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Presenting via video: Five questions for public-speaking expert Matt Abrahams

Matt Abrahams Head Shot

When it comes to public speaking today, more and more people are finding that you don’t have to be there, to be there.

Professionals are opting to deliver that conference keynote in Cannes or the presentation in Perth via video rather than in person. Many of you tell us about using Skype video calling this way, both to save time and money, and to provide access to audiences you might not reach otherwise. Meeting in Moscow? Tokyo? Mumbai? While in the past you may have had to turn those opportunities down, presenting there today is as easy as logging in to Skype.

We recently chatted with public-speaking expert Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

1. What are the biggest benefits and challenges of giving a talk or presentation over video versus in person?

The biggest benefit is that you can reach a broad audience cost-effectively and in a timely manner.  It’s also easy to record your video presentation for use later.

The challenges often relate to technology itself. I make the analogy with ordering from an online retailer. If the box arrives banged up, you blame the retailer even if the delivery service caused the damage. Tech is the same way. The audience holds the presenter responsible.  Video presentations require extra practice and preparation.

And people have different anxiety when it comes to presenting on video. Not seeing an audience live reduces pressure for some. Others feel more nervous because they can’t gauge the audience reaction as easily.

Your first consideration in any presentation is your audience. What do they need, and what’s the best way for me to provide them with that? How can I ensure my audience benefits from what I am offering?

2. How do you prepare differently for a video presentation vs. one delivered in person?

First, think about the “theater” of video. People will see your face clearly, so be conscious of nonverbal facial cues. Practice talking directly to the camera so you make “eye contact.” Position the camera slightly above you looking down and at a distance comparable to a face-to-face conversation: 18 inches to three feet away. Put your notes at eye level, and practice looking at them only at transition moments in your presentation.

If possible, assemble a team to assist you. Have a tech coordinator by your side to deal with any issues.  Assign a point person who’s with your audience. He or she is your eyes and ears on the ground.

Finally, practice, practice, practice! Dry runs are critical – do them with your whole team.

3. What do I need to know to make sure a video presentation is a success?

It’s much harder to keep an audience engaged on video. People are less focused. Try to break things up every five to 10 minutes. Ask a question, let someone else talk. Poll your audience about a point you made. Include plenty of variety. Alternate data with stories and anecdotes. Vary your volume.

Make sure you take a “pulse check.” Ask your designated audience point person how everyone is on their end and make adjustments based on the reaction you’re getting.

I also suggest dressing for a video presentation as if you were there in person (attire that’s 1.5 degrees “above” your audience is a good rule of thumb). And if possible, remain standing. Research says it helps you focus.

4. What should a presenter via video ask of the audience?

Set expectations before the presentation: let your audience know what you’re covering and what their role will be. Orchestrate an interactive experience.

Before the presentation, perhaps send out three questions to your audience. Solicit answers as you speak. Ask someone to share a relevant experience.

Ask “show of hands” questions. It’s one way to know if an audience is engaged or not when you can’t see faces easily. If the response is lackluster, make adjustments.

Here’s what not to do: don’t tell your audience you’re nervous. Don’t say what you’re doing is hard and demand they pay attention.

5. Are there any types of talks you should never give via video?

Common sense should be your guide. If the subject matter is deeply personal or emotional for the audience, video may not be right. Ask yourself: If I was part of this presentation’s audience, would I be ok receiving it on video? Rely on your own judgment.

Do you have a few tips of your own, or a great Skype presentation experience? Please share!

Matt Abrahams is an educator and coach who teaches Strategic Communication for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Presentation Skills for Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program and De Anza College. Matt is also co-founder of Bold Echo Communication Solutions and recently published Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. To learn more, visit

2 thoughts on “Presenting via video: Five questions for public-speaking expert Matt Abrahams

  1. Nice write up and very helpful.

  2. Reblogged this on Nuage Culture and commented:
    I just facilitated a business model generation canvas brainstorming session remotely with Skype. I have to say, not having a 1 TB connection hampered things a bit. I also did not have Premium. I was told by Skype Sales that Premium does nothing to improve your connection speed. This isn’t mentioned in the article directly, mostly inferred from the table. Good to keep in your bookmarks if you use Skype for business in any way.

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