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Phoenix Public Speaking coaching and workshops

Archive for virtual meetings

Equipment to Look and Sound Your Best to Engage a Virtual Audience

By Paul Barton
Principal Consultant

Lights, camera, action! If you’re going to present frequently in a virtual world, you need to look and sound your best to be an engaging speaker. That may require an equipment upgrade to get the right look and sound.

When the COVID-19 virus hit and the lockdowns began, like most everyone, I had to pivot quickly. I had been a public speaking coach on the move. With my rolling computer bag and MacBook Pro laptop, I went from client to client, from Starbucks to Starbucks. When my home office suddenly became my sole place of business, I tried several “do it yourself” solutions to look and sound professional. I experimented with lighting, green screens, and the built-in equipment, but I just couldn’t get the quality I needed to be an effective presenter.

Eventually, I decided to make the investment to upgrade my equipment. I wanted high-quality but budget-friendly equipment. And once I made the switch, it became one of those decisions where I thought, “Why didn’t I do this before?”

I have since qualified as an eSpeakers Certified Virtual Presenter and I’m now fully prepared to present high-quality virtual workshops for corporate teams or virtual conferences.

The following are the equipment choices I made for a total of $347. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one is compensating me in any way for these endorsements.

> Lighting: After consulting with my professional photographer friend, Patrick Rapps, I chose the Neewer Ring Light. It has a dimmer control that adjusts from 1% to 100% and it puts off very little heat. It does not come with a stand, but as a speaker and musician, I had an extra mic stand. It is now mounted so that it is shining head-on at me. My Neewer also has come in handy for casual family photos elsewhere in the house. Cost: $66.

> Camera: The built-in FaceTime HD camera on my iMac just wasn’t cutting it. I chose the highly recommended C922x Pro Stream Webcam, a full 1080p HR camera. It clips on top of my iMac and also can be mounted in a wide variety of places. It has built-in light correction and a 5-foot cable, so it’s versatile. It also has built-in microphones that are better than the iMac built-in microphones, but not as good as my next choice. Cost: $151.

> Microphone: The webcam mic was better than the iMac built-in, but not nearly as good as my Blue Yeti. You can hear the difference between the built-in mic and the Blue Yeti. The Blue Yeti has settings for cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo. That makes it good for Zoom meetings, podcasts, and even recording my guitar for those random “public speaking blues” songs I post on my Instagram occasionally. The Blue Yeti also has a volume control, a mute button, and zero-latency headphone output. Cost: $130.

So, those are the equipment choices I made. I encourage you to shop around and discover what works best for you. And when you find the right fit, you’ll be well on your way to being a virtual business presenter that can turn heads, win hearts, and get results.

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Pros and Cons of Green Screen Background

How to Blur Your Virtual Background for a More Realistic Look

Pros and Cons of Green Screen vs. Authentic Backgrounds

By Paul Barton
Principal Consultant

The great Zoom meeting debate is on – green screen vs. real background. What say you? Which do you prefer? If you’re not sure, here are some things to consider that will lead you to the answer that’s best suited for your presentation.

Green Screen Do’s and Don’ts

Green screen for Zoom meetings

My $7 “green screen”

Green screens can provide a layer of privacy if you don’t have an attractive home office and they can be professional looking when done correctly. But if you want to look professional, ditch the unrealistic and distracting views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the fun but silly palm trees blowing in the wind. Instead, go with a simple background, such as a solid color with your company logo or an uncluttered photo.

Canva or Snappa offer Zoom templates that you can easily customize. You can slightly blur your photo for a more realistic look. If you use the Zoom built-in virtual background without an actual green screen behind you, your audience will likely see your head warp as you move.

I know some folks who painted an entire wall green or purchased green screen backdrops. These solutions work well and are a good choices if you’re using them enough to warrant the time and expense. However, there are less expensive options. I set up a simple green screen in my home office using an appropriately colored green blanket I bought at Walmart for $7. Then I created a solid-colored Zoom background with my company logo for meetings I was hosting and a solid colored non-logo background for meetings where I was a participant.

Although I was able to get my green screen to look good, I prefer my actual bookshelf background for most business situations.

