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Virtually Messaging

Getting your message across virtually: how to resonate with your audience

Whether you’re on FaceTime, pitching to the Board on Zoom or invited as the keynote speaker to a virtual conference, heed the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated”.

Always have your audience’s best interests at heart and be clear what you want them to go away thinking, feeling, saying, doing or knowing. I call this the ‘call to action’.  Do you want them to buy your book?  Know more about your services? Recommend your proposal to their Board?  Offer you the job? What you say should lead to that outcome logically and sincerely. And for them to want to come with you on that journey, we must think about how we connect with them.  

How would you like your audience to describe you?  What words would you like them to use?  If you say ‘professional’, what do you mean by that?  ‘Passionate’- define it more. Identify two or three key words that are unique to you. This is about being congruent.  What we say has to be consistent with the way we say it and what our audience sees. If you want to be seen as engaging and fun, then how you project yourself virtually must reflect that.  If you want to be described as credible, really knowing your stuff, then you can’t trip over the technology or have the camera looking up your nose.  People form impressions very quickly so, always make sure you know how to mute.

Set your camera at eye level (put your computer on some heavy books if needed) and position yourself so that you have your bottom to the back of your chair and feet flat on the floor – this will make you stable. Don’t cross your legs.  Now relax your shoulders, take your elbows out to the side and put your hands on the table in front of you creating lovely little gap under your armpits and an engaging posture.  Look at newsreaders and TV anchors – Gary Lineker is a total pro.  

Research by Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School looked at what people are judging us on. Her team found that it’s about how trustworthy we come across, and how competent. She says:

“When we form a first impression of another person it’s not really a single impression. We’re really forming two. We’re judging how warm and trustworthy the person is, and that’s trying to answer the question, ‘What are this person’s intentions toward me?’ 

Our audience judges us, like it or not.  Smile and look straight to camera. If the audience videos are lined up along the bottom, you’ll be tempted to look there. Remember, straight to camera.  

Make it clear that what you’re going to talk about is for THEIR benefit.  Be explicit about what they will get from your session – the WIIFM factor – “What’s In It For Me?”  Don’t leave them fumbling about to work it out.  Tell them what they’ll get in language they can understand and follow.

And if you need to introduce yourself, do that AFTER you’ve told them what’s in it for them.  Too often the speaker spends the first few minutes on themselves.   I’ve heard long introductions about what an amazing serial entrepreneur this person is (really?), how many years they’ve been doing it, (who cares?) all the prizes and awards they’ve won and I’m thinking, “So what?  What’s in it for ME?!”  

Connecting with your audience is as simple as ABCD:   A, get their attention with something interesting and relevant – a statistic, a fact, something funny.  B – state the benefits to them – what they’ll get from listening to you.  C – your credentials and why you’re qualified to talk on this subject and finally the D – direction – signpost the way outlining what you’re going to do in the next 10, 15 or 30 minutes you have together leading them gently to the call to action. 

To make sure you come across well and engage here are my other five ‘top tips’.

  1. Slides are a ‘visual aid’ – not the presentation itself. Please don’t read out the bullet points, where’s the value in that? Your audience can read faster than you’ll ever speak.
  2. Chunk down what you’re going to say and signpost – ‘Firstly, secondly and then’ and try using the phrase ‘so that’ to link them to your call to action. For example, “Firstly I’ll share the results from phase I, secondly I’ll open up the discussion and take questions and then we’ll explore the next steps for your team so that you can be sure that we deliver the project on time and on budget.”
  3. An athlete warms up before a race, you should warm up before you speak. Try saying Peggy Babcock several times out loud to get your mouth, lips and tongue moving and sing out your vowels: a, e, i, o, u to get emotion and intonation into your voice.
  4. Make your session interactive – they’ll remember far more if they’re actively involved.
  5. Keep to time – if you have 10 minutes, rehearse several times and make sure you finish within 9 minutes.  Nobody minds if you are under the time, everyone gets annoyed if you run over.

I think Roosevelt was right. 

Isobel Rimmer is founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training and author of new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue


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