As travel becomes more limited and conferences begin shutting down physical meetings, more and more presenters may find themselves switching to online platforms in order to deliver their talks. If you're an experienced presenter but have never given a presentation online, the change can be somewhat daunting. I thought I'd write up some tips to consider before giving your first remote presentation. And then I had an even better thought - why not ask people much smarter than myself for their advice. I reached out to friends and colleagues to get their advice for remote presentations and I've shared it below. I'll give my thoughts at the very end. (I did some minor editing on people's input for formatting.)

Brian Rinaldi, Developer Advocate, Stackbit #

I think it's important to try to be more interactive when you are presenting online. Ask questions, do surveys, allow people to engage in chat and find a way to check that at regular intervals. The tough part about remote presentations is that it is easy for attendees to be distracted and lose focus. Being interactive keeps their attention and keeps them engaged.

Jen Looper, Developer Advocate Lead, Microsoft #

Here are my tips:

  • Tech check beforehand! It's very strange to use software to present to a crowd, and each one is a little different, so double-check.
  • Consider asking the organizer to turn the computer towards the crowd - use a second computer, dialed in, if you have to - so that you can gauge your audience. It's very tricky to keep up energy if you can't see your audience.
  • Make sure someone is monitoring the chat room and has access to a microphone so that s/he can raise a 'virtual hand' to ask you a question. Work with the organizer/moderator to handle questions as they come through. You could, for example, stop presenting every 15 minutes to take questions, or hold them all to the end.
  • Keep in mind that live streaming folks have a different experience than folks dialed in via Zoom, so try to include them in discussions.

John Papa, Developer Advocate, Microsoft #

Stand. Smile. Use your voice. When remote presenting the audience cannot see all of you (or any of you if it is a screen cast). All you have is your voice ... so make the most of it.

Tracy Lee, CEO, This Dot Labs #

Surround yourself with stuffed animals that look really happy so you can replace the lack of immediate feedback you will get from a live audience.... jk... but generally don't worry about the lack of feedback they love you! :) Also, make sure to test your speaker notes with the setup you will have the day before - some livestream conferences do not allow for speaker notes due to lack of multiple monitors.

Chris Heilmann, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft #

Presenting remotely is fraught with quite some obstacles. For starters, you don't get any feedback from the audience other than a chat channel which you shouldn't monitor whilst you present.

Secondly there is always the chance that you'll be disconnected or not understood and happily presenting away whilst your audience doesn't see you any longer.

To counteract these problems I made sure to not present from my machine but present a slide deck in whatever system I use to present. That way if I can't see it, I know I also lost the audience.

It is also vital to have a different channel open with a person at the audience end to tell you when things go wrong.

When it comes to preparing presentations for remote viewing I found that being more wordy is helpful. Text on a slide is bad for an inspirational keynote, but remote presenting is more like sharing a document for discussion with an audience, so don't feel too bad for having more information on each slide.

The most important thing to do is to have your presentation to send out to the organizer and to make available to attendees beforehand. This makes remote presenting less lively and not as interactive as dealing with a real audience, but it prevents frustrating gaps in information.

Last but not least - don't underestimate that not seeing an audience is making it more confusing to present. You have no idea if your jokes work and doing a throwaway remark can easily be seen as an attack if people can't evaluate it with your body language and presence. So maybe it is a good idea to use less "funny" things and stick to the information. In any case, recording you give the presentation as a video beforehand is a good way to test dealing with the lack of audience. And that video could also be a fallback in case everything breaks down.

Stacey Levine, Director of Developer Advocacy, OutSystems #

On remote presentations - odd thing - but smile when presenting, stand if possible. It comes across in your voice and makes a difference.

Diana Rodriguez, Python Developer Advocate, Nexmo #

In terms of remote presenting I keep it simple. I use streamyard for simple streaming, OBS is a great tool but it takes a bit to get acquainted with. Most podcasts or meetups are using zoom or hangouts so in terms of tools, things can be adapted to circumstances. My best advice is to make slides more engaging and avoid text walls. Keeping content bite size and with images or using mnemonics has helped me a lot!

Jennifer Bland, Senior Software Engineer, Vox Media #

  • If not using a builtiin camera on your laptop make sure you test the camera before you go live because the cables you need between a Mac and PC are usually different. Some people have newer laptops and some have older laptops which means the connections are different and you need to be prepared with a wide range of cables.
  • Microphone - in order of preference I would recommend using these microphones because you get best quality to lowest
    • External USB microphone on a boom stand (Blue yeti or similar). This allows you to get quality sound without picking up noise like moving your mouse and typing on the keyboard.
    • External USB microphone on stand sitting on computer desk. This provides quality sound but since mic stand is on the desk it will pick up mouse movement and keyboard typing
    • External headphone/earbuds with microphone - This will provide good quality sound but not as good as a professional mic. They can be wireless or wired but my preference is wired because Murphy will jump in and cause lag on bluetooth during your presentation with wireless. These all use an audio plug and that is found on both PC and Mac so no issue with cables not matching. The only challenge with these is if you are using earbuds then the mic might pick up sound as it brushes across your clothing. You can avoid that by holding the cable in your hand so that the mic is not touching your clothing or skin.
    • Built-in mic on your laptop. This will pick up all sounds around you. Based on how you speak it may be hard for the audience to hear you. It provides the lowest quality.
  • If you are on a Mac make sure you turn off notifications before you start your presentation. You don't want notifications from slack, email, Facebook, twitter to be going off during your presentation. If there is something similar on a PC then turn it off on it.
  • be sure to know how to transfer screen controls to somebody else in case somebody needs to share their screen to present. Like you have the Hosts talking initially, then maybe a sponsor, then you talking then at end the host closing out. So you will have multiple people sharing.
  • know how to mute people. The person from WWC who spoke briefly unmuted herself and was talking and playing music which of course everyone heard
  • If you are using zoom, point out to people that there is the raise hands icon in participants. People can use that to ask a question. You can call on them and they can unmute to ask their question. That way it is not a free for all with everyone trying to ask questions at same time

Raymond Camden, Lead Developer Advocate, HERE #

Ok, so lastly, me. :) I'll first say that pretty much every tip/opinion shared above matches with my own experience as well. So this is a bit of repeat but it just reinforces the recommendations from others.

  • Really, really, really be sure to test the platform you're using before the actual presentation. Not all platforms are created equal. You want to know where various buttons are (like to share your screen, mute etc) so you aren't fumbling around while presenting.
  • You must adjust your style quite a bit, especially if you're used to taking the pulse of your audience by scanning faces. To be honest, I really dislike giving remote presentations because it's so difficult to judge the mood of the crowd. I cut back greatly on my jokes and funny pictures and the like. I still let my personality shine a bit, but it's definitely muted compared to a normal presentation.
  • Figure out ahead of time how you're going to do Q and A. For the most part I ask folks to hold their questions until the end. I also talk with the organizer ahead of time to ensure they're on the same page. I ask the organizer to be my proxy. So they can take questions in the physical room and simply repeat them to me (the assumption is that they are next to the microphone).

Header photo by Sereja Ris on Unsplash