I’ll NEVER do that again!”

At the time, presenting virtually felt like too much to manage — the windows, the tech, the chat, the equipment, and not enough human interaction and feedback for my taste.

I slumped on the couch and said, “I’m going to stick to in-person presentations.”

Now, many of us, including myself, find ourselves with no choice but to present virtually because of COVID-19. This time around though, I have more experience and tools at my disposal. Through trial and error, my team and I have learned tricks that help us feel more confident and prepared for presenting online.

Turns out, the more I present virtually, the more I like it! If only I had known these few tricks before my first live webinar, the experience would have been very much better (for myself and the participants).



Here are four virtual presentation hacks I wish I’d have known earlier:


  1. Less information is more: A virtual audience doesn’t have the same capacity to pay attention to a presentation that a live audience does. Therefore, edit, edit, edit. Only include the most compelling and relevant elements of your content and put the rest in a document they can refer to after the presentation.


  1. Build connection right away:  Most virtual presentations start with something like this, “Thanks for joining, we will get started in a few minutes.” Then AWKWARD SILENCE. I also did this for my first live webinar, and this lackluster beginning put my nerves on edge. Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, focus on building a connection from the get-go. Send the message that this presentation is going to be worthwhile and will be interactive (not a lecture).


Here are a few ideas to build instant connection:


Play music: Zoom allows you to share computer audio. Find some fun songs to bring up the energy right away. Pro tip: Test the volume with a friend before. What sounds like a reasonable volume to the one sharing audio might be blaring on the audience end.


Ask your audience to respond in the chat to a prompt . You can make the prompt fun and playful or related to your topic. For example, in our virtual presentation skills workshop, we start by asking people to type what they want to get out of the workshop into the chat. Then, we call out names and ask them to share more information. Not only are they focused right away on the content of the workshop, but now we have in the chat meaningful information about our participants that we can refer to later in the workshop.


Make small talk with audience members (if a small group): If the group is around 10 people or less, chat with them before the presentation starts. Pro tip: Have a conversation starter ready to go. For example, if your presentation is about scaling machine learning systems, ask participants what are common roadblocks they have encountered.


  1. Simulate the presentation on the platform BEFORE: This may seem like common sense, but a lot of people (including myself the first time) neglect to practice on the platform before they go live. Get a few audience members so you can practice the content with a real audience and feel what it’s like to share slides, manage the windows, and connect with the audience all at the same time. Better yet, record your practice session so you can watch it back later for any tweaks you want to make.


Some specific factors to simulate are: 

  • Window management: Is your screen big enough to have the audience showing, the slides, your notes, and the chat? If not, can you use two monitors?
  • Breakout Rooms (if on Zoom): If you decide to do breakout rooms, you should practice setting them up and practice giving very clear instructions as participants will not be able to see your slides once in the rooms. You can ask participants to take a screenshot of your slides or have a Google Doc available for them to reference. 
  • Referencing your notes: Can you manage having your notes up on your computer or do you want to print out your slides? There are lots of teleprompter apps you can consider. However, I suggest keeping minimal notes so you can focus on connecting with the audience.


  1. Get interaction every five minutes: This tip is from Harvard Business Review suggesting you never want to go more than 5 minutes in a virtual presentation without getting the group engaged. If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, your audience will retreat into an alluring observer role (or multi-tasker role). 


Some ways to get participation every 5 minutes are: 


  • Do a poll (on Zoom or use a third party app like Kahoot)
  • Pause: Ask for comments or questions and then PAUSE. We suggest waiting between 5-10 seconds to give your audience time to think and unmute. 
  • Ask the audience to interact with the camera: Thumbs up, thumbs down, nod head, raise hand, snap fingers for a quieter clap or applause. This not only engages them but makes you feel like your audience is with you. 
  • Stop sharing slides sometimes: Exit from sharing slides occasionally to connect with the audience. When you do this, it signals to the audience that you want a conversation. 


Many of us won’t be going back into the office for some time, and because presenting virtually may feel like too much to manage, you may be tempted to downplay the importance of connecting and engaging with your virtual audience. I felt the same temptation after my first webinar. These tricks not only have given me more and more confidence to present virtually but also helped my audience focus and feel energized at the end of the virtual presentation.  



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