Going virtual: how to speak effectively online

As we mentioned in our last post, we’re still adjusting to the new reality of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to helping people create amazing event experiences and want to be a source of support and knowledge for our community during this time.

This time, we have put together a cheat sheet for those invited to speak at virtual events. We will cover how to feel confident with at-home production and how to maximise your impact over video. As ever, we are here to support you on this virtual event journey, feel free to reach out to us for more information.

Being confident with at-home production

Whether you are hosting a virtual event or have been invited to speak for one, you will now be expected to manage some of the production and technical elements of the event. We have put together a list of the main things you need to know to ensure you don’t have to worry about production at home. Some of these might be familiar from our last blog, but we wanted to give you the speaker angle to make it even easier to prepare. 

Checklist before event day:

  • Check you have a strong internet and Wi-Fi connection. There is nothing worse than dropping in and out of the video when you’re trying to make a key point. Therefore, make sure you check the speed and connectivity well before the event and on the day. If possible, use a hard wired connection rather than relying on WiFi, but if you only have WiFi make sure you don’t have others using the network in your household at the same time.
  • Make sure to have your equipment and software ready. You’ll need a webcam, mic and speakers connected to your computer.  Luckily most laptops have all of these built in, but make sure you test all of these before the event. Ask the event organiser to thoroughly explain the software they are using. Download and update it accordingly and have a play around before the event to feel confident in it.

Checklist on event day:

  • Make sure your computer is plugged into a power source
  • Turn off anything on your computer with popup notifications like Slack, calendar, email etc.
  • Check your sound. You might want to use an external microphone or headphone with a mic to improve sound quality. Avoid moving around too much as your mic might not be able to pick up the sound as well.
  • Go online with the event organiser before the event starts and check everything is working well.

Maximising your impact

It can be daunting going from speaking to a live audience to a screen with little interaction. There are a selection of faux pas that we’ve seen various speakers make during online events, which we want to help you avoid! Remember: the fact it’s a virtual event doesn’t mean it’s less important than an in-person one, and you should prepare for it like an in-person one too. 

Have a clear brief
Make sure you speak to the organisers before the session so you are clear about the purpose and outcome they are looking for. Agree in advance the format, key questions you will be asked and what they want you to cover.

Know your core message
Decide on a couple of key messages you want to get across. If you’ve been given the questions in advance then take some time to prepare what you want to say. Be clear on what the key point is of each answer, this will help you from going off on a tangent or forgetting what you want to communicate.

Tell stories
Stories, examples and analogies are great ways to engage an audience, make what you’re saying memorable and bring your ideas to life. When you’re preparing for the session note down a few stories that reinforce or exemplify your core messages and use them in answering questions to make what you’re saying more engaging. 

Avoid jargon
Be aware that your audience might not have the same level of knowledge you have on a subject. Jargon or unnecessary complexity can make your audience tune out. So, spell out any acronyms, explain jargon and be simple in the language you use.

Take a breath
Unfortunately one of the downfalls of online events can be speakers talking over each other. This can be because it’s hard to read the subtle cues we’re used to when meeting in person or there can be a time lag with the technology. So pause before answering a question or adding a comment, so that you’re sure the previous speaker has finished.

Keep it short
Viewers’ attention spans online are shorter than in person. So keep you points, stories and examples short and clear to keep people engaged.

Don’t rely heavily on presentations
This is true for live events and even more so for online events.

Feel confident and look good!

One question we get asked often is how do I look professional and comfortable over video conferencing? Here are some easy tips:

Use the right equipment
A laptop or desktop will always be better than a phone or tablet.

Test the light levels in the room
Ideally you want to make sure there is good lighting on your face, and you don’t have bright lights or windows behind you. Many webcams hate low light, so if you need to, bring in some lamps or use a webcam like this with an integrated light.

Check your camera angles
Make sure you are happy with the camera angle and background of where you are. It is usually better to have an actual background rather than one of the virtual options as they can sometimes be blurry. We recommend elevating the camera so you’re looking directly at the camera or slightly up rather than hunching over your laptop. Don’t take our word for it – even designer Tom Ford agrees.

Are you sitting comfortably?
Making sure you’re in a comfortable chair and don’t need to readjust during the session – this can be distracting for viewers and make you look less confident.


If you need help and support during this time to nail speaking at virtual events, please reach out to us at X Equals. We are able to set up live virtual events, or record and video events for podcasts or streaming at a later date. 

Let’s keep spreading our ideas worth sharing!

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