For online presentations, the first step is to get everyone on video (sometimes you have to insist). No more audio-only calls where all your audience members are just secretly multi-tasking. You can’t make an engaging presentation with slides and their disembodied voice. Get your face on video so people can see you and ideally you can see your audience too. This allows you to really connect with your audience, and see how they are reacting to you.
Also for online presentations, consider your environment. Spotty wifi with an unprofessional background and a poorly-lit face kills your presentation. I literally interviewed a candidate who had pile of dirty laundry behind him – not the best first impression. Zoom works great on wifi right down to 3G, but if you’re giving a big presentation, your best bet is hardwiring in. Then, make sure you are in a quiet space with no distractions. Clean up your background – just use a plain wall, or a nice plant – or try Zoom’s virtual backgrounds (sorry, shameless plug). Consider your lighting. Get there a couple minutes early to make sure it’s not too much or too little lighting. And check that you are lit from the front, not from behind you (i.e. don’t sit with your back to a window). It is distracting when cameras are too high or low or are angled so we’re only seeing part of someone’s face. Check that you are looking straight at the camera and your video feed is framing the upper part of your torso and your head – you want it to look as if you were sitting across the table from your audience.
And for both online and in-person presentations, you have to engage your audience. Don’t droning on for a long time, doing too many text-rich slides, and not matching your abstract to your presentation (this is actually a big one – people want to know what they’re getting in to). Instead, stop regularly to tell a (quick!) story, ask a question, take a straw poll, tell a joke, give your audience a small task, and so forth. Just keep them awake and interested! Also, you need adjust your presentation to your audience’s response. I have multiple large screens in my office so I can see all the participants in my meeting or presentation all at once and read their body language and facial expressions. If I see attention waning or some disagreement, I will switch things up.
Finally, a quick technical recommendation for online presentations. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This makes sure that your participants join with their sound off, so you don’t get background noise that can disrupt the flow of your presentation.