Preparing Presenters for Your Virtual Association Conference
Educational opportunities are one of the key reasons people attend association-based conferences. Apart from meeting like-minded people and industry peers, attendees want to learn about topics like the latest research, industry trends, and new ways of conducting business.
This is why conference organizers assemble the best speakers in the industry to offer presentations that pique the curiosity of attendees and create immersive learning experiences. Most speakers are familiar with the territory of in-person conferences. They know how to engage the audience when presenting from the podium.
However, when an event goes virtual, those speakers are likely presenting to audiences who are several miles away, by means of a virtual platform. This format requires additional preparation to ensure top-notch presentations.
Therefore, when planning a virtual conference, you should have a standard guide to prepare presenters to offer standout presentations during your virtual conference. We recommend that you discuss the following areas with your presenters:
- Content Preparation and Delivery Formats
- Requirements for Presentation Equipment
- Presenters’ Environment Considerations
- Presenters’ Appearance Considerations
- Audience Engagement Features
- Demo Event With Presenters
Ready to learn more about getting your presenters prepared for outstanding sessions? Let’s get started.
Content Preparation and Delivery Formats
Agreeing on content delivery format is a great place to start when preparing your presenters. For a virtual conference, you might consider the following formats:
Talking Head(s) Lecture
During this type of presentation, the presenter is captured on video in seating or standing position while speaking. The speakers can view their prepared notes during the session, hidden from the eyes of the audience. Viewers follow along by watching and listening.
During an onscreen presentation, the speaker presents as they navigate through prepared slides, but they do not show their face. The audience can hear the speaker and see the slides and screen, but can’t see the face behind the voice.
A Combination of the Two
A split-screen format shows both the speaker and the presentation to the audience. If you have multiple presenters you’ll have to decide if they’ll all be on screen together or if they will switch on and off camera.
Your event team can decide whether presenters can choose their preferred format, or you can advise based on what will resonate more with the audience for a particular presentation. Some attendees may prefer seeing the face of the presenter, even if there are slides. Be sure to agree on your approach ahead of time, and guide them on how to set up.
Master Deck PowerPoint or Solo Presentations?
Another aspect to decide on is whether you will use a master deck for presentations, or each presenter will have to design and control their own slides.
For a more uniform approach, you can create a master deck and send it to presenters to base their slides from. This approach makes it easier to control basic branding in the presentations. You can also decide how your presenters will deliver their slides. Will you grant each presenter remote access on the virtual event platform, or have them screen share from home to control the flow of their own presentation, or have a production control team drive the presentation based on a pre-provided script and storyboard from the speaker.
Requirements for Presentation Equipment
If speakers are presenting from home, consider setting minimum requirements for the equipment they will use to ensure the best production quality. Some of these factors include system and/or mobile requirements, internet speed, audio quality, and video quality.
System & Mobile Requirements
Although most virtual event platforms and mobile event apps are compatible with a variety of devices, it is not out of place to obtain specific requirements from your platform or app provider and send them to your presenters. The main concern here is that the processing speed of the presenter’s devices can support the speed requirement of the platform or app.
Reliable and High-Speed Internet
Your presenters need reliable, high-speed internet for seamless streaming. A slow or unstable internet may cause cracks or breaks and will, ultimately, result in poor attendee experience. Therefore, you should recommend minimum internet speed requirements to your presenters. It’s also a good idea to advise your presenters to dedicate their internet for their presentation and disconnect other devices from the signal. That way, their signal strength can be fully utilized for the presentation.
For quality audio streaming, presenters should not rely on the base microphones of their computers. Instead, recommend suitable microphones for presenters to purchase or borrow. If you have the means, you can even mail your own standard microphones to them and guide them on how to set them up.
Video quality is very important for audience engagement. Presenters should use cameras that are capable of producing full HD videos. If a presenter cannot guarantee that kind of video quality, you might send them a presentation kit containing the recommended portable microphone and camera, and guide them on how to install them to have an optimal presentation.
Presenters’ Environment Considerations
A few components are important to consider concerning the presenters’ environments. This includes the backdrop, lighting, and background noise of the environment they’ll be speaking from. All of these aspects play a significant role in video and audio quality, and you should advise presenters about them accordingly.
The space where the presenter is speaking should provide sufficient lighting so that the video will not be blurry or dark. For optimal video quality, the presenter should face light rays, such as windows, instead of having them behind.
We recommend a plain backdrop or background. Alternatively, speakers may opt for a neutral or relevant background, such as a wall of bookcases. Presenters should give sufficient clearance between their location and the backdrop while presenting.
Presenters should be advised to select the best area in their home or office to serve as their speaking base. The location should be comfortable for them and free from noise, sounds, and outside distractions. They should also be advised to put their cellphones and other devices on silent mode. Any notification sound from those devices can be picked by a headset and cause distraction for attendees (and the speaker!).
Presenters’ Appearance Considerations
Presenters should wear solid colors and avoid high contrast tones such as white, black or red. Such colors can create illusions and negatively affect video quality. They should avoid clothes with stripes, busy patterns, writings, and icons.
In addition to clothing guidelines, presenters should be advised on the use of jewelry. They should not wear flashy, shiny, or dangling jewelry because these items can disrupt video or sound.
Walkthrough of Audience Engagement Features
You should guide presenters through audience engagement features on the platform you are using before the actual presentation. Your virtual event platform or mobile event app should have features for speakers to engage the audience during their presentation, such as:
Encourage presenters to prepare relevant questions, polls, and games ahead of the conference and insert them at the appropriate place in their presentation. Presenters should have their own view as well as some control via the platform or on the mobile app.
Demo Event With Presenters
After walking your presenters through all the steps, schedule a demo presentation with all your event speakers so that they can get familiar with the platform. Then, you can determine if anything needs correction or improvement. Consider the following checklist of what to inspect during the demo:
Be sure that all content has been uploaded on the platform, including polls, Q&A, games, etc. and that the presenters can launch each feature independently when it is time.
Ensure the presenter’s gadgets (internet, microphone, and camera) are up to par and that they are properly set.
Let the presenter set up in the room they intend to use for the presentation and ensure that each aspect (lighting, backdrop, and noise interference) is optimized.
Ask presenters to dress similarly to their intended look on the day of their presentation to ensure that the outfit is good enough for the video quality.
As speakers create their mock presentations, pay attention to their pitch and energy level. Advise them on how they can keep their energies high day-of, so that they can communicate effectively and keep the audience engaged.
Your event moderator should be part of the mock event, so they are familiar with each presentation. The moderator will be steering the event, so they should be able to help the audience make connections between different sessions.
Every event planner knows that, even with all these preparations, things can go wrong. This is why it is recommended to have a communication channel with all the presenters. In the case of unforeseen circumstances, you will be able to make quick fixes together. You can create this channel on the virtual event platform or mobile event app, or you can have a separate channel on a popular instant messaging app in case someone cannot log into the platform at all.
Jordan Schwartz is president and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building, and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his bee hives.