Discourse Gone Digital: Five Tips to Maximize Speaking at Virtual Events

We’ve seen massive disruptions to entire industries over the past few months, with organizations quickly adapting business-as-usual tactics to align with the health and safety of others. The event industry was particularly thrown off course, but a number of brands shifted quickly to be able to develop the content they’d worked so hard to create: For example, shortly after shelter-in-place policies started popping up across the country, Collision launched an “At Home” version of their popular technology conference, WIRED, The Information and The Next Web launched a series of digital roundtables with industry leaders on a variety of topics. 

In March, PCMA’s preliminary report showed seven out of 10 planners have moved face-to-face events partially or fully to a virtual platform — and many don’t see it as a short-term fix during the pandemic, but something that will continue alongside in-person events going forward. 

Virtual events are a new normal we need to adjust to. While coming together may look a little different, virtual events still provide a valuable forum to exchange research and ideas and grow mindshare with core audiences. 

Several companies we’ve talked to have asked for tips on how to make the most of digital speaking engagements and how to open the doors to networking; here are some things to consider:

1. Don’t forget the principles of storytelling. People are conditioned to remember stories over facts — take this as an opportunity to engage and connect by injecting life into a mundane subject. Perhaps now more than ever, it’s important to use speaking opportunities as a chance to try to humanize whatever topic you’re discussing and tell engaging stories. Use analogies, mention recent conversations with customers to humanize your technology or point, and make them understand why they should care. 

2. Practice, practice, practice. Your audience will be able to tell if you do (or don’t!) practice. While sitting in front of a computer with easy access to your notes is much more casual than presenting a talk in front of a live audience, it’s still important to respect your attendees and prep well ahead of time. Don’t just read from a script — make sure you’re speaking in an animated fashion and using body language as appropriate to help your attendees feel more like they’re witnessing a live talk, rather than someone speaking through a screen. Download recording software or even use a program like Photo Booth to practice your talk, and watch it back to note any problem areas or ways to inject additional enthusiasm. It’s also important to ensure you’re squared away from a technical perspective, and that you’re completely aware of the mechanics of how the session will run. 

3. Content lives on longer. Most organizers are giving attendee access to content long after the event, so how many people attended your event is no longer an effective measurement for the success of your presentation. In this new virtual world, people could reach out days and weeks following your talk. It is also easier for companies to repurpose this content across various platforms and social media channels, while driving amplification. 

4. Take advantage of conference-organized networking opportunities. Many events provide dedicated communication channels for networking from the start, like Slack workspaces and Facebook chat rooms. Also consider leaving room for virtual Q&As at the end of your presentations, or encourage attendees to follow up afterward on LinkedIn or Twitter to ask questions and continue discussions. 

5. Treat LinkedIn as your new virtual business card. LinkedIn is always an important asset for networking, but as events go virtual, having an updated, relevant profile is more vital than ever. Without the opportunity for the physical interactions and exchanging of business cards that can easily occur at live events, LinkedIn is now one of the primary ways for attendees to engage with speakers, share questions or thoughts on their talks, or expand their networks for other business purposes. LinkedIn will be a key inroad for any new business leads stemming from your talk, so make sure your profile has enough relevant information to help potential leads and guide them appropriately.

We don’t need to be in person to learn from one another and connect.