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Better Online Presentations

Here are some tips I have gathered from doing online Zoom talks since 2015. I hope they help with your talk.

Sound

Zoom compresses the sound in meetings to send it to attendees more, so investing into sound gear should not be the highest priority. That said, clear, intelligible sound is much more important than everything else. If you’re hard to understand or if there’s a constant noise from your line, attendees might not be able to follow you.

Always use headphones. I have seen guidance that headphones look amateurish, but that is not true from my point of view. You want to understand audience questions or your moderator. That’s much more reliable when they are in or on your ears.

Microphones play a secondary role. You can use many laptops’ built-in microphones for your presentation. (But try it out beforehand!) It is very important to bring the microphone as close to your mouth as possible. You can do that with a headset or a table/podcasting microphone. But the wired headset included with your mobile should also work well.

I use a wired connection to my Mac to do my talks, but Bluetooth headsets or AirPods might work for your use case, too. Keep in mind that there is a brief delay with wireless options on top of the delay from the internet connection.

If you have a good microphone, Zoom gives you the option to send out non-processed audio in the settings.

Video

On videos I strongly prefer my real environment from those virtual backgrounds that are so en vogue these days. That said, I have my office carved out to support the “talk to the computer” use case. You might not be so lucky. If there is no suitable place to hold the presentation, virtual backgrounds are an excellent alternative. (And that also includes socio-economic reasons for not showing one’s living conditions.)

When using virtual backgrounds, I have seen fewer artifacts with photos that contain a lot of details. Backgrounds with solid colors have been more problematic. A picture of a forest might be better than your corporate colors displayed behind you. Make sure to not have “virtual background dismemberment” happen during your talk. If you wave around your hands while talking, your arms might look cut off with a virtual background. The edges of the top of a high-back chair can glitch in and out the background even if you only move a bit. Finally, turning your head can lead to your nose looking cut off.

Lighting is important, especially as laptops have mediocre cameras. (iPads and mobile phones are much better in that regard, but usually not suitable for many to do presentations on.) Make sure you have a bright light source in front of you. I have a daylight ceiling lamp that makes sure I have good lighting. Have as little light from behind you and from the sides. Light from behind you makes the camera overcorrect, so your face will be in the dark. Light from the side can lead to one half of your face almost dark while the other half is brightly lit. (And you don’t want to look like Two-Face, right?)

Try to look at the camera as much as possible. If your computer displays a (green) light where the camera is, try to look at it as often as possible to have “eye-contact” with your audience. It helps if your slides/notes are underneath the camera. Try to avoid having notes above the camera.[1]

Position your head in the center of the frame, if possible with your eyes about a third from the top.

Internet Connection

Issues can arise from your internet connection not being up to the task. If you’re doing it during the day, your neighbors will also use the internet heavily, putting stress on the connection. There’s little you can do. I have used tethering to my iPhone when I had a complete landline blackout[2].

Switch all heavy data users off. That includes Dropbox, Box, iCloud and those torrents that might run in the background. On Mac and Windows, you can use the app TripMode to only allow your presentation software and Zoom to connect to the internet (And Slack, if that is used to communicate).

If you have the possibility to connect to wired networking (“ethernet”), do so to cut out a potential issue. Yet, I do not have ethernet here and had no particular problems with wifi.

Computer Performance

If you want to be sure that everything is going without a hitch, I recommend closing all apps you don’t need for the presentation. You might even want to do a fresh reboot to make extra sure it all works.

Presentation/Display Setup

While I’m certain your setup different, here’s what I do: I like to have one display dedicated to my slide deck that I share with to Zoom. That way if I need a browser window to show something, I can drag the window over there. You can share only a particular window in Zoom, which is useful if you don’t have an extra display and don’t want the attendees to see other information.

I recommend using a presentation remote (“clicker”) like in an offline presentation, even if you only hit the right arrow key to advance the slides. It prevents you from pressing a different button by accident or losing your place on the keyboard.

When you need to share the sound from your computer, do not forget to check the “Share computer sound” checkbox in Zoom. If you play videos, the “Optimize Screen Share for Video Clip” option should give you a better refresh rate. It should make videos less choppy for the audience. Both options should appear on the bottom of the “Share Screen” menu that shows up when you click on the share screen button.

Notifications

Make sure your computer, phone, watch are in Do Not Disturb mode during the presentation.

Footnotes
  1. I think the use of teleprompters have trained us that someone looking down under the camera is more acceptable than someone looking over it. But then TV teleprompters are much further away from the speaker, so it's less noticeable that they are not looking into the camera. ↩︎

  2. …and I also presented from my iPhone once, but that is a story for another time. I’ll just say, having a PDF version of your slides on your phone might save your talk. ↩︎

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