Tips for Addressing a Virtual Audience

As a conference speaker, I've read the books on how to be a good conference speaker, and coached quite a few people to raise their skills in this area too. However recently I've been meeting more virtual audiences, both delivering virtual training and doing virtual events such as DayCamp4Developers, and I thought I'd share my take on what works well in a setting where people can see your slides, and hear your voice ... and nothing more.

  • Smile. I used to work on a telephone helpdesk and we always taught our new recruits to smile on the phone - it really does make a difference!
  • More slide detail. I am (in)famous for preferring to speak without slides, but doing a virtual session removes so many other clues that having MORE visual works well. I find that more detailed slides and particularly more diagrams do really help in this situation. It doesn't stop me from waving my hands around when nobody can see me, but at least there's something to help me illustrate my point!
  • Interruptions are hard to handle. I've tried asking for questions during sessions, and I still try to take them as I go along when I'm training, but for a time-limited talk slot, just save them all to the end. By the time you've asked for questions, and someone has taken the time to type theirs, you've ended up with a lot of dead air. Get questions at the end as a separate phase of your session.
  • Have someone with you. I don't always manage this but especially if you're doing a live conference-style talk, have someone watching twitter/IRC and letting you know if there is anything going on that you need to know about. The very first daycamp4developers I did, I forgot to advance my slides, and it was only my helper for the day holding up a sign to tell me that reminded me!

As we spend more time in the virtual world, we'll be using many different communication methods in many different settings. We get the most out of the experience when they're used appropriately, so I thought I'd share my thoughts. What works for you, either as speaker or listener, when you join an online session where you can't see the speaker? Leave a comment and share!

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