In our third virtual presentation top tips article Hari Patience-Davies highlights the importance of practicing with a virtual audience in mind, what to do if your call gets gate-crashed and shows off her desk set-up…

We’ve covered camera position, lighting and eye contact, we’ve considered whether a virtual or real background work best and which patterns not to wear. Now it’s time to put it all together.

Whether you’re speaking virtually or in-person, confidence is key. Knowing your content can give you confidence, as can having a plan for when things go wrong and making sure the space you’re in is set-up exactly how you like it.

Practise makes perfect

I’m a big advocate of practise. The first time you deliver any speech or presentation should never be the real event – there’s simply too much that can go wrong. And while people will make the time for a dress rehearsal when it comes to in-person conferences, there seems to be some reticence about doing it for an on-screen event.

But if anything, it’s even more crucial to prepare a virtual presentation than it is a face to face one, because virtual audiences are harder to engage and so a higher quality of delivery is needed to prevent people from zoning out and checking their email during your speech.

As well as practising your speech in general (to mirrors or to whatever friendly audience you have at your disposal) I would recommend you do at least one run-through of which should be full length and using the software you’ll be broadcasting over. This should be recorded so you can to see exactly what your audience will see when you speak. This will help you identify any problem areas – such as using such wide hand gestures that can’t be seen by the webcam, or not being able to hold eye contact with the camera – and work to fix them before the actual event.

With any video footage of a rehearsal you should review it at least three separate times, focussing on different things each time:

  • Content review – did I say everything I wanted to say?
  • Movement review – hand gestures, fidgeting, eye contact.
  • Vocal delivery review – how did I sound?

If you find that your vocal delivery sounds flat then focus on punching-up that performance – monotone vocals delivered at a constant pace is a sure fire way to put your audience to sleep.

There are 4 elements to good vocal delivery, whether in person or virtually. These are often referred to as the 4 Ps:

  • Pace – how fast or slow you speak
  • Pitch – the emotional tone of your speech
  • Power or projection – volume variance and enunciation
  • Pause – pauses in speech make for better listening experience

Speakers should be able to vary their pace and pitch to reflect the content of the speech. If you’re talking about getting into a tense situation or you want to create drama and heightened emotions you might want to increase the speed of your speech or add a stressed tone to your voice. Alternatively if you’re speaking of something sad, slow your words and adopt a somber tone. Your emotional delivery should reflect the tone of your content wherever possible.

Varying the volume of your voice shows a good vocal range, and, while you shouldn’t use the full range from a whisper to a shout, being able to lower the level slightly as to suggest people are being told a secret or some sensitive information, can make your audience physically and emotionally “lean in” and listen harder. However, be careful not to mumble – your audience wants to hear what you have to say, so practise any words you’re not 100% confident in saying in advance, check your pronunciation with a native speaker and try and ensure you’re speaking as clearly as possible.

Pauses are a speaker’s secret weapon. Pause for emphasis. Pause for effect. Pause for applause. Including pauses of up to 4 seconds in length every time you make a point you want your audience to remember gives the listeners time to react to what you’ve said. You don’t want to have your audience still thinking about point 1 when you’ve already moved on to introducing point 2, so give them a short pause (count to 4 in your head) to ponder before you move on.

Above all try and make all 4 Ps feel natural to you. Don’t pause with every full stop or let your voice move up and down the vocal register like you’re running scales on an instrument. Don’t become predictable, because predictability is as bad as a monotone for keeping your audience’s attention.

Practise your speech, record it and ask yourself (and any friendly faces you can), did I sound engaged or excited about this? Did I give you time to take in everything I said? Could you hear every word I said?

Despite the title of this section, you’re not practising the speech with the aim of being perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect speaker – we all have things we can improve. But the more we practise and focus on developing our delivery, the more confident we will become and the better speakers we will be.

Dealing with distractions

If you are presenting from a home or office you share with others, try to put some distance between you and any potential distractions for the duration of your virtual presentation. We’ve all listened in the occasional conference call we didn’t have to speak on while on the sofa, but if you’re presenting it is not the time to be sharing the kitchen table with the kids.

