May 17

Number One Virtual Presentation Mistake

Top Virtual Presentation Mistake

Like most people you’ve probably attended your share of live meetings where the presenter read from their slides – perhaps even going so far as to turn their back on the audience. Was it engaging and impactful? Did the presenter add value, context and meaning to the content? Or did your attention wane and look for other outlets?  And what does this have to do with the number one virtual presentation mistake?

Reading from your slides is a very poor experience for your audience, whether live or virtual. 

It’s an especially dangerous practice in virtual meetings where your audience can easily tune out and partake in a multitude of distractions unnoticed. That’s why reading – or even staring – at your slides is the number one virtual presentation mistake. And the equivalent of turning your back on your virtual audience. 

While presenters have learned to rely less heavily on their slides when presenting face-to-face, we have gone back to the starting line when it comes to virtual presentations. On video, staring at your slides is the norm, rather than the exception.  Even seasoned presenters are more likely to give into the temptation and set their focus on their screen…and keep it there.  

But just because your slides are in front of you, doesn’t mean you can use them as a script.

Why do we look at our slides? 

In my many years of presentation coaching, when a presenter reads from their slides, it is rarely due to their unfamiliarity with the content.  How do I know? Because they stare at their slides whether they contain two words or one-hundred! In a virtual world the real culprit is comfort, trust and wiring.  

Looking at your slides is your default in a virtual environment. After all, the slides are literally right smack in front of your face. It doesn’t even require turning your back on your virtual audience!  But it does require looking down and breaking eye contact, which is the virtual equivalent of disconnecting with your audience. And research shows we’re less likely to believe statements by a speaker who is not looking at us directly. 

Even when presenters know their content, nerves can erode their confidence and drive their eyes back to their slides. And once there, that’s where they tend to stay because of the way our brain works.

As humans, we are wired to turn our attention to anything that moves.  We are not wired to look at a static camera. When our brain is given a choice between looking at a colorful new image on our screen or the green dot or black hole of the camera, our brain will select the image every time.  

But isn’t my audience going to also be looking at my slides?  

Yes…initially.  When you share slides, documents, or software your audience will initially be drawn to those visuals. However, human beings can absorb visuals and read text much quicker than you can speak.  Once they grasp what they’re looking at, they will look to you to provide context, emotion, and meaning to what they’ve seen. If you’re looking down or appear to be reading from your slides, you will lose people to more engaging and plentiful distractions. 

How to avoid the number one virtual presentation mistake

Just as you learned how to present in person without constantly looking at your slides, you can also learn to do without that crutch virtually. 

Here’s a few quick tips so you don’t make the top presentation mistake:

  • Familiarize yourself with your slides.  This may be obvious but it bears repeating. The more familiar you are with your slides, the more confidence and freedom you will have to bring your content to life for your audience by looking at the camera. 
  • Get what you need and go back to the camera. Of course there are times you will need to look at your slides, to get your bearings or correctly deliver a specific point, for example. Just don’t get stuck there.  Get what you need from your slide, then quickly return your gaze to the camera to share it with your audience. 
  • Memorize each slide summary.  Your audience will also be getting what they need from a slide before looking back to you – especially if you stay on a single slide for longer than thirty seconds. Summarizing key takeaways from the slide while looking at the camera is a powerful way to reinforce your points and maintain engagement. 

Looking at your screen is a bad habit. And like most habits, it will take awareness and consistent practice to break. 

For more help with all of the unique challenges of virtual presentations or demonstrations, check out

the path out for you in my new book, Look Me In the Eye: Using Video to Build Relationships with Customers, Partners and Teams  recently named the 2021 Gold Medal Top Sales Book.  In it you’ll find all the steps and tactics you need to build virtual credibility.

Get your copy today on Amazon!   



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