Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

With online conferencing the twenty-first-century norm, you might find yourself creating and presenting a virtual PowerPoint presentation. You may well be used to delivering a slideshow to a live audience, but you can face a completely different set of challenges when doing this online.

The biggest difference between in-person and virtual presentations is that you’re less likely to be able to read people’s body language or glean verbal feedback when presenting online, so it can be more difficult to adjust your tone or pace accordingly. Your audience might also be more easily distracted by the dog barking in the background or a child running through the room, so you have to use methods that are more likely to keep your audience engaged.

As someone who led a school’s English Department through the pandemic, I’m all too used to staring at my camera in the hope that my colleagues haven’t zoned out, so I’d like to share some tried and tested ways to make virtual PowerPoint presentations at least a little more gripping.

Add Interactive In-Slide Features

One way to engage your virtual audience is to get them to interact directly with your PowerPoint presentation. Two examples that work for me are adding a QR code and including a countdown timer.

QR Code

QR codes are a great way to direct your audience to a website or quiz. On Microsoft Edge, right-click anywhere on a web page where there isn’t already a link, and left-click “Create QR Code For this Page.” You can then copy or download the code to wherever you like in your presentation.

The How-To Geek homepage containing a circle depicting a right-click in a blank space on the web page, and 'Create QR Code For This Page' selected in the menu that appears.

People like using their phones, so even if you can’t see your audience, it’s a safe bet that as soon as you direct them to scan a QR code with their camera, they’ll engage straightaway. If the QR code directs people to a quiz-building website, such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, you can use this as a way to check if your audience has been listening!

Countdown Timer

In any situation, it’s human nature to feel the pressure of a countdown timer. Countdown timers are a really effective way to maintain your audience’s attention, as people will naturally keep checking back in with your PowerPoint slide to see how long they have left to do whatever you’ve tasked them to do. They’re also a handy way to let your audience know when you plan to move on to the next slide in your presentation, serving as a clear boundary marker.

To create a countdown timer, you need to add the Disappear animation to text boxes or shapes containing your countdown numbers, adjusting the timing to one second for each.

A PowerPoint presentation with the Animation Pane open and 'Timing' selected on the first item.

Embed Your Webcam

Another reason a virtual audience might be less engaged is that, to them, seeing the presenter and their expressions is as important as reading the content of the slides. PowerPoint recognizes this, which is why they have the Cameo tool that lets you embed your webcam into your slideshow.

Providing you or your organization are subscribed to Microsoft 365, using Cameo is very straightforward. Simply type Cameo into your PowerPoint search box at the top of your window, and choose from the options there. To keep your webcam visible throughout your presentation, click “All Slides.”

Microsoft PowerPoint open with Cameo typed into the search box and 'All Slides' highlighted in the options that appear.

If you go down this route, make sure you avoid placing a prominent light directly behind you (otherwise, you’ll just appear as a silhouette!), and make a conscious effort to repeatedly look at your camera directly as often as you can.

Choose Your Layout Carefully

If you are creating an in-person PowerPoint presentation that will be beamed onto a large projector screen, you can afford to have smaller fonts and more writing on your slides. However, when you’re running a virtual presentation, it’s worth remembering that some people may well be viewing it on a mobile device with a small screen.

As a result, if you have lots of diminutive text on your slides, you’re more likely to frustrate and, ultimately, disengage your audience. As a rule of thumb, I try to avoid using anything smaller than a size-40 font in a virtual presentation, and I also make every effort to have no more than four lines of text on each slide.

Limit Your Animations

As well as adapting your layout to suit the virtual setting, also consider reducing the number of fancy animations in your slideshow.

As you’re streaming your presentation over the internet, you can’t rely on your viewers to have a strong connection and a decent device. An animation that appears to last a second on your screen can be jumpy and take longer on someone else’s, resulting in a laggy presentation that looks unprofessional.

Regardless of whether you’re presenting in-person or online, it’s always a good idea to reduce the number and variety of animations you use in PowerPoint. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use any animations at all—after all, you are trying to keep your viewers engaged—but sticking to the Fade entrance animation will help you to make sure your presentation isn’t a visual overload for your audience, doesn’t experience jumpiness, and looks professional.

Use Live Chat (and Have a Moderator)

One of the most frustrating barriers to a successful virtual presentation is having people interrupt each other—not least when people try to jump in over you, the presenter. Similarly, that annoying two-second delay often causes awkward and unwanted speech overlaps.

Most videoconferencing platforms, including Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, let you stream your PowerPoint presentation within the call and have a live-chat facility at the same time, and you can make use of this feature so that your session runs as smoothly as possible.

When creating your PowerPoint presentation, plan in some time for you to address written comments that your audience is adding to the live chat as you present.

A PowerPoint slide containing the title 'Question time,' and some text underneath: 'Let's pause for a few minutes, so that I can answer some of the questions you've added to the chat box.'

By doing this, you’re giving your viewers the opportunity to ask questions, something that is often lost in virtual presentations, while also helping yourself to stay focused and finish whichever segment of your slideshow you are currently presenting.

Even better, if you are able to recruit a moderator, they can answer the typed questions for you within the chat as the presentation is ongoing, so you can just focus on giving an excellent presentation.

Pre-record Your Presentation

Are you presenting a particularly difficult topic? Or is it that you’re simply not the most confident of presenters? One way to overcome these potential pitfalls is to pre-record either your whole presentation or even just the more complicated parts.

To do this, click “Record” in the top-right corner of your window, and when you finish, your slides and voiceover will be saved as an MP4.

A PowerPoint slide with the Record button indicated by an arrow.

You can then play the video or videos of your presentation during your video conference, pausing when necessary to answer any questions or elaborate on one of your points. Using this method will mean you can rehearse and perfect your slideshow, keeping your viewers engaged as a result.

Have a Backup Plan

We at How-To Geek know all too well about the unreliability of technology, and things always seem to go wrong at the most inconvenient moments. Even if you have perfected your PowerPoint layout and rehearsed its content to death, you should always have a backup plan in case things go awry.

Before your meeting begins, send the PowerPoint file to your viewers, and print off a copy of the slides for you to have by your side. This way, if your PowerPoint glitches for any reason, you can instruct your audience to open their copy of the presentation, and you have your notes ready to go so you can carry on from where you left off.

PowerPoint's printing options, with the number of slides per page option highlighted.

Many people make the same mistakes in their PowerPoint presentations, regardless of whether they’re designed for a virtual or in-person meeting. Make sure you check out our top tips to avoid making these mistakes and impress your audience with the perfect slideshow.

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By John P.

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