Over the last several years, the popularity of virtual events has been steadily increasing, and, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020, that steady rise turned into a dramatic spike. Today, virtual events are in greater demand than ever before, prompting many speakers to plan for virtual rather than live events in the coming months. However, for many of these speakers, hosting virtual events is a whole new ballgame. Additionally, combined with the growing competition in the virtual speaking space, many are simply left asking, “What does an exceptional virtual speaker look like?”
With that question in mind, this guide is all about the key attributes of a great professional virtual speaker. From preparation before the event to client support after it’s over, speaking virtually can be, in many ways, simpler than speaking on stage. At the same time, it also comes with unique challenges. Consequently, the better prepared you can be, when it comes to speaking virtually, the more easily you’ll show event planners you’re worth hiring, and the more quickly you’ll build your reputation as a first-rate virtual speaker.
1. They work with event organizers to meet the goal of the event.
First, an exceptional virtual speaker has to be focused on the needs of the event organizer. For any event – live or virtual – the individual or committee planning the event will have a specific goal in mind. Sometimes it’s increasing sales numbers, sometimes it’s motivating their team members, and still other times it’s helping their organization navigate change. Whatever the goal may be, the speaker’s job is to craft and deliver a presentation that supports it. However, with virtual events, this is especially important because the audience is not in the room with you. This can make it more difficult to hold their attention, compared to a live event, and, by extension, more difficult to meet the goal of the event.
To maximize your audience’s engagement, meet with the event organizer(s) prior to the event and clarify their overarching goal. Take the time to learn their objectives, challenges, and needs, so you can help meet them. To start, within the SpeakerFlow team, we recommend asking the following questions:
- Have you ever hosted a virtual event before? If “yes,” what were some of the challenges you came across, as the event organizer and in meeting your goals?
- Why are you hosting this event (company merger, low sales numbers, etc.)?
- What outcome do you hope to achieve from this event?
- What resources can I provide now and during the event to make your job easier?
In short, the main thing to remember, as a virtual speaker, is to focus on the client. The event is not about you or any other presenters. It’s about the client and their audience. Consequently, all of your questions and efforts surrounding the event should be geared towards making your client’s experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible.
2. They invest in their presentation materials and studio setup.
After clarifying your client’s goals, the next step to being an exceptional virtual speaker is investing in your setup. Over the course of 2020, we’ve all seen the three types of Zoom setups and the corresponding personalities. There’s the newbie, who looks nice aside from the fact that the camera is pointing up their nose the entire time, and the comfort-lover, who takes the opportunity to dress down compared to their normal work attire. However, there’s also the seasoned pro who knows where to best position their computer, their microphone, and their chair so that everyone in the meeting can clearly see and hear them.
When aiming to be a noteworthy virtual speaker, your goal is, essentially, to take the “pro” personality and apply it to your entire studio. From your lighting to your background to your distance from the camera, everything in your setup should say, “I’ve done this many times” and “I know exactly what I’m doing.” That way, your clients won’t be distracted by anything behind you and you won’t have to worry about anything but your words.
At this point, depending on who you ask, you may hear different recommendations for what constitutes a professional virtual speaking studio. Within our team, we generally look for simplicity as well as durability, so we know our time and money are well spent. In light of these considerations, we consulted Video Narrative for their top choices, based on their experience in the speaking space. Below are their suggestions.
Virtual Speaker Studio Checklist
- Three-Point Lighting: Professional lighting ensures you stand out from the background and that you’re well-lit.
- Backdrop & Stand: Having a uniform and simple backdrop eliminates distractions behind you. The corresponding stand simply holds your backdrop in place.
- 4K Camera or Webcam: Your camera should be able to record in high definition (HD), so that your audience can see you clearly and without any distorted colors or lighting. According to Video Narrative, any DSLR camera will work, provided that it records in HD.
- Tripod: A tripod holds your camera in place, keeping your video level.
- Audio Recorder: You’re being hired to speak, so make sure they can hear you! For the best sound quality, Video Narrative recommends the Zoom H2n audio recorder.
