7 Sins of Online Presenting – It’s time to raise the bar

Over the last few weeks, in response to the Corona Virus, we have seen an unprecedented surge of online meetings and presentations. For some organisations the availability of technology has been a lifesaver or business saver and for others it has created a new playground for wasted time, unproductive meetings and risky brand strategy.

For many business owners and staff working from home zoom time has been the time of day they look forward to the most. Online time keeps them connected to the outside world, essential at this time for happiness and a healthy mindset, but don’t confuse social time or play time for business time.

Many organisations use challenging times to upskill their staff and encourage the participation in on-line courses and webinars. Great, but how do we know which ones will give us the best return on investment? And if you are the one in the delivery seat as an expert, trainer or facilitator, have you just been accelerated, whether ready or not, into the world of on-line education and webinar hosting?

Unfortunately, many on-line meeting leaders, trainers, experts and workplace presenters have had little time to prepare or train in the area of on-line presenting and have struggled through, doing their best,  listening to the handful of tips from experts and the instant-online presenting gurus.

So, lets take a step back in time to ‘before COVID 19’.  Would the following presenting sins be accepted or even tolerated either in a face to face presentation or an online meeting? A meeting or presentation that people have invested time and money to attend? And if you are a presenter would you ever turn up to deliver the opening keynote at a conference with an unprepared presentation in your weekend yoga pants? I think not.

In any presentation, the preparation is always evident

Although Zoom time, or any other platform you choose, can be playtime on occasion the cost of unproductive meetings and dodgy on-line solutions can be costing your organisation more than you think.

See below for some of the on-line presenting sins that have been evident in some of the meetings my clients have been attending over the last few weeks. There are many more than 7 but these ones seem to be at the top of the list.


1. We’re just waiting for everyone; I’ll give it another few minutesBert, I can hear your washing machine. Bert, can you press the mute button? Bert it’s the red one at the bottom.

Is not a strong opening. Just like a live presentation, your opening should be strong and confident. Start your presentation on time for those who have shown up on time. If your attendees are late, they can catch up in their own time if there is a recording. Show leadership, plan your opening words carefully and give everyone a great first impression. The law of primacy and recency state your audience will tend to remember the first and last words you say, don’t let your audience remember how difficult if was for Bert to press a button.

2. Transparency doesn’t mean showing everyone your dirty laundry

Being transparent and authentic is critical in any presentation, but this does not mean your audience wants to see your dirty dishes on the sink or your personals hanging in the background, they might not be as impressed as you are with your new bedroom curtains and they definitely don’t want to see your partner in their flannel PJ’s waving at everyone with their morning cuppa in hand.  Sure, work from home but be professional. If you were presenting a teleconference at work, you wouldn’t choose the office kitchen area or the car park to conduct the presentation it would you? You would choose an appropriate professional location. If you don’t have anywhere appropriate and professional to conduct your virtual work, construct a virtual zone which can just be a corner in a quiet room with a plant and a tidy bookshelf behind you or use a virtual background image. Most platforms now have this function. (but do choose your image wisely)

3. Please don’t torture me

I know running online meetings might not be your thing, but just like any other task at work, you need to take it seriously and do it well. Acknowledge that this is a skill and get some training on how to do it effectively. Stop with the monotone delivery, reading your whole presentation, clunky tech and trying to get away with sharing unprepared unrehearsed content. Prepare well, rehearse your delivery, get some feedback and have an engaging and relevant conversation with your audience. Engaging your audience for an hour online is much more difficult than being in a room face to face. You cannot just talk for an hour. Plan your questions, your interactive activities and your structure. Don’t risk damaging your brand or your organisation’s brand by torturing your clients or your team.

4. What’s that button for?

You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Of course you did, then why are you delivering an on-line meeting on a brand-new platform when you have no idea what you are doing. If you know you are technically challenged, get a support person in the room or virtual room with you so you can get on with your presentation, or invite a co-host to help you read some of the questions in the chat rooms and get up that hour earlier and practice with a friend or colleague just one more time. If you find it stressful thinking about the tech side of on-line delivery, just like any other tasks you are not very good at, learn it or delegate.

5. Excuse my attire and red sweaty face, I’ve just  been for a run

Yes I know, the stars are all wearing their trendy sports gear and their yoga pants to chat to their fans on-line, but remember you are not Miley Cyrus and your brand may not align to this wardrobe choice. Clients all week have been asking if they still have to wear a suit to their virtual office.  My response: what would you be wearing if you were meeting them face to face?  If you regularly meet up with  a colleague for a catch up coffee after your morning walk, then sure it might be okay to meet up on-line in the same sports clothes but if you wouldn’t dream of  turning up in your sports clothes to address the board of directors, what makes you think the board wants to see your fluorescent Nike tank top and your sweaty face now? There is a difference from dressing just a little more casually working from home but remaining professional than throwing all workplace dress code out the window. Remember first impressions and managing your brand still count online.  Some workplaces have casual Fridays or have fun with themed dress days, if this is your organisation’s culture you can still follow suit online. Are pants optional online?  That one is up to you.

6. What do you mean you sent it to our entire organisation?

Flashback to your sweaty face and the hanging laundry in the background. Yes, the host recorded it and sent it to 1000 other employees. Let your team or the attendees know in advance that the session will be recorded. And when you are participating in an online session, be mindful that if it is being recorded what you say, how you present yourself or what you write in the chat zone may be broadcasted to anyone the host chooses to send it to for years to come.  What are your workplace policies around recording on-line meetings or presentations? Do you have any? As an attendee you have a choice to switch on and off your camera, however hiding or not showing up fully can risk judgement from others who are fully present. Be ethical and professional and always get permission before sharing any recordings, or even screenshots of participants.  And as an attendee if you haven’t been told, you can ask in advance when you register.

7. Don’t pretend it’s a face to face presentation, it isn’t

As mentioned earlier it is a little more difficult to fully engage on-line attendees unless you have prepared well in advance.  If you have delivered the same presentation to a live or face to face audience, don’t assume you can use the same activities or even the same slides for an on-line presentation. There are some big differences between face to face and online slide design for participation, learning and memory and that share, pair and shop or fishbowl activity that works so well in your face to face training session might not work so well on-line. The more you present online, the more comfortable you will be. It might be a little trial and error at the beginning to get your timing or engagement right with some of your activities, just do as much preparation as you can prior and ensure you get feedback after the presentation.


So, how sinful are you?  Don’t feel bad if you have sinned, even the professional speakers, trainer and facilitators get it wrong from time to time. And what works with one audience doesn’t always work with another. However, once you learn the art, science and practice of powerful presenting and leading from the front of the room both on and offline, you are no longer winging it. That is Presentation Intelligence ®.

Paula Smith
Presentation Intelligence

Paula has been helping experts, organisations and executives harness the power of speaking for the past 30 years and delivers courses in Presentation Skills, Presentation Intelligence®, Neuropresenting®, Mastering Meetings and Leadership.

Click here to read Paula’s Essemy profile.