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The art of virtual presentations and remote workshops
June 22, 2020
Tips and tricks from an agency doing it every day
Lots of content has been written and shared about working virtually in 2020. We’ve heard about the perfect home office setup, shared tips on productivity and spread the word about elevating your laptop to eye level and wearing trousers during video calls. But, for sales and creative teams that rely on face-to-face interactions to collaborate and close deals, adapting to working remotely isn’t as simple as subscribing to a video conferencing solution, or finding the right spot for your home workstation. Converting in-person pitches and brainstorms into virtual presentations and remote workshops means rethinking your entire approach.
ORM has always supported remote work and, with offices in Poland, the UK, the Ukraine and the US, we’re no strangers to collaborating virtually – but the global lockdown has accelerated the company-wide adoption of digital tools for workshops and presentations to our customer base as well. Here’s what we’ve learnt along the way.
Don’t overestimate the importance of technology
You might think that you can’t overestimate the importance of technology when it’s literally impossible to do a virtual session without digital tools, but don’t be deceived into thinking that your virtual presentation’s success is only dependent on finding and mastering the best technical solution. Technology is just an enabler and your virtual presentation needs to be well planned, rehearsed and actioned to make an impact on remote audiences.
The principles are exactly the same whether your session is face-to-face or screen-based, but your approach needs to be adjusted to fit the medium. For example: instead of asking open ended questions we’ve found it’s better to present straw man solutions that can easily be refined through more definitive answers. Because digital communication tends to be more transactional and can be disrupted by bad connections and outside distractions, sessions need to be planned with military precision – presentations and workshops should be scripted down to the last minute to keep participants engaged, with specific timeslots for everything from introductions to Q&As and comfort breaks. It’s also important to run through a full rehearsal of your presentation before the meeting, ideally to an internal audience, so that you can make sure that the tech is working, that the format is smooth and you can reframe points and messages based on how your audience might respond.
When you’re face to face with people you can use the force of personality to introduce energy into a room and encourage people to contribute, but this doesn’t work with digital audiences; in our experience virtual presenters and facilitators have to work much harder to plan and create content that will keep your audience engaged.
Don’t underestimate technology’s impact
While the technology alone doesn’t determine whether your online session is productive, the right virtual presentation tools can make a big difference to how your audience engages with your content and a tech failure can be devastating.
Virtual collaboration tools like Miro allow facilitators to do almost everything they would normally do in a physical workshop via a digital interface – you can create exercises, use flows, comment, vote and do timed tasks – the platform has been invaluable to the ORM team over the past few months. But even though we already used Miro before lockdown with our client Valley Bank in the US, switching to a totally digital experience across other clients was an adjustment and not everyone in the team had the same learning curve. Regardless of what software you choose, don’t assume that everyone is confident or skilled enough to “drive” the technology – your best presenter or facilitator may struggle to use your virtual tools, so you may need to allow for additional team members to operate the software while others focus on the content.
Housekeeping and etiquette may sound trivial, but they’re extremely important when working with digital participants. Housekeeping in this instance relates to setting guidelines for creating and designing your content to ensure that it works well on a digital screen and may include limiting video content to avoid playback issues and keeping text on the screen to a minimum. Establishing video conference etiquette at the outset of any session – like having all microphones on mute unless you’re speaking – makes the experience more pleasant for all participants.
Anyone hosting an online presentation or workshop’s biggest fear is that a critical team member will lose connectivity or that their computer will crash mid-session. We know just how devastating this can be, because it’s happened to us! Luckily, most clients and customers understand that we’re all at the mercy of fluctuating broadband speeds and temperamental tech, but to avoid having a productive session derailed or delayed, you should have a contingency in place. We suggest either recording your presentation so that you can play back segments if key participants drop out, or sharing scripts and notes so that someone else can stand in for unexpectedly absent team members.
To get the most out of any virtual presentation technology, your mindset needs to be right. Instead of simply learning how to use the software to replace what we might do in-person, we should explore new and creative ways to make the digital experience rewarding and productive in its own right. Only then will we unlock its true potential.
Use time wisely
Time is not the same in a digital environment. Pre-lockdown we wouldn’t have hesitated to book presentations and workshops that lasted anything from a few hours to a couple of days, but virtual participants simply aren’t able to focus for anywhere near this amount of time. Our online attention span is limited to a couple of hours at most and, even then, we’re easily distracted.
At ORM we work around this in two ways: by splitting longer workshops into a number of shorter sessions and by planning each meeting down to the minute to maximise productivity. Instead of full-day workshops we now schedule a series of up-front interviews, discussions and brainstorms before presenting formulated ideas to the wider group for discussion and refinement. The total time invested in the process is the same, but we’re apportioning it in different places. Meticulously planning for the timing of every element of an online session ensures that we’re using the limited time wisely – prioritising key objectives and discussion points, scheduling regular comfort breaks and interactive activities and, if necessary, moving things like introductions and Q&A’s offline to ensure that critical content is covered instead.
This experience has actually made us rethink our previous methods and, given the choice, we probably wouldn’t go back to doing whole-day workshops even when this is possible. We’re also not convinced that a hybrid approach – with some participants in the room and others dialling in – would work, but if we’ve learnt one thing this year it’s that anything is possible. In the future, whether it’s face-to-face or via a digital interface, the availability of key stakeholders and project timescales will ultimately determine how these events are scheduled, but at least we’ve busted the myth that they can only be done one way.
Sometimes you need to keep conversations strictly professional
Video conferencing gives us unique insight into our clients’ and colleagues’ lives, sharing our homes and snippets of family life brings out a very human element to business, but it’s also much harder to read a digital room. And, because there’s often no opportunity to connect outside of the agenda, you’re forced to do “double duty” on digital platforms – trying to develop a relationship and get work done.
Virtual backgrounds are great icebreakers and by injecting things like quiz questions or grouping people based on common interests you can help to connect workshop participants, but in our experience, it’s best to keep pitch presentations strictly professional as attempts at humour and personal anecdotes often miss the virtual mark. Once you’ve covered the content in a clear and succinct way, you can introduce warmth and personality into the more informal parts of the meeting.
Virtual presentations and remote workshops can be just as productive and rewarding as in-person meetings, but only if you’ve done the work beforehand to prepare sufficiently. We recently facilitated a virtual workshop with a new client – a multinational home repairs provider – and their feedback after the session was that it was one of the best workshops that they’ve ever participated in, either offline or online.
Hopefully these tips will help you achieve similar results.