My last keynote speech was for 2000 people at a conference in Florida on March 8th, 2020. By the end of that week, 11 speaking gigs canceled. By the end of April, my calendar was wiped clean. Like every sales team, start-up company, and CEO in the country, I was forced to go virtual with all my business.
Initially, the community celebrated the potential of the virtual pitch or presentation. Could this be the magic formula that delivered results like an in-person meeting without the travel and hassle? What people envisioned being the best of both worlds, turned out to be the Chevy El Camino or mullet haircut of business. Good in theory, but bad in reality.
As Zoom fatigue blanketed the nation, I found myself flooded with training requests for making engaging virtual presentations. It was a natural transition, as I’d been making virtual pitches and presentations for more than a decade. (see 2016 sample below)
At the height of my television career, I was taking nearly 250 pitch meetings a year! Try doing that fighting LA traffic. I developed a system to virtually pitch TV show ideas, mimicking as if I was actually in the room. In addition to saving countless hours and dead brain cells crawling the 405 and 101 freeways, I sold more shows than ever.
A recent article in Forbes described me as one of the top virtual trainers in the country. And while flattering, I might attribute that to the bar being so incredibly low.
I promise you don’t need a television production background or decades of experience to make a world-class virtual presentation. Here is a video that will show you what’s possible, and below are some guidelines that will elevate you virtually with just a little effort and some planning.
Virtual Or Not – It Still Has To Be Good – First, understand if your in-person presentation isn’t excellent, your virtual version is not going to be better. Start by taking the time to make your core presentation rock-solid. I wrote a best-selling book detailing how to do this; I’d say it’s an important starting point.
Stakes And Value – I always start with two questions. What are the stakes of the presentation? How much value do you place on the meeting?
If it’s just a Zoom update with your internal departments, by all means, do that from your kitchen, with your laptop camera, in your pajamas. If you are dealing with high stakes pitches and presentations where real business is on the line, and you value the audience’s time and attention, you’ll want to take it up a notch.
Here are the 3 D’s I use with clients. Have a Directive, be Direct, and be the Director.
Directive – Why does this require a virtual meeting? The reality is, people don’t want to do a Zoom meeting. They don’t want to get dressed, turn on their camera, and let you in their home. So why does this NEED to be a video conference? Focus on the elements that make this a ‘Zoom worthy’ presentation. Do you have specifics to walkthrough on your investment opportunity? Do you need to demo the software, etc.? If that’s what you’re there for, make that your directive.
Be Direct – Get to your directive, directly. In The 3 Minute Rule I illustrate how a pitch is not about what you want to say, it’s about what needs to be said. It’s even more crucial to get to the point and simplify your message in a virtual presentation. Zoom calls are too clunky for chit chat conversation, lengthy introductions, or superfluous anecdotes. People crave simplified, concise information; give it to them, and they will treat it as a gift from the business heavens.
Be The Director – A movie director tells you precisely what to focus on to best understand and engage with the story. Infinite distractions surround your audience, so If you don’t tell them where to look and what to follow, you will lose them. You can’t just throw up your PowerPoint slides and talk over them. How is that ‘Zoom worthy’? The key is movement and pacing as you control the screen.
Let’s Get Technical.
Debeers’ campaign called for ‘two months salary’ when choosing a diamond engagement ring. My clients use the ‘One Business Trip’ formula. Take your average spend for one business trip and invest it in your virtual meeting setup and equipment.
My website has in-depth technical details, but here are some crucial basics:
Dedicated Camera: You need a high-quality webcam or a DSLR type camera. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but dedicated is important.
Dual lighting positions: Flooding your face with bright light is almost as bad as being dark. It’s so easy to create a warm shadow-less look.
Microphone: Again, so easy to set up, but it makes a world of difference. Hanging AirPods out of your ears is not a good look or good sound.
Dual monitors: One to see the meeting and your camera, and one to track your slides and or script (yes you need a script)
Teleprompter: They have iPhone versions that allow you to read your bullet-proof script direct to the camera.
Purposeful Background: Have an area that is designed and designated for your zoom meetings or presentations. I had a client order a shed from Home Depot that he furnished just for his presentations. Another client spends 45 minutes every morning and evening converting his bedroom. Why? Because the stakes of his sales presentation are high, and he values his clients. (Unless you have an actual green screen and light it correctly, Zoom’s virtual background is not a good look)
Plan It Out – I use a specifically programmed stream deck to automate the presentations for my clients. While it’s straightforward to use, just the simple act of visualizing and preparing to use it makes a world of difference. It’s a bad look logging-in 10 seconds before the meeting and trying to wing it.
Don’t give up – Don’t get sucked into the pool of Zoom mediocrity. Making a world-class virtual presentation takes effort, planning, and practice, but that’s a good thing. When everyone is bland, grey, boring, and uninspiring, you can shine. You may not get another opportunity to rise above the crowd so easily again.