- Teleprompter (optional): Although you won’t always need one, a teleprompter allows you to use a script while giving the audience the impression that you’re looking at them.
To learn more about setting up a studio, as a virtual speaker, check out our Home Studio Course! Created between Video Narrative and our own leadership team, it’s the only course on the market designed to help you choose the tools and studio layout that will guarantee you virtual speaking success. Plus, it comes with an industry-tested shopping list of the best equipment out there, so you can start recording almost immediately.
3. They plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Besides investing time in their client and their studio, the best virtual speakers also remember to prepare for any roadblocks on the day of the event. How can the speech be backed up, so the show can go on even if the power goes out? What if Zoom crashes? What if the event organizer gets food poisoning and doesn’t show up at the agreed-upon time before the event? All of these scenarios, while not ideal, are still possible. Because of that, it’s important that you build a few backup plans with your client well before the event date.
From a technical standpoint, it’s always a good idea to plan for the aforementioned scenarios as well as any others that affect your specific location. If there’s a chance of severe weather, for example, make a plan in case you lose power. If you’re using an older laptop or camera, or if you’ve had issues with them in the past, make time to troubleshoot before the event. Ideally, you should be well aware of what could go wrong on the day of the event as well as how you can make it work.
On the flip side, no matter how much you prepare, there’s always a chance that things will pop up beyond your control. These include illness, car accidents, or family emergencies, for example. In these situations, the best virtual speakers offer their clients additional resources to smooth things over, such as a video recording of their presentation with a Q&A session to be held on a future date. Again, as a virtual or in-person speaker, you’re there to be flexible and provide value, whether the event goes as planned or not.
4. They go above and beyond to engage their virtual audience.
That said, provided the event runs smoothly, the actual day of your presentation is all about the audience. Unlike delivering a live event, being a virtual speaker demands an especially high level of energy and engagement. This is partly because your audience isn’t in front of you. Unlike a live event, if an audience member is bored, they can look at their phone, shop online, or browse Facebook in another tab without anyone noticing.
To prevent this from happening, the best virtual speakers go above and beyond to pull their audience into their presentation. Obviously, this is partly accomplished through your words. After all, you’re a professional speaker, so commanding a room isn’t exactly new territory! That said, the other thing to keep in mind is the technology at your fingertips. According to our own virtual speaking clients, virtual audience engagement essentially comes down to creativity. Whether it’s a thinking exercise they’ve never done before or a customized presentation, based on pre-event client data, virtual audiences, in particular, want to see something that’s thought-provoking, even if it’s not entirely new.
Within the SpeakerFlow network, there are a handful of things that we see time and time again as the thing that made a virtual speaker stand out. Although, in your own work, you may find some of these more applicable than others, below are a few of our favorites, to get your creative juices flowing.
- Leave time for questions or discussion with your audience. While live events are more of a show, virtual events are closer to a conversation.
- Gamify your presentation, awarding audience members with points or rewards for greater amounts of participation.
- Include live questions or polls in your presentation. Then, show the results in real-time and explain the implications.
5. They’re completely professional, from their clothes to the angle of their camera.
The fifth trait of an exceptional virtual speaker is professionalism. While it’s tempting to consider a virtual event less sophisticated than a live one, every time you’re in front of an audience, you’re impacting your speaking brand. Because of this, whether you’re on stage or on camera, it’s important to approach every speaking opportunity as a chance to build that brand and demonstrate the diversity of your speaking skills.
In total, being professional in a virtual setting means attention to three key components. The first component, your studio setup, we already covered above. To recap, your studio should include professional equipment, such as lights and an HD camera, and should minimize the complexity of the background behind you, compelling the audience to focus on you. The second component is your clothes, hair, and accessories. While you should strive for the same sharp appearance as you would for a live event, when it comes to your clothes and hair, be sure to test your accessories on camera before the event date. The last thing you want is to start the presentation and realize that your microphone is picking up every clink of your bracelets or that it’s catching on your tie.
