Entrepreneurs

TED’s Top Speaking Coach Says These Are the 3 Biggest Zoom Mistakes People Are Still Making

We may finally (finally!) be starting to see a pin prick of light at the end of the tunnel of this long, horrendous pandemic. But I’m sorry to tell you that probably doesn’t signal your days giving presentations over Zoom are numbered. 

Bill Gates correctly predicted we were headed for a pandemic. Now he’s predicting that we’ll never go back to working like we did before. Between changing expectations and improved software, many remote meetings and events are here to stay. Plenty of other experts agree with him. 

So while you may be exhausted from talking at your computer screen for half the day, you still need to make sure you’re good at it. The ability to convincingly and entertainly present over video is an essential career skill for the future. 

Which makes a recent TED Ideas post by the famed conference’s Director of Speaker Coaching, Briar Goldberg, so valuable. In it, the veteran executive communication coach outlines the most common mistakes she still sees people making when speaking over video, and offers simple, useful tips to fix them. 

1. You look at the audience, not the camera.

Looking at those you’re speaking to is, of course, completely natural. It’s also a disaster when you’re trying to be engaging over video because, thanks to the positioning of the camera, you end up staring at some random point off to the side of your audience. Handily though the fix is simple. 

“The only way to make eye contact with your virtual audience is to look directly at the lens of your camera. Trust me: This will feel really strange at first,” Goldberg concedes, “but if you want your audience to remain engaged and attentive, you’ll need to sacrifice your own desire to look at their faces.” Aim to stare at that little light on the top of your laptop (or whatever fancier option you’re using) for a full 90 percent of your presenting time. 

2. You either read it or wing it. 

When it comes to presentations and preparation, you’re aiming for a Goldilocks point: you don’t want to write everything down and read it like a robot, but you also don’t want to stumble, ‘um,’ and ‘ah’ your way through your material. Honor your audience’s time by practising a little in advance, Goldberg instructs. “Just because you could turn your laptop or your phone into a teleprompter doesn’t mean you should,” she stresses.  

3. You let everyone turn their video off. 

Can looking at endless boxes of disembodied heads be distracting and stress-inducing? Why yes it can. But Goldberg points out that if you let your entire audience switch off their video you’ll also have no idea how your presentation is going down. 

“As a virtual communicator, it’s often impossible to know if your audience is paying attention when you can’t see them! So, in Zoom land, it’s 100 percent OK for you to ask your audience to turn on their cameras. And if you want to be very polite, send a note asking for on-camera attendance in advance. That way, your audience can plan!” she advices.   

Are you guilty of any of these sins of virtual presenting? Then you might also be guilty of the four other mistakes Goldberg outlines in her long post, including technical but important issues around lighting, slide design, and your choice of background

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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