Preparing for a virtual speech: 7 steps

eye contact

Without the correct virtual speech setup, conveying a powerful message is just not possible.

The following 7 steps will ensure that you can deliver your virtual speech in the most powerful way possible, without any other subtle messages confusing your main message. To do so we need to learn a bit more about communication and the nuances of body language.

Studies show that communication is:

  • 55% non-verbal
  • 38% in the tone, pitch and pace of the delivery
  • 7% in the content of the message

Many converting from live performance to telecommunications take for granted the 55% non-verbal communication and thus compromise the clarity of the message.

  1. Look into the camera lens

Not around the lens, into the lens, for most of the time. To assist with this focus remove all distractions on your computer screen. Hide the video of yourself, hide images of the audience and consider removing everything from your screen to ensure that you remember to focus your gaze on the camera lens. Looking into the camera is the live equivalent of looking your audience in the eyes i.e fundamental.

eye contact
Figure 1: Hamwics VPPR maintaining eye contact close up.

Subtlety: Aim for 90% eye contact with the lens. If you look away from the camera too often then the audience will think you have lost interest and then getting that connection back with the audience requires more energy.

  1. Put your camera at eye level

The camera needs to be at eye level. If you are looking down into the camera subconsciously the listener may feel you are being condescending or at least be biased to believe that you are “looking down on them”. This will happen subconsciously and the listener might not even know why they are not enjoying the speech.

camera angle
Figure 2: Trunk shot depicting what you should avoid

Subtlety: Show you are equal and respect the audience/listener by matching their eye level. Unless you integrate it into a speech to add effect.

  1. Know the boundaries of your stage and get the best lighting

For maximum impact stand up. This enables you to use all the stage and frees up your arms for movement.

You can no longer see yourself on camera due to removing distractions (point 1). Therefore it’s important to know the area the camera covers so you can stay within it. Use tape to show the boundaries, understand how far you can go before people lose sight of your face. Utilise all that space when speaking – think of it as a miniature stage.

room setup
Figure 3: The yellow area represents where there is good light. The grey area represents the camera area, thus one must stay within the triangle to be on camera. Of course the closer you go to the camera the more likely your forehead will be cut out of the shot.

Subtlety: When delivering a virtual speech stand up, if you must sit down then ensure that you can fit hand gestures in to the screen and avoid swivelling. Ideally the lighting will come from a powerful source next to the camera which illuminates your face and removes distracting shadows from the background.

  1. Facial expressions are important

The movements of your face convey a lot of information, more so than in live performance due to the close up nature. Make sure your face communicates your message best.

Michele Obama mentions in her book, Becoming, that she watched herself back on mute and noticed that she was scowling, even at the happy points in the speech – this sends very mixed messages to the viewer.

facial expressions
Figure 4: Image of Michelle speaking.

Subtlety: If people can’t see your facial expressions it takes chunks of information away from the message, so ensure you have good lighting. Check facial expressions when rehearsing to ensure they convey the right message.

  1. Remove distractions from your camera area

Remove everything from your virtual speech camera area. Animated objects are especially distracting. It will not enhance your presentation but distract from the message.

If you have a high quality green screen then by all means use a virtual background to create a blank background. However, a bad quality virtual background looks shoddy, gets distracting and takes away from the message.

Subtlety: Keep it plain, keep it simple. The less information in the background, the more information the audience can take from you and your message.

  1. Avoid screen sharing

Avoid sharing a screen unless necessary to describe complex problems that cannot easily be explained with words. The top trump is you, you are delivering a message and as mentioned in the studies of communication- over 55% is in body language. Take out body language (55%) by making your face and body a thumbnail and replace it with rectangular slides with numbers and symbols..and your message will be less powerful. Also putting together a good slide is another art entirely.

Subtlety: Communication and presentation experts such as Nancy Duarte have come to realise that the most powerful speakers need no slides. Imagine Martin Luther king with a slideshow and laser pointer.

  1. Record your virtual speech and learn from it

You can record your speeches on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and review both the speaker view and gallery view:

  • How were your gestures and facial expressions? And on mute?
  • How did the audience react at each moment? Did you lose them at any point?
  • How was your voice? Good intonation and speaking from the chest? How is your posture?

Understand the constituents of communication: non-verbal (55%), tone, pitch and pace (38%) and content (7%) and do not underestimate the power of non-verbal communication with virtual speeches. Nail the subtleties of speaking on camera and deliver powerful messages. For more inspiration on speaking online see this blog about world champion speakers.

Subtlety: Know the subtleties.

This blog post was written by Jack Irwin, Hamwic’s Vice President of Public Relations. For more blogs and information on public speaking visit here:

Storytelling for public speaking

Speech evaluation tips

Jacks top 7 books on communication

Evaluating World Championship Speakers

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