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Being present to present virtually

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
December 6, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 47


Illustration of a Zoom meeting.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Make your video presentations more professional.

This year has forced many of us to become more comfortable using virtual technologies such as video presentations. But as we get further into the pandemic, people expect more from these types of interactions. Presenters need to be more professional; the content, more polished; and production values, higher. Now is the time to step up your game and make sure you present as professionally as possible. Here are some tips on how to accomplish that.

Be present. First, look critically at your work-at-home setup. Is it conducive to professional meetings? Try to limit background noise and other interruptions. If possible, invest in a high-quality microphone and speakers. You might need to adjust your camera angle or use a physical screen or virtual background. And pay close attention to your lighting. A small light that illuminates your face can make you appear friendlier and more engaged.

Ask for help. Recruit help, especially for formal presentations. Ask the moderator to introduce you, monitor the chat, answer easy questions, and alert you when something needs to be addressed immediately. You may also want to recruit an administrator to help set up the meeting, watch the waiting room, mute people, and handle technical issues. Send your administrator a copy of your presentation ahead of time, and exchange phone numbers so you can contact each other if issues arise with the internet connection. Set up a channel for communication during the presentation, such as a text message platform. Ask your team to log in 15–30 min early to avoid potential delays like software upgrades.

Engage the audience. Before the presentation begins, or in the first few minutes, engage the audience. Use the chat to have people share a little about themselves, or let them unmute and have a short conversation. By making a connection, you will feel less like you are talking into a black hole. You could ask about their experience with the subject of the presentation or what they hope to learn from the session. Use short polls or exercises to engage them during the session. Find out ahead of time what feedback tools the videoconferencing software has, and encourage their use.

Remind yourself of the people. The audience will be on mute during the presentation, which means you have no feedback. Although you can’t require it, you can encourage attendees to turn on their cameras. If no one does, have pictures of people on your desktop (physical or virtual) to remind yourself who is there.

Embrace diversity. Look at your event from different angles. Who will attend, and how do they want to receive the information? Virtual presentations allow participation from different geographic backgrounds and time zones. It also frees you from having to do everything while you are physically present. Get creative. Would two 30 min sessions a week apart make more sense for your content? Think about closed captioning, or maybe even translation into multiple languages, if appropriate.

The pandemic has forced us to change how we do things, but we can still do our best with the tools we have.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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