If you watched any of the 2020 Republican or Democrat National Conventions in the US you’ve probably been struck by how hard it is to play to an audience you can’t see. Even usually charismatic performers have struggled to perform and connect without audience feedback and involvement. Cracking a joke and pausing for laughs that nobody can hear looks plain awkward, as does delivering a killer line, waiting for applause and approval, and getting only silence.
Making your pitch in an online environment is tough. It calls for a different approach and a different type of preparation. Even when the threat of Covid-19 has disappeared (and who knows when that will be) it’s almost a certainty that many clients will choose to continue with online platforms like Zoom. It’s more cost effective and convenient for them; so why wouldn’t they?
So, sales people who want to be effective had better sharpen their online presenting skills. And, while the audiences for sales presentations might not be given to whooping and cheering like those in a political rally, you still need to develop a presentation style that works without the eye contact, nods, glances between colleagues, and thoughtful hmmms that usually confirm that your points are hitting home.
Working and Presenting From Home
While working from home is nothing new to me, most of my sales experience was face to face with people in a room presenting my business proposals to them. Of course I’ve also had to ‘present’ outlines of proposals over the phone sometimes, giving enough information away to secure the face to face interview but not enough to render the face to face irrelevant! (That’s a difficult balance to strike I can tell you.)
One major challenge of online presentations is simply getting used to using the new technology and setting up our presentation environment. I’ll cover some tips for doing this in a future article.
Eye Contact Matters - But Where Are the Eyes?
But let’s start with the basics for communicating effectively with the people whose faces you see on the screen. Eye contact is always important - online and offline. But where are their eyes and where are yours pointed from the perspective of the audience? Concentrating on looking at your camera, rather than at your screen is good advice, but only up to a point.
In some ways you have an advantage online because you can ‘maintain’ eye contact with each individual (at least from their point of view). But this also comes with the risk of looking a bit intense and scary, like you’re trying to hypnotise them. It’s easy to forget to blink and to stare at the camera in a very unnatural way, which can be quite unnerving for those on the receiving end.
It helps to glance at the images of your audience to see if they are engaged and to gauge their reactions. Naturally, we will try to make eye-contact with the image rather than the camera - but this makes you appear to them to be looking down rather than ahead.
When you look at the camera to make eye-contact you can't focus on their faces to get their reactions, nor can you focus on one person at a time. Of course, your audience is unaware of all this. Getting the balance right so that it all looks natural is difficult and takes practice.
Cultivate the Right Image
One thing I always do when I’m going to be on a video call is that I wear a work or formal shirt. Why? Well it puts me in the right frame of mind for the call, as it evokes the feeling that I’m ‘working’. For me, wearing formal work clothes is my norm – it isn’t for everyone I know, but it makes me feel right and I hope it also creates the right impression with the work colleagues, customers, stakeholders that I’m communicating with.
One great advantage I’ve found with presenting remotely is that I can practise as many times as I like. I can record and play back these sessions to myself so that I appear as professionally I’d like to. Nobody knows you’ve done this but it will help you to come across as spontaneous and natural.
Doing this preparation in the privacy of your home is a massive (and underutilised) aspect of presenting remotely. It’s how you learn to keep going without being thrown by the lack of audience response. It’s certainly proved its worth to me over the past few months.
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.