Love it or hate it, presentations are a part of business and won’t be going anywhere soon. In fact, if indications from major brands are anything to go by, remote work (and the necessity of virtual pitches) just may be here to stay.
Whether you’re pitching for new business development or presenting latest numbers for a potential acquisition, a virtual pitch is likely going to facilitate your communication. As a result, mastering virtual pitches can directly impact your ability to sell through big strategic thinking, unlock more creative ideas and keep your career on track.
So how do you beat the challenges of remote presentation and improve your chances of winning that crucial client pitch? I’ll explain some of the best tips that you can start implementing today.
Why are virtual pitches so difficult?
Although we may be comfortable with making a presentation in person, going virtual has its own challenges — many of which may not have been apparent until now. Many of the verbal and visual cues you employ to take your audience on a journey and gauge their response levels are absent remotely.
Often, it’s just you mostly staring at your presentation on a laptop screen, and sometimes, the tiny faces of your audience. Actually, the best-case scenario is tiny faces because oftentimes your audience will have their cameras turned off. In either case, you can’t really make eye contact with them, modulate your delivery in response to their non-verbal cues or do any of those things that can give you control of a physical room.
And then there’s the possibility of annoying hiccups with your technical set up. You may experience a bit of a lag due to slower internet connections, and sometimes, you may lose your connection entirely — leaving your audience to say “I think she’s frozen.”
All of this can combine to make the experience of remote presentations largely forgettable. But the great news is — there are many ways in which we can turn remote presentations to our advantage.
How to conduct effective remote presentations
Conducting effective virtual pitches starts with feeling confident in the value you’re about to deliver. That value can be found in many places — it could be in the intelligence of your data or the value your agency brings to a potential client.
Whatever that value is, your next step after identifying it will be how to communicate that value to your audience. That’s where these tips below come in.
There are four important factors to an effective virtual presentation that you should keep in mind:
- Technical setup
An important part of good engagement involves creating a great storyline that captures and keeps the attention of your audience. How do you achieve this?
First, look to your content — what to say and what not to say. A presentation is not an opportunity to cram 5,000 words of dense content into a hundred slides. I recently sat in on a 1-hour virtual pitch with 80 slides. Don’t do this. You should provide the minimum amount of information necessary to keep your audience informed but not overwhelmed.
Second, how do you structure your story? Your story flow will be important to reeling people in and keeping them captivated. A good process I like to follow is the Storybrand Framework by Donald Miller:
- A Character
- Has a Problem
- And Meets a Guide (your agency is the guide not the hero of the story)
- Who Gives Them a Plan
- And Calls Them to Action
- That Helps Them Avoid Failure
- And Ends in a Success
Other things to keep in mind as far as engagement is concerned include:
- Managing chat, Q&A and breakout rooms: For external pitches, you should have someone moderating questions and answers as you make your presentation. This lets you pay your undivided attention to the pitch. If necessary, you can chair a breakout session after the pitch.
- Techniques for collaboration and feedback: It can be hard to gauge how well you’re doing in a virtual pitch. As a result, it’s a good idea to send a review/recap email to ensure the important messages stick.
- Restoring and maintaining audience engagement: Sometimes, people may have difficulty following your slides. A great technique to use here is to include an outline of your presentation and also use small progress markers on each page that show where you are in your presentation.
You should approach the design of your slides with the engagement mindset described above. Design is not just a way to make your slides attractive and readable, it’s also a key part of engagement and is crucial to achieving your specific objectives.
As a result, your job, during the design process, will be to design the slides in a way that matches your goals. These goals may vary, but there are certain minimum principles every presentation design should abide by.
First, you simply have to make your slides easy to understand and follow, at a single glance. While I enjoy live presentations with only a single word and a picture, the truth is this can be tough in a virtual environment where you might have audio issues. Keep in mind that your slides will be one of the only reference points attendees will have of your presentation. Due to this, it needs to convey sufficient information all on its own, but this should be light and simple.
Second, if there’s anything that’s absolutely important to pass across, it should be in your slides. Although this sounds obvious, it can be easy to miss. Individual pages should contain light information, with the most important points highlighted or made to stand out.
Let your slides be rich with images, or a tasteful background, or even gifs — but don’t overdo it. This article from HubSpot does a good job of explaining some of the ways you can create great slides.
Physicality, in presentation, refers to how we deliver a pitch. Often, physicality refers to our posture, voice and facial expression in presenting. Unfortunately, this is also one of the areas in which we suffer most from the shift to virtual pitches.
The first thing about posture represents a bit of an issue. Do you sit or stand upright when making a virtual presentation? We are used to standing as we present, as we gain confidence from the upright posture and have a clearer voice. However, standing for a virtual pitch may make you and the audience uncomfortable. This becomes more awkward especially if you don’t have a standing desk and are looking down into the camera. A better approach is to maintain an upright, confident posture, but do not lean into the webcam. Maintain a good distance from the camera (about 2 feet).
Your voice should be decisive and natural as you speak. Rehearsing the pitch a few times in your natural voice should help you learn the points of your slide so you know where to pause, speak slower or hit a higher pitch.
Another thing that is sadly muted in virtual pitches is the power of facial expressions. These would have served as important cues to and from your audience. It is also impossible to look people in the eye as you make your presentation.
Regardless, you can still maintain an aura of attentive confidence as you make your pitch. A good step is to look directly into the webcam as much as possible, rather than into your screen. By looking into the webcam, you achieve the effect of looking directly at your audience and this can help hold them captive.
Lastly, try not to read directly from your slides, except when the presentation calls for it. Speak to your slides instead, and use the presentation mode in PowerPoint or Keynote so you have a good preview of the next slide before it goes live.
If your laptop does not have a good webcam, then invest in a USB webcam. There are several little things that will add to the quality of your virtual pitch and having a clear, flawless video feed is one.
Apart from this, you should ensure you have a strong internet connection. Try to schedule your pitch when there aren’t four other people on Zoom calls in your house (speaking from experience). Also pay attention to the following:
- Lighting: Be sure to conduct your pitch in a well-lit room, and ideally while facing a window. Never back a window or any other light source. This is even more pronounced for us with darker skin. If there’s no natural light source, you can position a large LED behind your laptop. The light source should be large (something like a vanity mirror arrangement).
- Sound: Without going into too much detail here your best option is a cardioid microphone for best sound quality. These mics do a good job of picking up sounds right in front of them and ignoring everything else. However, for many of us the Apple AirPods will do just fine.
- Wardrobe: Needless to say, you should look the part when making a virtual pitch. Dress as you would for a live pitch.
- Background: Try not to sit with a door in the background so you don’t have people popping up in your video. Thankfully, most video conference applications allow you to choose from a set of virtual backgrounds.
Succeeding in a virtual pitch can be difficult due to the unique challenges of remote presentation. But it is possible to make the situation work for you — and that starts with implementing these tips for effective presentation.
Are there any other ways you have been making virtual presentations work for you?