How to Succeed at Live Interactive Presentations

When was the last time you spoke in front of a live audience? Do you feel nervous about public speaking? Or do you get a shot of adrenaline from the experience?

Last week I gave an interactive, virtual presentation to a live audience of over two hundred people. One of my biggest fears at such an event is tech failure, such as losing the internet connection or a PowerPoint malfunction. Everyone doing a presentation has his or her own worries, and the best solution is preparation.

While fresh from the experience, I would like to share some tips on succeeding at live, interactive presentations.

Tip 1: Review the purpose of your presentation

A chat and learn presentation, such as the one I gave, is very informal and allows you about an hour to show your audience your expertise through a series of questions and answers. How well you prepare for your presentation helps the hour to go smoothly.

First, before the day of the presentation, reread the description of your presentation. Most likely, it was written about a month before the event so you may have forgotten what you promised to cover during your talk.

A quick review of the description is important for refreshing your memory about what topics and points you will cover during the hour. This way, you will fulfill your audience’s expectations. Jot down some points that you want to make sure you cover before the presentation finishes.

Reviewing your main points also reduces the chances that you’ll go off topic and speak to other areas of your expertise, leaving your audience feeling like they didn’t get their questions answered or the talk didn’t turn out to be what they expected.

Tip 2: Prepare for all scenarios before going live

Many things may happen during your presentation, some good, some bad. Have a backup plan in place in case your internet cuts out. What will the host do while you are working to reestablish your connection?

Test your work area. Is the noise level comfortable? Do you need to close windows if there might be distractions, such as a rise in traffic noise? Is the temperature comfortable? It’s never good if the room starts to warm up (or you start to warm up because you overdressed) and you break out in a sweat. 

Turn off distractions, such as alerts from your phone. Wear headphones if you are more comfortable with noise reduction. 

Have a pen and paper handy if you need to jot down some notes. Place a comforting beverage nearby (coffee if you need to wake up some more or just water). A sip of your drink can save you if you unexpectedly start coughing. A sip of your drink is also a great way to pause and collect your thoughts before you speak.

Practice your introduction about yourself. A smooth and organized introduction will make you appear confident, compared to an introduction filled with ums and uhs. It will give your audience a positive first impression.

Although an interactive presentation involves answering questions from audience members, preview the questions that were sent in early and tell the event host which one(s) you would like to start with. Practice your answers to those questions.

Tip 3: Create a strong first impression

It can be intimidating to speak to a live audience of hundreds without a script to fall back on and to answer questions without knowing them in advance. The key is to make a strong first impression and look like you are an expert in your field.

Speak slowly. It gives you time to organize your thoughts and you’ll sound more confident than if you are rushed. The event moderator will introduce you, and then you’ll introduce yourself. 

Start with questions that you feel most comfortable answering. If you have a series of points to make, or you want to talk about something with a series of steps, clearly define the points as first, second, third, etcetera. When you finish your answer, stop, and the moderator will summarize what you’ve just said and transition to the next question.

Remember to look at the camera. It may feel more natural to look at the screen to see what people are doing or check if you look okay, but eye contact with the audience only happens when you look directly at the cold, shiny eye of your webcam.

Tip 4: Let your moderator guide you through the presentation

The event moderator is the host of the show. Your moderator will ask you questions and transition you from question to question. If you’re stuck on what to say, count on your moderator to step in and smooth out any awkward, dead air time.

The moderator will monitor the chat, read out relevant comments, and share questions from the audience. It can be intimidating when the moderator reads a question for you to answer on the spot. It’s okay to take a few seconds to organize your thoughts before you answer. Also, at this point, you’ve shared enough of your expertise to establish yourself as an authority on the subject.

Before your presentation is over, the moderator will ask if you have any additional points to share. This is your opportunity to cover any points that were missed or share any final words of wisdom on your topic.

When your time is almost up, the moderator provides a strong wrap up of what you covered, including information on how the attendees can get in touch with you. Remember to thank your audience for attending!

Key Takeaways

The thought of making a presentation in front of hundreds of people can invoke fear in most people. Doing a live presentation to an audience without knowing what you’ll be saying in advance can be the stuff of nightmares.

If you’re already an expert on the topic, then remember that people are attending to learn from you. Be prepared with some key ideas, and then answer audience questions as if you’re chatting with a friend about your favourite subject. The best part is you’re not presenting alone. Your moderator is there to keep you organized and keep your talk moving along from start to finish.

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