Actual Background Do’s and Don’ts

Bookshelf background for Zoom

Note empty space for head

A natural background allows you to show your audience a bit of your personality. And, of course, it’s also more authentic and less pretentious.

If you go with a real background, make sure it is framed correctly on your webcam, free from clutter, and lit properly. A well-placed book and a houseplant can add a nice touch to the ambiance of your presentation. However, make sure the area behind your head is empty so you don’t have knickknacks or plants appearing to grow out of your head.

In addition to my bookshelf, I also had a large foam board logo printed at OfficeMax and hung it on a blank wall for presentations that I deliver from a standing position. This is what I use to record my online courses and marketing videos.

The Bottom Line on Zoom Backgrounds

As Zoom meetings continue to be the way we do business meetings, conferences and even networking events, we’ll continue to weigh the pros and cons of virtual backgrounds and the actual backgrounds. Whichever option you choose, make sure your background isn’t distracting. As always, you are the star of your presentation, not your background or technology.

The bottom line is this: Choose the background option that will best connect with your audience. A virtual conference audience with hundreds of participants may respond best to a presenter that stands out with a professional-looking green screen background. However, a 1-on-1 coaching client or a small group may engage more with a presenter that has a more personal background.

As with all effective communication strategies, let the audience guide you to success.

 

RELATED POSTS

Zoom Dos and Don’ts

5 Tips to Make You a Better Videoconference Presenter

5 Tips to Conduct a Virtual Meeting

How to Blur Your Virtual Background for a More Realistic Look

Zoom Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re like most people, you’ve been in a lot of Zoom meetings lately and you’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of virtual presentations. In addition to the tips we’ve offered in previous posts, here are a few more we’ve picked up along the way.

Thumbs Up. Ask for the audience to give you a thumbs up if you have a question for the group and don’t want participants talking over one another. Like polls and chatbox questions, it also helps to engage the audience. “If you can hear me OK, give me a thumbs up.”

Short and Snappy. It’s expected that virtual meetings will be conducted in less time than traditional meetings so keep them short and snappy. This is not the time for long-winded stories.

Circle Back Often. If people are joining late or coming and going, be sure to circle back and recap often to catch everyone up. Also, if you’re recording the session, point out how participants can access the replay. I post mine to YouTube with an unlisted URL and then send them out via email.

Look Through the Camera. I’ve been coaching folks to look at the webcam and not at the faces on the screen but my colleague, Michele Trent, takes it even a step further. She coaches virtual presenters to look “through the camera” to visualize their audience. That extra subtle touch can make a big difference in how you engage your audience.

Be Upbeat. It’s difficult to project enthusiasm in a virtual environment so be sure to engage your audience with smiles and an upbeat tone. Avoid sarcasm, dry humor, and cynicism because it doesn’t carry well virtually.

Talk to Only One Person. Public speaking coach Joel Weldon, a legend in the business if there ever was one, advises virtual speakers to talk to just one person in their presentations to help engage each audience member. Say “you should try this” not “you guys should try this.”

Keep Backgrounds Simple. Virtual backgrounds can be fun and add a layer of privacy, but some are just too distracting. Another tip from Joel Weldon is to keep your virtual backgrounds simple. Joel’s is a solid color with just his logo in one corner. Find the right background answer for you.

Combined with the tips we provided in earlier posts, these ideas will help you stand out from the crowd and make a great impression on your next Zoom meeting. As always, we’d love to hear your do’s and don’ts. What have you seen that works? What have you seen that is downright awful? Please share your ideas in the comments field below.

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5 Tips to Make You a Better Videoconference Presenter

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How to Blur Your Virtual Background for a More Realistic Look

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Webinar on Ways to Engage Virtual Audiences

Virtual or Real Background?

5 Tips to Make You a Better Videoconference Presenter

Presenting on a videoconference is different than presenting in an in-person meeting. Many in-person public speaking basics still apply but many require some modifications due to the challenges of virtual technology.

