The Seven Deadly Sins of Online Presentations

by Michael Rickwood

The COVID 19 pandemic has forced all of us to adjust and has pushed roughly 35% of the workforce to an exclusively online existence. While this is fortunate and frankly would have been impossible 15 years ago it doesn’t come without its challenges.

As we struggle to maintain our routines, stay connected with our co-workers we have to continue the regular meetings attendance, trainings and webinars and we often have to give them ourselves. 

Online presenting is the new normal. From the conversations we’ve had with both our team members and our clients we’ve compiled a list of things to avoid when presenting online : a list of 7 sins. 

These 7 sins or not deadly, nor are they exhaustive. But it is a starting point in which we can make the experience of online presentations just that little bit less painful.

Sin Number 1 - Pointless Presentations

Yes it’s true that pointless presentations hurt productivity in an office setting and online the hurt is no less painful. One question we can ask is, do we always need to be at every meeting? 

Here’s some numbers. In a large organisation the average employee can spend up to 10 hours per week in meetings, supervisors 15 hours. For senior managers the hours go up to 23 with nearly half of their week burnt up in meetings. About a third of that time is wasted on irrelevant conversations, meandering chit-chat and pointless presentations according to the MIT Sloan management review.

Now, we’re not saying that meetings are bad, on the contrary, prepared and well organised meetings are empowering and good for community but too many meetings with pointless presentations kill morale and stifle productivity

At Amazon, they have a good approach to meetings which we call the 2/1/0 approach. 2 pizzas, 1 hard document and 0 PowerPoint. The pizza’s mean that no meeting should have more that the number of participants than two pizzas can feed. The singular document is distributed to every participate to read in silence for 10 minutes. The ensuing exchange will feature ZERO PPT slides. Ultimately, to choose between using PowerPoint badly, or not at all, you should leave the laptop closed. 

One controversial idea is to perhaps have less meetings and replace them with quiet time reading a document on your own, at one own pace. This would sit well with introverts for example.

A good document should have 3 A’s. Autonomous, Accessible and Agreeable. Autonomous in the sense we do not need anyone to present it to us, it presents itself clearly with no corners cut on specifics and detail. Accessible means it should be divided into sections with a summary for quick navigation and Agreeable means it should be well designed with a consideration for colours, well-chosen fonts and visuals. 

Sin number 2 - Bad Slides

Now most of us know how to do better slides today but for some reason, due to the emergence of many more online presentations, in my experience having attended as a jury member for many executive MBA and master’s programs, business pitch preparations, webinars and trainings, there is a tendency to want to go back to more traditional, heavy text presentations. This is a problem because the old issues of not being able to read and listen have gone away with video conferencing. The good news is that all our work with SCORE, Simple, Clear, Original, Related and Enjoyable still applies. Please check out our webinar on how to design great slides for online presentations. 

Sin number 3 - Disorganised Presenter

So, imagine if I were to begin a webinar, log on 5 minutes late, in a dressing gown, so camera off, attempting to begin on mute only to be kicked off due to my bad WIFI? It happens more often than not. Working from home has its dangers so don’t allow ill-discipline to blight your work. Get on 15 minutes early, check your WIFI is working properly, your camera and sound. Get familiar also with your platform. There are many and due to various security issues companies are in constant flux about which ones to use. 

Sin number 4 - Background Image Filters

It’s true, we can’t always be presenting from a beautifully designed room but throwing up a background image of something that is not remotely related to your task can be a visual distraction. Also, the filters don’t like erratic movement which causes outline issues. If you are regularly giving webinars Its better to invest in a real decor screen or otherwise a green which will give you a better definition when using a background. Just choose it to go with the context.

Sin Number 5 - Poor Interaction

Keeping people engaged in online settings is even harder than in a live context so interaction is key. Imagine giving a 2-hour uninterrupted lecture on Zoom? People would be sleeping! That’s why structure is very important. Structure the webinar in advance. Variate activities and plan for time in working groups for collaboration.  Also think about the kinds of activities you can introduce once the group is assembled such as quizzes, surveys and competition. This all helps to keep people engaged and ultimately learning. 

Sin Number 6 – Low Presenter Energy

Monotony and online don’t mix. It’s a boredom cocktail. And in the words of Doctor John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, ‘The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things’. You need to present like a radio host with lots of vocal animation and interaction. Give more energy than you think you need like a Youtube presenter gives 110% of their energy. Use the camera and look into the lens, articulate 110% and make sure your breath is well supported. 

Sin Number 7 – Bad Audience

Now it might seem a little surprising here, but I wanted to shift the focus to badly behaved audiences. The people who never switch their camera on in business meetings, webinar attendees who don’t mute themselves, those who are clearly not paying attention and doing something else (careful you might get a question). Try to remain attentive (it’s hard enough for a host keeping the energy up via a screen) and watch out for home deliveries where you have to leave for several minutes and you miss something. 

So there you have it. 7 sins we’ve encountered with the heavy disruption of taking business communication online. Keeping it virtuous in the virtual on a daily basis, one webinar at a time, to make it a more effective and less painful experience for everyone. 

We hope it was useful, don’t hesitate to send us your ideas.