Insights + tips

How to look good in online presentations

" Audiences watching you present online are really watching a miniature TV show "

Two things will help you to deliver confident, credible, compelling presentations online – getting the basics right, and being consistent.

I’ve boiled the basics down into a format I call ‘The 6 Es of Online Presenting’. They are:







I’ll cover each one in a separate post. Today is ‘Environment’:

Audiences watching you present online are really watching a miniature TV show (if they’re not watching, then you’re a radio show!). Letting people see the environment you’re in, rather than just showing some slides, can be a great way to build connection and rapport.

It’s important to be aware that the environment you’re in says a lot about you. Your audience will have an emotional reaction to how you look and sound. If you make good choices here, you’ll boost your credibility and authority.

BACKGROUND: Your background should be uncluttered and unfussy, so that audience can focus on you. A plain wall works well, but you can also have details in the background as long as they’re not sending multiple, confusing messages.

For example, a tidy kitchen in the background says ‘I’m informal and working from home’. A bookcase filling the room says ‘I’m knowledgable and expert’. If you had both a kitchen and a bookcase, it becomes a confusing message.

LIGHTING: It may sound obvious, but you’ll have more impact if you can be seen! We’ve all watched a presentation from ‘the anonymous silhouette’. Try to ensure that your light source is behind the camera, and falling onto your face. On a sunny day, you can sit facing a window. It’s a good idea to get an extra light to use whenever you’re presenting. This can be as simple as a desk lamp, or can get some professional kit. I use the Elgato Keylight Air, which is easily available on Amazon.

 TIP: If you are going to use natural light, watch out for days when the sun can change quickly because of clouds. It’s very distracting for an audience if your face suddenly gets a lot of shadow, or very strong light on it. Ideally, your lighting source will be consistent. 

Framing: Make sure that you are reasonably close to the camera, and roughly in the centre of the ‘frame’. Check where your eyes are – ideally about one-third of the way down from the top of the screen. Look at how newsreaders are placed in the screen and copy them. Doing this will give you more presence, as if you’re off-centre, or too far from the camera, you will look diminished and unimportant. Conversely, if you’re too close, you can appear demented.

Clothing: Clothing is a crucial part of your environment. Avoid checks, stripes and other busy patterns as cameras find these difficult to focus on. Solid, block colours work well. Make sure you’re avoiding any painful clashes with your background, your slides, or any logos during your presentation. Try different clothing in front of your camera, and learn the tones which look good on you. Particularly avoid anything which makes you look washed-out. Also check this in front of your videocamera as often what looks great in real life doesn’t work well on camera and vice-versa.

Sound: How you sound is a key part of your online credibility and presence. An external microphone will nearly always be better than the microphone in your laptop or phone. I use a Rode Smartlav+

Most smartphones now come with microphones on the headphones, and these work well. Think about putting the cord behind your ear, so that it doesn’t dangle distractingly while you’re presenting!

If you can’t get an external microphone, then get yourself as close to the mic on your laptop as you can, and try to position yourself in a corner of a room with some soft furnishings near you – this will reduce the echoiness (is that a word?) of your voice and make you sound more confident and commanding!

Handouts, notes and ‘props’. If you’re going to be displaying anything to camera, or using any printed notes, make sure they’re easily within reach before you start the meeting. Likewise, make sure that anything you need to be comfortable – water, etc, is set up ready to go.

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