I think I remember when we made the move from Skype to Teams. It was one of a multitude of behind-the-scenes updates that quietly happens in the background when you’re an Office 365 user (or is that ‘Microsoft 365’ user now? That kind of proves the point – changes to your software suite happen without us noticing or, frankly, caring).
Teams simply appeared following an update and was quickly relegated to the list of tools that we’d occasionally dip our toe into but were pretty ambivalent about. Most of the time it sat redundant, the slightly nicer looking descendant of Skype, anxious to show off its array of features but being widely ignored.
And then the pandemic hit.
Overnight this application donned a cape and became the saviour of businesses across the globe. Teams, and its upstart rival, Zoom, were suddenly the talk of the town. These tools allowed us to keep in touch with colleagues/friends/family, provided fodder for bored comedians and, of course, continue to present to audiences remotely.
Capturing the spirit of the time, Teams and Zoom worked tirelessly to add new features aimed at improving the experience for both presenter and audience. We quickly moved from the novelty of fun wallpapers to more business focused functions like Team’s ‘Together Mode’ and Zoom’s ‘Share Slides as Virtual Background’. Each step forward aimed to create a more immersive online experience, harking back to the ‘good old days’ of being in the same room as your audience.
Except it never could…
Instead, each new development highlighted the risk of presenters believing they could rely on clever technology to cover the cracks of their poor presentation preparation. In much the same way a certain type of presenter gets over excited about the arrival of a new transition within PowerPoint or the animation of Prezi, legions of people spent more time obsessing about the technology options on offer than the things that really make presentations valuable – audience, message, content, visuals. The net result – those who weren’t putting the time in to prepare properly for presentations were getting found out. The natural conclusion was that audiences either politely feigned interest by going on mute and turning off their cameras (and, thus, carrying on with the rest of their day) or simply hitting the ‘Leave’ button, never to be seen again.
To reiterate – technology will never be the presentation panacea that so many are searching for. Still not sure? Then ask yourself one simple question – what do you want your audience to remember after your presentation? Your message or your adept use of technology?
Yep, we thought so…
Now don’t get us wrong – we welcome the development of any tool that can help build a stronger connection between presenter and audience. The problem is that technology will never be able to paper over the cracks of poor presentation preparation. Indeed, presentation preparation has never been more important than it is today.
This means that presenters need to work harder, think deeper and plan better for every virtual presentation. Harnessing the power of the technology is likely to play a part in your final delivery…but that’s as far as it will go. The basics remain essential…and they come from you.
So, what technology should you be considering for your next virtual presentation? Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that our immediate response is that it depends on your audience.
If your audience is looking for interaction, consider using the Draw function within PowerPoint or a tool like Mural. If your engagement is formal, ensure your slides act as visual punctuation on screen rather than dominating the audience experience (and leaving you as a tiny icon in the bottom corner of the screen). And if your audience wants an informal engagement, give it to them (which probably means ditching the slides…no, really).
In conclusion, there has yet to be a technology advancement that gets presenters off the hook (and we sincerely hope there never is – presentations are fundamentally about human interactions). The move to a more virtual world merely increased the pressure on presenters to get it right.
Next time, we’ll revisit the importance of your own presentation delivery, from standing vs. sitting, lighting and why a 'blended' approach still works.