6 tips for presenting successfully online

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Virtual events will be a constant fixture on our calendars for the remainder of 2021, and are set to be just as popular once Covid calms down. The upside to this is the ability for speakers to present from anywhere in the world, as well as making events more accessible to attendees.

Presenting to nothing but your screen can be a daunting experience – you have no audience to gauge how your talk is being received, and you don’t have a room full of people to help energise your talk – but this doesn’t need to mean a dull and unengaging presentation!

  1. Testing, testing, 123!

Events are held over a variety of platforms, so ensuring you are comfortable with the software before the live event is essential. If you’re the event host, set up a short tech test call with your speakers in the days leading up to your event, so your speakers can test the software and make sure their presentation looks right. As a speaker, it is worth practising your presentation before you go live – you want to know what’s coming up but not follow a rigid script or read word for word what your slides say. If appropriate, your tone should be friendly and conversational – imagine you are presenting to friends.

2. Perfect your setup

As mentioned in point number one, as a speaker you need to ensure people can hear and see you clearly. You don’t need a fully professional set up to achieve this, but using headphones is considered best practice when speaking as it eliminates the risk of a pesky echo when you talk. Not everyone can present with a perfectly set background (or posed bookcases!), but do take a moment to consider what is going on behind you so it’s not distracting. It may be worth considering standing as you present as well, as this will help you present with energy. If you are coding or typing, make sure your microphone isn’t too close so that your audience isn’t startled by loud typing.

3. Is anyone there?

It’s hard to imagine a crowd watching you when you talk at your computer, but it’s important to remember your audience and try and connect with them as much as you can. You could start your talk by asking your audience a question, and have them reply if you have a chat function – you could run a poll mid-way through, or even stick a photo of an audience up behind your camera so you feel the sense of occasion that presenting gives. If you have a camera, you should try to make eye contact with it as much as possible so that the audience feels addressed by you. When we host LondonR, a nice way to encourage some chat is to simply ask where everyone is joining from (surprisingly not just London) which leads to a relaxed start to the event.

4.  Take a break

There’s lots of research that suggests that we will only pay attention to something for 10 minutes or less, so with this in mind, if you’re presenting a long session, make sure you let the audience have breaks. If possible, for a long session, plan segments for interaction. By asking the audience to interact you will keep them engaged, and also feel part of the event.

5. Accessibility

One of the best parts of presenting online is that more people can usually attend your event – it’s cheaper for them, they don’t need to travel and they can fit into people’s busy days easier. Accessibility for talks is something that should be looked into for presenting online and in-person, Joselyn Chavez has put together a fantastic guide on how to make sure your presentation is accessible.

6. Record and review

If presenting online is a regular fixture in your diary, take some time to watch back one of your presentations and note what you have done well and what you could improve on. Presenting and public speaking is a skill that can serve you well in your career and it’s also a skill that can continue to be fine-tuned. When stuck for inspiration, it’s always worth seeing what other people are doing, attending someones else talk can leave you with new ideas and an energised approach to presenting.

We hope these tips help you with presenting online. If you have never presented before, it’s worthwhile checking out where your local R meetup group is and offering a talk there – it will be a friendly place to start your presenting practice.

If you’re aiming to present more this year,  then consider submitting an abstract to present at this year’s EARL Conference – which is focused on the commercial use of R. The Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference will be held online again in 2021, last year we had over 300 attendees join us for a day full of brilliant R based presentations – and 2021 could feature you! The abstract deadline is 31st March 2021 – if you have any questions please tweet the EARL Team.