If I were to ask you to describe the average hybrid presentation, what words would you use? Clunky? Awkward? Disjointed? Distracting? There’s a good reason for that: Presenting to both in-person and virtual teams is still somewhat new.
Sure, years ago we had a few lone rangers who worked from home and dialed in virtually. But most of us were used to being in the same room with our colleagues. So, we were well versed on how to nail a live presentation from the front of the room. We knew where to stand, when to move, how to keep our hands from flailing about, and how to read the room to increase audience engagement.
Then COVID happened.
Overnight, our orientation and perspective changed. We all had to become online presenters—and video producers. We had to quickly learn how to frame our bodies within the camera lens, share our screen, engage with audience via chat threads and breakout rooms—all while trying to hold the attention of listeners who were balancing dogs, diaper changes, and doorbells.
And just when it feels like we’re starting to perfect those virtual presentation skills, the world is opening back up. Now we have to navigate another new world of hybrid communication.
Suddenly we must find ways to connect with hybrid audiences in new ways. We must move an audience that is both six feet away and six states away. No wonder we think of hybrid presentations as clunky and awkward. They present significant communication challenges.
Here are some simple tips to help you improve your hybrid presentation delivery.
#1: Level the Playing Field
In some ways, hybrid environments bring audiences together. But in other ways, it can make some groups feel isolated. We suggest adopting this rule:
If one person is virtual, the entire group is virtual.
In fact, the Duarte Strategy and Content team made this decision for our own weekly meetings. We found that when some of us were in-person and only one or two team members were virtual, we inevitably overlooked the virtual folks. And while we never intended to leave anyone out, those meetings made everyone feel disconnected. We encourage you to consider this policy for small groups and teams. If you’d prefer to maintain a hybrid workplace, at least adopt a virtual-first mindset.
#2: Acknowledge Both Audiences
It would be painfully awkward for a live speaker to neglect the people sitting right in front of them. Yet, speakers can easily forget to acknowledge the presence of a virtual audience when presenting in a hybrid environment. Go ahead and greet your live audience with a great big “Hello! It’s so nice to see many of you in person!” But don’t forget to greet your virtual audience, too. “And thanks to those of you joining us virtually.” Let them know that you’re not only aware they exist, you’re thrilled they chose to give you their time. A simple acknowledgment goes a long way.
#3: Treat the Camera as a Participant
Make sure you talk to the camera as if it were a person in your live audience. It can be hard to make this look fluid in a way that doesn’t distract the folks in front of you. But here’s a piece of advice that’s fairly easy for your brain and eyes to coordinate: Say one sentence to one person and then pause briefly. Direct the next sentence to another person and so on. Depending on the size of your audience, deliver a sentence to the camera about every four to six sentences. The people at home will feel seen and involved.
#4: Use a Producer
If the stakes are high and downplaying your virtual audience feels like a bad business move, recruit a colleague to pay attention to them when you can’t. This person doesn’t have to be a professional producer, just someone who can focus solely on the needs of your virtual audience—monitor chats, answer questions, respond to technical difficulties, and implement creative ways to include virtual participants. The producer might even lead a virtual breakout while the in-person audience segments into small groups themselves. This will allow you to focus on the in-person audience without neglecting your virtual audience.
#5: Rehearse with Your Tech Setup
We’ve all witnessed presentations where the speaker was thrown for a loop when their technology didn’t work as expected. WiFi goes out. Laptops crash at the most inopportune time. Luckily, these tech problems are typically the exception, not the rule.
Oftentimes, the fluidity of a presentation is interrupted by completely preventable technical mishaps. That’s why you should plan ahead and rehearse with your presentation technology for both your in-person and virtual audiences. Test what your live audience sees and hears and test what your virtual audience sees and hears. And have a backup in case anything goes wrong. Having the confidence that your tech is working correctly for both audiences will give you the freedom to focus on your content.
In many ways, the key to improving hybrid presentation delivery mirrors the same best practices we’ve taught for years: take time to plan ahead, connect with your audiences on their terms, develop compelling content, and practice your delivery. Because we predict that hybrid presenting isn’t going away any time soon.
Illustrated by Alexis Macias and Trami Truong