Here are five tips to help make you a more effective presenter in the virtual world:

1) Dress Appropriately. Ditch the pajamas. You don’t need to wear a jacket or tie, but a polo shirt or dress shirt will convey a look of professionalism and may help to put you in the right frame of mind. If you’d prefer to wear a T-shirt, chose a solid color without distracting words, pictures, etc.

2) Adjust Your Body Language. Sit up straight in your chair and don’t squirm. Be mindful that hand gestures can blur on camera so minimize them and, when you do use them, slow them down.

3) Make Eye Contact. Eye contact is important to connect with people but remember to look at the camera eye and not at the faces of those who are on your screen.

4) Control Your Environment. Present from a quiet location with an appropriate background. Use Apple earbuds or a headset so that you don’t have an echo to your voice. Mute your microphone when not talking. Adjust your laptop cover or camera appropriately so that the audience isn’t looking up your nose.

5) Speak and Listen Appropriately. If you typically speak fast, speak slower than you would before an in-person audience. Speak clearly and use simple words. Avoid sarcasm and dry humor because it does not translate well in a virtual environment. Avoid interrupting interjections such as “I see,” because they don’t work well virtually. Instead, listen fully and only comment when the speaker has finished.

By practicing these tips and adapting them to your own personal style, you will be a more professional and a more impactful presenter. Give these tips a try and let us know how they work for you. We’d also love to hear any additional tips that you have discovered. Please leave your tips in the comments section below. We’re all learning together.

Bonus Pro Tip: Zoom offers a virtual background option that can keep your home life more private and add a little fun to your on-screen persona. However, some of the virtual backgrounds don’t look very real, in part because the photos are too sharply focused. One of our subscribers, Bart Butler, recently passed on this cool tip: slightly blur the background photo for a more realistic look. Here’s a short video that shows how you can blur your background. Thank you, Bart Butler for this great tip!

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Business Communication in the Brave New Virtual World

By Paul Barton
Principal Consultant

HAS CORONAVIRUS changed public speaking forever? Well, our business certainly has taken a dramatic and sudden downward turn. Workshops and speaking engagements, even those booked months from now, cancelled.Personal coaching clients, wary about face-to-face contact, have all postponed or cancelled sessions. All new business came to an abrupt halt as caution turned to outright fear.

The world has suddenly turned nearly 100% virtual for business communication. Nearly every business, large and small, that we’ve talked to have all their employees working from home. For some, this isn’t new. But for many, doing business from home is uncharted territory. I believe virtual work will become a bigger part of our lives long after the virus has subsided.

But remember this: Whether you’re trying to get your point across from the board room or on a laptop from your dining room table, basic public speaking skills apply. And there are many new considerations that come into play as well.

For instance, eye contact is still important but it now means looking into the built-in camera on your laptop instead of at individuals in your live audience. Engagement is still crucial but it now means using polls, chat boxes, Q&As, and other creative ways. Body language and humor and still important but need to be approached differently because visual cues and vocal subtleties can’t be as easily detected in a virtual environment.

New Approaches to Public Speaking

Approaching this new way to communicate is not as easy as flipping a switch. You cannot just do everything you used to do only now do it via video-conferring and expect it to translate fully. And that’s assuming it was done perfectly before!

We’re here to help you navigate the world of virtual business communications. This isn’t new to us. For instance, in 2018 we published tips for presenting via speakerphone and we teamed with New York City-based social media expert Dhariana Lozano for a webinar on ways to engage virtual audiences. [Transcript here] You can expect to see more posts here on communicating effectively in this brave new virtual world.

Virtual Business Communication Services

And please bear in mind, all of the 1-on-1 personal coaching packages that Michele Trent and I offer are available as less expensive virtual options.

We also have an online course on conquering public speaking fear and more courses are on the way.

Meanwhile, some of you know that I also operate Paul Barton Communications, a business communication consulting firm. I’m busy right now helping to craft coronavirus messaging for employees of a large healthcare provider. We’re available to help you and your organization as well.

The single most important constant, whether live or virtual business communication, is this: It’s always, always, always about your audience. And for those of us at Phoenix Public Speaking, that means you. Let us know how we can help.

Together, we’ll all get through this. Be safe, be well.