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Ana Cidre
Ana Cidre

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5 things I learned about online events as a speaker

I can’t emphasize how much I miss in-person events. The smell of coffee while you’re walking into the lobby in the mornings, the gathering of developers each with their favourite dev t-shirt, the talks by amazing speakers who always give their best at conferences, the knowledge sharing, the networking, the after conference events... I could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here.

Now everything is online and it was so sudden that we were all thrown into this pool without really knowing how to swim. After 7 months of learning, I want to share my thoughts with you.

Old camera between leaves

External camera = focus

I am putting this one first because it has helped me so much! I invested in an external webcam instead of just my laptop's standard webcam, mainly to have a better video quality while giving talks, hosting videos and creating content.

To my surprise, it helped me most to improve my focus. I noticed that when I gave a talk at a virtual conference, I would easily be distracted and start looking elsewhere, maybe at the wall behind my laptop, or maybe at a different screen. This was because I wasn’t receiving the feedback from the audience that I’m used to from in-person events. I just didn’t know where to look. An external webcam helped me to look straight at the camera and concentrate on what I was talking about.

From an audience perspective, this is great because it feels like the speaker is speaking directly to you. It has been a HUGE change for me and I feel like I’m delivering better quality talks because I am speaking to an audience and I can fully concentrate on what I’m talking about!

Scrabble letters spell practice and practise

Practice just as much or more

Giving talks online is hard. You cannot use your body language as much, you do not get the energy or feedback from your audience and you’re limited to a small space. That is why practice is SO important.

When you practice you should not just practice your talk, there are so many more factors involved. The way you look at the camera, the way you move your arms and hands, and - most importantly - your facial expressions. Your facial expressions are suddenly much more important than they would be on stage. You don’t have to exaggerate too much but you have to make sure that they are in line with what you are saying. Your face is the only part of your body that your audience can see.

Also, speak clearly! Everything becomes more muffled online so make sure you decrease your talking speed and pronounce all the words.

All of this should be coordinated and you can only make sure that this is possible through practice.

Scrabble letters spell practice and practise

Ways to keep the audience engaged

Pause. Seriously, take a breath, your audience needs it just as much as you do. When going online, I noticed that I speed up on my talks because I’m not seeing the audience react. After saying something important, interesting or hard to understand, take a moment for your audience to soak it in. Something like “Phew, that was a lot, let’s take a breather”, or even “let’s take a pause and go over what we just saw” and then summarising in bullet points might help the audience to understand everything you just said.

Be unique! Do something unexpected. It could be bringing props onto the scene, showing something unexpected, or maybe just doing a joke or adding something to your slides. We’re constantly online nowadays and we need something to keep our attention or bring it back.

Desk with microphone and headset

Invest in good equipment

I know that this isn’t alway a possibility but if you can, get yourself an external camera (as mentioned above) and a good microphone. They really do make all the difference! The webcam gives a clearer view of the speaker and also a better image, and the microphone helps to have a clearer voice!

Here’s my setup:

Logitech BRIO 4k
Rode podcaster (be careful because there is also the procaster :D )
Fully standup desk (I just can’t give talks while sitting down)

Wall with writing that says we like you too

Ask for feedback

This is something I normally ask the organisers of the event for. I ask them if there is any feedback for me, also while giving my talks I ask people to reach out to me on Twitter to give me any feedback they might have for me! I can only improve if I know which areas I need to work on.

If you do provide feedback please ALWAYS make sure it’s constructive feedback! It’s the only type of feedback speakers can really work with.

Well, that’s it folks! If you have any questions please feel free to reach out at any time, the best place is on Twitter. Also remember that speakers put a lot of time and effort into creating a talk and presenting it, so please be kind.

Top comments (1)

estruyf profile image
Elio Struyf

Great tips! How do you keep yourself engaged? What drives you to do online events?

I love to speak, be on a stage, interact with the audience. These are major things that are missing in online events.

IMO we still haven't found the best way to give both the presenter and the audience the best experience. In one event, everyone had to turn on their camera. That way, I had on one screen my presentation and on the other the attendees. That gave me a more engaged feeling that I was talking to someone, and not just to my monitor.

Being unique is one of the things I mentioned as well in my tips ( There are so many events happening, and I've noticed that attendees are a bit bored with all these events. They just pick the ones they like. If it was an event IRL, you'd probably attend as many sessions as you can. Even take the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. Online I noticed a different thing (also organize events btw). During these events, a lot more people are just dropping in for the thing that they are interested in.

Another aspect is that a lot of events are recording sessions, doing your session multiple times, is less likely to happen. Normally I pick a smaller event to "test run" a session so that I know it is perfect for a major event. With online, it sometimes feels that you have one shot.