Beg, borrow or steal childcare and if the meeting is critical, can the kids go to the park rather than you having to share the network bandwidth with their Netflix binge? This is of course much harder to wrangle in a pandemic, but could you bribe them with a treat (pizza or ice cream) to stay away from you just for this hour in order to keep your focus on your presentation?

If however, this doesn’t work and your toddler invades the study or your cat jumps up on our desk, don’t panic. Keep going with your presentation, and if that means you need to do it with a cat or small child on your lap that’s okay (keeping some appropriate treats nearby to bribe your visitor into being a silent guest star is also a good idea).

This is also part of the argument for bluetooth headphones/microphone rather than wired ones – so if you do need to stand up and usher a visitor out, you can do while still talking.

But really, seriously, don’t panic. Most people live with potential distractions such as pets, kids or flat-mates, so an accidental visitation is generally tolerated. There’s a reason why the internet has the pet tax rule – you may find your visitor actually causes your audience to engage with you more as a result, even if it is just to coo over your cat.

Bandwidth and back-ups

As mentioned above, a household full of people trying to stream the latest Netflix release while you’re trying to broadcast video can be a real problem. As can your web conference call just randomly dropping.

At one virtual storytelling course I was teaching I was kicked out of the virtual room due to bandwidth issues three times. I ended up delivering 40 minutes of content via the camera on my smart phone while a colleague shared the PowerPoint slides for me.

Sometimes this just happens and the only thing you can do about it is be prepared:

  • Ask other people using the same broadband as you if they could take a break for the duration of your call. Be prepared to have to bribe them for this.
  • Always keep a fully charged smart phone or tablet with access to either the app version or a browser version of the conferencing software you’re using nearby. Log in in advance so you don’t have to try and remember passwords in an emergency.
  • If you’re sharing presenting duties then everyone needs to have the ability to talk about everything, just in case a slide/content owner is kicked off at a crucial moment. Being able to step in smoothly if there are technical issues is very professional and reassuring to your audience. In something time limited or critical, such as a pitch meeting, your audience won’t want to waste time waiting for your colleague to reconnect.
  • Same for if you’re sharing a slide deck – make sure everyone who is presenting has a copy and that they or you can take over and share the screen if necessary.

Desk set-up

Finally, make sure you have the technology on hand to support the delivery of your virtual presentation. In part 1 of this series we talked about investing in a quality webcam, microphone or lighting set-up (if needed). A second screen is also incredibly helpful, especially if you want to share PowerPoint slides and video equally as we talked about in part 2.

Having the right gear really helps with presentation confidence.

Here I am about to present our November 2020 webinar:


Woman sits at desk with laptop and second screen

My laptop is raised so the camera is level with my eyes, the second screen shows the shared content. An iPad has the breakdown of my presentation timings so I can see if I overrun, and my notebook has my final notes, just in case I need to check something. I’m using Apple Airpods, which for broadcast via MacBook are absolutely the best headphones I’ve got (though I’ve found they’re slightly less reliable with PC laptops). I’ve got my post-it arrow beside my webcam to remind me where to look and an angle light in case the natural light from the window diminishes and I need more illumination.

And there’s a glass of water, in case I need a second to think.

I’m pretty proud of this desktop set up. It took me a little trial and error to find out what works for me, and now I use whenever I’m teaching or presenting. Having this space set up like this makes me feel confident.

Desk with monitor, laptop, ipad and notebook


  • Practise your speech in advance, record it and review it.
  • Bribe potential distractions to leave you alone, but –
  • Don’t panic if they don’t.
  • Keep your phone charged and nearby in case you lose connection via the broadband.
  • Set up your presentation space how you like it – feeling comfortable is a big part of feeling confident.

Feature picture credit – Photo by Александар Цветановић from Pexels

Links do not imply endorsement. Desktop pictures (c) Patience Davies Consulting.

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