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How-to: Speak at Online Events

In 2020, the biggest challenge to virtual keynote speaking events was that it was hard to get supporters to actually participate in showing a virtual presentation.

Empty seats in a lecture or conference hall, from the perspective of the speaker behind the microphone.

Do you have an upcoming online/hybrid event? Are you expecting your virtual event’s speakers to be immediately confident at presenting to an online audience? Or do you want to give them some tips to help them out?

Speaking at virtual events is difficult. As virtual event speakers cannot see everyone they are addressing in person, you cannot just expect them to use the same public speaking techniques as they would on a real stage. They can’t see if virtual attendees are nodding, looking confused, or giving other cues. Therefore, they will need some help to fully master virtual event speaking.

Below are some tips for event professionals to utilise and give to your next virtual event’s speakers. We hope you can use this event professionals’ resource to make sure that the presentations at your next event go off without a hitch. However, a couple of these virtual public speaking tips can also be used for in-person events. So, don’t forget to bookmark this so you can also read it when your in-person events fully return.

1. Alter Your Expressions

A pie chart displays that our messages are affected 7% by the words we use, 38% by our tonality, and 55% by our facial expressions.

When speaking to a virtual audience you can’t see, there is definitely a temptation to simply say what you need to say, and then leave the stage. You might also be put off by the cameras. This might make you feel self-conscious about showing too many facial expressions.

However, we’ve got a statistic that will change the way you think about public speaking at virtual events:

Mehrabian (1971) found that, when we communicate feelings and attitudes, the way our message is received is affected:

- 7% by the actual words we use

- 38% by our tonality (or how we say these words)

- 55% by our facial expressions

So, the habit of simply saying our piece and moving on, is clearly not enough to communicate our message well. The words we use only affect a tiny proportion of how our feelings and attitudes are received. Therefore, virtual public speakers need to refine tonality and, more importantly, facial expressions.

We therefore recommend that, when you need to emphasise certain parts of your message, alter the tempo of your speech, and your facial expressions, somewhat. This might be done unconsciously if you change your posture. If these expressions become natural, it’ll be easier for you to do them without realising. Because of this, before your talk, put yourself at ease by chatting or even watching a funny video if that helps.

Struggling to show such animated expressions and tonal changes in your speech naturally? We posted a tip last week from Dmytro Okunyev that might help – Act as though you’re talking to one individual on the other side of the screen. You may even imagine a very specific person. Really try to visualise them. If you communicate in this way, your audience members might feel as though you are talking to them individually, which can help them perceive your tone and facial expressions in a more familiar and friendly way.

2. Body Language and Hands

A man sits in front of a projected screen and talks to an audience that we can't see, through a microphone while pointing.

If you’re not livestreaming your event, you may be filming or broadcasting your speaking segment from home. In that case, there are extra considerations for you to keep in mind as a virtual event speaker. Here’s a little exercise.

Imagine that the device on which you’re reading this post, is what you’re using to film your talk. Keep the device’s webcam at the same position you’d use if you were speaking into it right now. Now, sit back from your camera slightly. If you can look into your camera, make sure your top torso is in the centre of the screen, and your hands don’t stretch beyond the screen if you gesture with them. If they do, move even further away from your camera.

That’s the position that you want to aim for for your event. People who view video talks or meetings can often experience a fight or flight response and will want to see your complete gestures, so that they don’t feel anxious or threatened. You don’t want your hands to be invisible for your talk.

And yes, hands are that important – when someone meets a new person for the first time, what feature do you think they notice first? Their mouth? Their eyes? In fact, it is your hands that someone will notice first, in order to establish trust with you.

So, what do you do with your hands when speaking at virtual events? To keep them visible, make sure that you use lots of hand gestures to accentuate the words that you’re using. An analysis of TED Talks speakers found that the most viral speakers used, on average, 465 hand gestures, whereas the less popular speakers only used half as many. So, if you want to be a popular speaker at the next virtual event you’re speaking at, feeling free to use your hands a lot is a sure-fire method. This may be because gestures lighten the cognitive load of your audience, who have to try to guage your attitude through a screen.

However, one thing not to do with your hands, is touching your face. Not only is face-touching a hygienic no-no in the wake of coronavirus, but it can also put viewers off by making you look uncertain or nervous, like you’re trying to block your face from being seen.

3. Taking the Load Off

A lecturer looks to the side offscreen, in a seminar room

Now, let’s go back to the responsibilities of the event professional, not just the speakers themselves.

The above tips are all well and good, but even if your speaker starts to be more confident and you are confident leaving them to it, you should still help to lighten the burden on them when they’re speaking at your next virtual event.

If your virtual event involves attendees being split off into breakout rooms, you can use these to your advantage by giving attendees the opportunity to, within these breakout rooms, come up with their own ideas and discussion points. This way, your speaker does not have to be operating at their full social capacity the whole time in front of the cameras, and they can take regular breaks to recharge – and even watch those funny videos again to keep their mood and energy up for the rest of the event.

However, a better strategy can be achieved if you use livestreaming as opposed to a virtual event platform. The breakout rooms method does work, but you do risk your speaker being out of the groove of public speaking when they have a quick break, or they might not be ready to be onscreen again. A great way to keep up the momentum of their talk, is to let them keep talking but with other infographics overlaying their footage. For instance, if you get a videography company to edit the livestream well, they could splice up the footage of your speaker with timed PowerPoint slides, environmental footage, audience footage etc. This way, the audience will be engaged and the speaker can feel less self-conscious knowing that they won’t be onscreen 100% of the time.

Why use a livestream instead of just screensharing this other footage via Zoom?

Screensharing can be very glitchy and haphazard, and using an actual technical specialist to splice the footage in a more sophisticated way is a much better method of making your event come across as professional – which will also make your virtual event speaker feel less awkward as they won’t have to sort it out themselves or risk looking bad!


We hope our guide for virtual event speaking has helped. If you require any more resources or assistance, please don’t hesitate to email us at info@cpdonline.tv – we want to make sure your next event is as successful as it can be.

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