Lastly, the third component is simply your demeanor on camera. Leading up to a live event, every speaker will tell you, even if they’ve given the same keynote fifty times, they practice repeatedly. In the same way, as you prepare for a virtual event, practice is equally important. Not only will you catch places in your speaking material that could use updating. You’ll also notice the aspects of your studio setup or attire that get in the way. That way, when the event date comes, everything about you is polished, and you can deliver your presentation with confidence.
6. They’re flexible when technology acts up.
Nevertheless, while professionalism is undoubtedly important, it’s not always applicable, bringing me to the sixth attribute of an exemplary virtual speaker: flexibility. We touched on this before, when we covered the importance of planning, but, as the old saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. In other words, even if you plan ahead, there’s still a chance that a problem will arise for which you don’t have a contingency plan.
For example, in a recent call with a client, I ran into a few hiccups, despite feeling prepared beforehand. Her project was on track and organized, updates for ongoing work were compiled – I was ready to show her just how proactive I was and how seriously I took my contribution to her business. However, before the call, I realized I had changed the URL for the Zoom room we were to meet in, leading me to email her when the meeting was supposed to be starting. Once we were both in Zoom, my wifi cut in and out to the point that I had to switch to my phone’s data plan instead. It seemed like nothing was working, even when I thought I was remarkably prepared!
Ultimately, the meeting ended with a few laughs, regarding the situation, and plans to test the wifi before our next call. We weren’t upset or overly apologetic. Rather, we were flexible during the meeting and did what we could to adjust to the problems that came up. Then, we hoped for smoother sailing next time and had a quick laugh. Likewise, in many virtual events, the best response isn’t stiff or frantic. Instead, the best virtual speakers remain calm and flexible. That way, everyone can focus on problem-solving rather than on the pressure to get back on track.
7. They’re available after the event to provide additional value.
After the event is over, the next job of an exceptional virtual speaker is providing additional value. You might wonder, “Is this really necessary?” and, to that, I would say, “Absolutely!” During the event, your job is providing insights and information for your audience and your client. You are there to, essentially, do for your audience what they cannot do for themselves and, in doing so, inspire them to turn your words into actions.
Once you step off the stage (literally or figuratively), however, many of your audience members will rapidly lose that inspiration. Maybe they’re not confident in their ability to improve. Maybe they need clarification about your message. Either way, at that point, you’re no longer there to impart new information. You’re there to provide details and support, so everyone in the room (again, literally or figuratively) can move forward with enthusiasm and collectively meet the goal of the event.
Admittedly, for this aspect of virtual speaking, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. In fact, as long as you’re actively trying to support your client and show that you’re not just there for the paycheck, you’re on the right track! To get you started, below are a few of the add-ons we see most among virtual speakers.
- Q&A with the audience immediately after the event
- Monthly consulting with client executives for six months following the event
- Monthly workshops with team members or department leaders for six months following the event
- Online courses and/or workbooks for audience members
- Report of results from pre and post-event surveys of audience members regarding the topic of the event
- Contribution to the client’s blog, webinar, podcast, or social media channels
- Recordings of the presentation, for the client to share with members of their team that couldn’t attend
8. They’re open to feedback, positive and negative.
Finally, the last trait of an admirable virtual speaker is humility. As with any industry, the speaking industry is constantly changing, including the best practices for virtual events. Because of this, even the most experienced speakers have to be willing to accept feedback from their clients if they want to continue to grow. Whether it relates to their presentation style, the examples they use, or their preparation before the event, being an impactful speaker means taking feedback and using it as tools to improve.
Hopefully, this guide provided a starting point for you to grow with the speaking industry, as the demand for virtual speakers continues to rise. For more information about delivering virtual presentations, check out our previous guide, “12 Features Of The Most Impactful Virtual Keynotes.”
Additionally, for more detailed and hands-on training, join us at SpeakerFlow University! With coursework, collaboration, and coaching specific to speakers, SFU is all about providing the most current and impactful resources. That way, you can cut through the information that doesn’t apply to you and start implementing the tools and tips you need in your speaking business, all with the support of other speakers and our team of experts. 👍