April 11, 2020

Adjust your expectations of virtual presenting

One of the things that presenters love so much about being in front of a live audience is the instant gratification of your audience's responses.

We're in direct contact with the emotional impact of our words and delivery. The audience smiles, they laugh, their body language changes and shifts. They murmur to their neighbors. They raise their hands. They frown and grimace. We can immediately see and hear their reactions; their reactions feed into what we do next. We respond to their responses. We give them energy, and they give it back.

Virtual presenting lacks immediacy. It lacks instant gratification. And a lot of speakers are freaking out right now because they can't get immediate gratification from their audiences.

As speakers, we have to shift our expectations of what we can receive from the audience. But that doesn't mean that the audience isn't receiving anything from us. Just because we don't see them laugh or smile, clap or gasp at something shocking, or turn to their neighbor with a comment, it doesn't mean they're not receiving our energy, our humor, or our message.

When we present virtually, everything is delayed. The time it takes for people to respond, whether they're on webcams and smiling, laughing, and clapping, or muted, off-camera and typing into the chat, is slower.

If you're using the chat box to take questions, comments, or responses to your own questions (like yes and no), you have to sit and wait. When you ask a question and your participants are self-muted, they have to unmute. Sometimes they begin speaking without unmuting themselves, and you have to wait for them to figure it out. And then unmute!

It's uncomfortable. I get it. For those of us who've been presenting online for a long time, this is not new. We don't love it, but we understand it, and we expect it.

If online presenting is new to you, you're learning a completely new skill. You're learning patience and delayed gratification.

I'm seeing a lot of comments and concerns from presenters that they fear their audiences aren't receiving value, because the speakers aren't seeing/hearing responses to their words. I also see a lot of concern that humor isn't landing, because speakers can't see or hear the audience's laughter or smiles.

So I want to ask you two questions.

1. Are you truly concerned that the audience isn't receiving value?

2. Or are you uncomfortable with a lack of instant gratification?

These are two very different things.

It's difficult to present when we're not getting audience feedback in the form of verbal or nonverbal communication, but that doesn't mean that the audience isn't receiving value.

The more you incorporate interaction into your virtual presentations, whether it's polling, asking for comments in the chat, asking them to click the buttons for yes and no, or asking them to unmute themselves and make a comment, the more you'll see that your audience is indeed finding value in your presentation.

And by the way, there is no way that they will ever give you 100% of their attention during an online presentation. They don't even give you 100% of their attention in a live presentation. So you need to get past that unrealistic expectation and continue to give value and provide opportunities for interaction. You just have to continue bringing their attention back into the session.

If the problem is that you're craving instant gratification, then I invite you to think about what that means.

The desire for instant gratification, from the audience giving you feedback and attention through immediate emotional response, is more about you than it is about them and their needs.

As I said above, patience is a new skill to be learned. You have to be patient and trust the process. You have to trust that your humor is landing, that your audience is responding, and that your content is sticking.

Sure, the laugh track on a comedy show, or the live audience on a late night talk show make the comedy land better. There's a reason comedians like to pack their rooms full—shared laughter is contagious. But it's still funny, even without the live response. Have you watched any of your favorite talk show hosts lately? Aren't they still funny? Aren't you still reacting?

Near the end of a training last week, I commented that I wanted to end on time because we had been together for almost four hours. One of the participants typed, "This has only been almost 4 hours?" I laughed and thanked him for letting me know that the time had passed quickly. And another participant typed "Thank you, the fast pace is helping!"

After another recent online training, I received this email from one of the participants: "Just when I was beginning to give up after seeing one horrible online presentation after another, you showed it could be done and done well. Plus interactive, which is the hardest thing for an inexperienced speaker to figure out."

I'm not sharing these quotes to brag, but rather to demonstrate that you often won't know how your audience has received your presentation until it's over! But if you're getting notes and comments like these, then you know that you're hitting all the right spots, even if you can't see and hear your audience's reactions in real time.

Let go of your previous expectations of live presenting. Virtual presenting is a whole different world. A lot of what you know from live presenting does transfer over. But some things just don't. And it's okay.

Move forward with a new awareness and a new intention to serve your audience, whether or not you can see and hear them!

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