Public Speaking in the Era of Zoom

Relatively few people will ever give a big speech. Still, anyone may be called on at any time to present at a department meeting, lead a breakout session at a conference, pitch to potential customers or interview with the management team.

Regardless of audience size or the forum, when someone delivers a message to a group, they are speaking in public.

Organizations quickly turned to an emerging forum — videoconferencing — to keep business moving during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, and those online platforms are now the “new normal” in public speaking. The skills for effective, in-person public speaking apply to videoconferencing: speak clearly and coherently and to the audience’s needs, measure their engagement by observing body language and vary the tone and pace of delivery.

However, videoconferencing also requires a new set of public speaking skills to keep all faces on the screen from tuning out.

“Your audience has a greater opportunity to stray,” according to Forbes. “You now have to compete for their eyes, ears, hearts and minds against diminished attention spans, increased home and work life distractions and conflicting priorities.”

What Skills Do Effective Videoconference Leaders Possess?

Speaking effectively in the remote forum requires extra preparation to manage the technology, gauge and maintain audience engagement and ensure the message makes the desired impact. Public speaking consultants recommend adjusting to the remote forum by thinking about aspects such as:

  • Production values

Make sure the lighting is right; you don’t want to look washed out or in the shadows. Use a green screen background appropriate to the setting. Conduct a sound and video check before the audience starts logging in by asking friends to click in ahead of time for a quick run-through.

  • Technology quirks

You may be a master of one platform, but if called to present on another, you might be unfamiliar with other tools. Features, settings, chat and functions to check sound and video quality vary from platform to platform. Don’t wait until 15 minutes before the meeting starts to try to figure out an unfamiliar platform.

  • Stagecraft

Play to the camera. Looking at a face on the screen means you are not making eye contact with anybody and likely will lose everybody. Stand to deliver to prevent slouching or rocking back and forth in a chair.

  • Audience behavior

Some experts recommend “seeding” the audience by asking friends before the meeting if you can call on them to join the conversation. Sweep your eyes across the screen from time. The audience’s nonverbal cues will let you know if you still have their attention.

  • Content is king

Solicit questions when you send the meeting invitations and read through them when preparing your presentation. If you spot relevant trends, include answers in your remarks.

How Do Business Professionals Enrich Their Communication Skills?

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the critical soft skills required for success in any function in any size business, from entrepreneurial startups to multinational corporations.

“A leader’s No. 1 job is to inspire. That’s really why leaders need to work on communication skills — so they can inspire and motivate, and ultimately lead people in the desired direction,” notes G. Riley Mills, business performance consultant, in the Society for Human Resources Management.

Many business professionals strengthen their communication skills by completing a Master of Arts in Professional Communications. The online program offered by Southern Utah University (SUU), for instance, prepares graduates for success in the digital era through a curriculum that, among other foundational topics in communication, addresses:

  • The adoption, usage and management of new and emerging digital communications platforms
  • Studies on the intersection of technology, culture, economics and politics
  • The strategic use of major social media platforms

“Being able to participate with skill in all forms of communication — verbal, written, non-verbal and visual — is important to getting a job and advancing in your career,” according to Indeed. Public speaking skills are critical to jobs in nearly every industry, and an advanced degree can give you the practice and tools to excel in public speaking.

Learn more about Southern Utah University’s online Master of Arts in Professional Communication General program.

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