In the past few years, I have attended several interviews and presentations with people spread all over the planet. After all I have seen, I have come to the idea of listing some recommendations on how to approach an interview or how to prepare a presentation when -unfortunately- direct contact is not possible.
Provided that these tips can be more useful for students needing to present their internship experiences, I decided to focus on what I consider to be the adequate protocol for a formal presentation. If you are a student and will have me attending your presentation, you should know that these are the things I will be paying attention to.
Preparing your setting
Just as everything else in life, presenting through teleconference can actually be an advantage. You need to remember that everything that happens or doesn’t happen during your presentation/interview is going to be part of the message you will get across to your audience. In a regular direct basis, there is a lot more to manage and arrange than if all they are going to see from you is defined by the scope of your Web cam. Make sure therefore that what your audience sees is nice and communicates professionalism.
> Internet speed
Uff, I know it won’t be your fault, but a presentation with interruptions due to a poor broadband are very annoying and will have the unwanted consequence of altering your audience’s spirit, because it’s so frustrating. Many times I have attended several presentations in a row, which is tiring enough in itself to be enduring a frustrating presentation. If you can do something to prevent this, it will certainly pay off having your audience attentive to you and not to the fluctuations in connection. I am not very solid on telecom networks, but a specialist has told me that if no one else is using the connection, 10 mb will suffice. 100mb fiber optic connections are more and more becoming a standard, which, for a smoothly going presentation, is great.
> Your surroundings
Ok, maybe you couldn’t find an office or a classroom to deliver your presentation and all you had handy was your residence dormitory. Not an excuse to have your webcam focusing on your shoes closet, your undone bed or a poster of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nothing against your habits or particular tastes, but I don’t want to get more information about them unless for some reason they have something to do with what I am going to hear next. Else, knowing too much about a student’s personal life in this context is rather uncomfortable.
It’s not so difficult to get your room tidy and have a neutral background (a plain wall works perfectly), and if the room where you are is just too full of things, the easiest thing is to cover it. Maybe a tight white sheet will do the job (make sure it doesn’t look like a tent though).
> Mind the lighting
Natural light is something we all appreciate, but it’s not going to be so if the light entering the room is right at your back. When this is the case, all the audience can see is your shape and you certainly want to use your facial expression to reinforce your verbal messages. If there is a strong source of light, make sure it faces you. A desk lamp at full intensity should do the trick!
> Your Skype account
If you can use a proper teleconference device, which requires sophisticated equipment, great. Unless you are working in a big company or you have the chance to access university facilities, you’ll need to use Skype or similar software. Now Skype tells a lot about you, so here you have several things to take care of in advance. First, do you have a Skype address that will not bias your audience? ‘loafer4ever’ or the like may not serve the purpose. Second, what about your humor message? Same as before, ‘killing hangover’ will have transmit just the message you want to avoid. Third, and your picture? Funny faces to welcome a circumspect examiner are a ‘no, no’.
Mind that eventually you will need to share your screen to illustrate something in particular. When this happens, make sure that things your audience is going to see are also appropriate (e.g. background screen picture, apps icons).
> Your materials
It’s already too bad that you will have a limited use of prompts to get your messages through or to impress your audience with eye-catching demonstrations due to the reduced scope of the camera, if there’s anything you can send in advance to guide or illustrate your presentation, do it. Brochures in PDF format and of course your slides, are easy and free to send through email. Unnecessary to say that content and formatting are as relevant for hard copies as they are for electronic materials. Sending a PDF instead of Power Point or Keynotes file, will assure you’re your audience will have your intended format. Proofreading your materials gets critical, as your examiner will be able to go back and forth and even highlight your mistakes.
The presentation itself
The big moment has arrived. You have prepared and now it’s time for delivery. Mind the following aspects.
> Always be there on time
I think the polite way to start an interaction like this is to chat shortly to check if you are ready to start before calling, but you never know, so make sure nothing is distracting you at the exact time of the presentation, in case you just receive a sudden call. The worse that can happen is to have an examiner calling and you answering just few minutes later with some excuse. Consider that whoever is calling you will know nothing about you which will make him uneasy. It’s just different if they can see you re hooking plugs to make sure the image is optimal (even though you should have done that in advance).
> To sit or not to sit?
I have seen all. I should say a presenter standing in front of the camera gives a nice impression and allows a richer use of nonverbal resources, such as movement or position. If you are in a small room, half of you (i.e. from the waist up) can also be enough.
> Image and sound
If possible, try those before starting your presentation. If not, after kindly greeting your audience, ask them if they can see you and hear you clearly. Using headphones and microphone do give you a funny look -in my opinion-, and can get bulky so consider mindfully if they are really necessary. Looking at the camera will give your interlocutor the pleasant sensation that you are looking at him/her in the eyes, but looking at the faces on your screen is more than widely accepted. Because when you look from a greater distance, the difference between you looking at the camera vs. looking at the screen is not so evident, this can be another argument pro not sitting down.
> Body Language
However, if you didn’t manage to get anything else ironed other than your shirt, you will probably choose to sit behind your computer. Not a problem, as long as you don’t forget to use your hands and facial expressions as you were taught and don’t get tempted to get too conversational. You don’t have to be stiff, but laying your head on one hand while tapping the table with the other is an extreme to also be avoided. Notice that when you are behind a table it is not so difficult to fall for these kinds of things. Being limited doesn’t mean that you are impeded of showing some expression. On the contrary, maybe your hands, your arms and your head can compensate the impossibility of moving. But never forget what your ‘Presentation Skills’ teacher told you and keep nervous habits under control (playing with your hair, clicking a pen, chewing your nails, biting your lips…).
It is more difficult to understand someone on SKYPE than alive, therefore modulation, speed, rate, pitch, volume, etc. should be enhanced. Also linguistic markers and audience attention devices are more important than with a live audience (thank you Jeffrey).
> Do not forget to guide through your slides
Well that. What’s the point of bothering to send your materials in advance if you forget to tell when to change slide or flip the page? And considering that we already have your pictures and graphs, why not call our attention over specific details that may have gone unnoticed. Use expressions as ‘if you look at the upper right side of the page’ and others like that.
Avoid trying to show positions and materials in front of the camera. It will be uncomfortable for you, unclear for your viewers and will have the unwanted effect of hiding you.
Not a lot to say regarding this part. Utmost important: do not hang up first, let the other finish the conference after goodbyes and thanks.
Thanks to Jeffrey Breyer (@breyerjmb) for his careful revision and useful suggestions.
Gabriel Zúñiga (@gz_BCN) – Director of Studies – Toulouse Business School – Campus Barcelona