Two years ago, we were talking about the skills that young lawyers are seeking to hone as they in order to become successful, experienced lawyers, and it’s starting to become hard to believe that one of those was in-person presentation skills. While I absolutely believe that we’re going to get back to being face-to-face at some point in the future, in the meantime, it’s necessary for all of us to consider how we can improve our virtual presentation skills. We may think that if we’re skilled presenters already, that we’re ready for our zoom debuts, but it can be a different skillset – so let’s look at four ways to translate your in-person skills to an online world, and some bonus tips for presenting in a virtual environment.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This is as true for being in a virtual environment as it is online, so it shouldn’t be a surprise – the bonus is that you can also practice without an audience AND record yourself to see how you appear on camera.
- Test yourself: set up your own Zoom room, record the session, watch critically, rinse and repeat. If you prepare your presentation well in advance, you will have the time to rehearse extensively. You may be the type of person who knows their material inside and out, and is very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, but in that event, you’re most likely not reading this post. If you ARE, know that you might also appear differently on camera than you do in person. So run a short test beforehand – answer some questions that you think would be typical talking points for the presentation that you’re giving, and then play the recording back to see how you appear. Do you fidget? Play with your hair or tie? Are you always looking around or do you focus on the camera? What do you do with your hands? How much of you is visible? How much of your background is visible? Having an understanding of others’ impressions of you before you hop on video for a session is incredibly helpful – not only will it polish the overall presentation, but it will avoid any last minute distractions that you might have about yourself or your environment.
- Volunteer to present at any opportunity: Start small if you’re anxious, and consider volunteering to present outside of the industry – think charitable events, alumni panels at your law school, even firm meetings, etc. Get creative, find things you’re passionate about, and agree to speak about them or to them – almost everyone is hosting something virtual these days, so it’s fairly easy to find something to try!
Ask for Feedback
The general rule when asking for feedback is that you have to be prepared to implement it. Put your ego to the side for the moment and remember that whoever you ask has your best interests at heart.
- Ask friends and trusted advisers to watch your speeches/presentations and give you their thoughts: invite them to watch both recordings and live versions of your sessions. This is especially helpful when you are presenting IN the industry and may be offering something that is a bit too technical. Even when presenting to an audience of your peers, no one wants to hear a lot of jargon and legalese. If you can develop something that’s compelling and engaging enough for your friends and advisers to enjoy, your legal audience will too.
- Find a mentor in the industry, and role play with them (yes, even if you’re an experienced lawyer). Do this both for your presentations, and also smaller scenarios. Role play question and answer sessions, engaging with the audience before and after presentations, and how you may interact in a business meeting. This will help build confidence and give you the practice you need to develop the skills you’re looking for. It will also help you develop a rhythm for how you want to handle an actual presentation – are you the type of person who would prefer that all questions are held until the end, so you don’t have to monitor the chat? Or will you take questions as they come up? Will you be able to see the audience and interact with them directly, or is this a webinar format? Knowing which makes you more comfortable, and what questions to ask of third party hosts will be helpful in setting you up for a successful presentation.
There are some really amazing speakers out there, and now, more than ever, we have great access to them!
- Choose presenters that you find compelling and make a list of what is so engaging about them. Is it their body language, their speech patterns, their use of screen sharing or not? Identify what you’d like to emulate about them and try to include it in your own presentations while remaining authentic to your style.
- Give yourself a time period to see as many free webinars or virtual presentations as you are invited to (as is practical, as I know we’re all invited to a LOT these days), and take notes on what you think works and what doesn’t. How is the audience handled? How are questions handled? What does the presenter do or not do that you like and don’t like? What can you adapt for your own style of speaking?
Get some Expert Assistance
Presenting effectively seems like it would be something that we should be able to just do. But sometimes, you need a little bit of extra help and practice, and that’s what’s going to take you the extra mile.
- Join your local Toastmasters: these groups are all over the world and are specifically dedicated to helping their members improve their presentation skills. Even Toastmasters has been meeting online during COVID, and so while typically groups gather in the evenings or at lunch, and present on an agreed-upon topic, which they then share feedback on, they are now doing this virtually. It’s a great way to practice your skills, get feedback, and improve!
Bonus Tips for Presenting in a Virtual Environment
These aren’t the only things we need to know about presenting virtually, so here are a few hot tips for online success:
- Get the tech right: This is an obvious one, and I think by now we all know that we need to have the right microphone and camera, have tested them beforehand WITH the software that we’re using, and even then, there are no promises on the day. Even when you’ve tested something before, when you have a big presentation coming up, it’s worth running through a test again to ensure that you feel confident in your systems.
- Get the environment right: This is another obvious one, and again, it’s something that most of us have tested pretty strenuously. But as a reminder, check your lighting, your background, and also your ambient noise. While many of us are working from home and there definitely will be the occasional interruption that most people have the patience for, I’ve heard that more and more, there is an expectation that you will have found a quiet place to connect for any important sessions. I have two dogs at home, where I’ve worked with them for 12 years, so I sympathize – they love to bark at exactly the wrong moment! – but over time, you do figure out how to manage.
- Incorporate some in-person tips: We may not be together, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to incorporate some of the same things you would do if you were presenting in person – arrange your camera so that you’re presenting standing up, engage your audience using polls, questions, or breakout sessions, infuse some energy into your presentation, but in a way that is well-paced (and remember NOT to pace the “stage” if you’re standing up, because your audience will lose sight of you!).
Check out some additional tips from Forbes in their article on Best Practices For Virtual Presentations: 15 Expert Tips That Work For Everyone.
Learning how to present well in a virtual environment may seem like something that is necessary only as an interim measure, but although I know we’ll be back to in-person presentations soon, I know too that we’ll be engaging in virtual sessions for a long time to come. And practicing your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, whether virtually or otherwise, is never a wasted effort!