Virtually SpeakingFebruary 14, 2023

How to Design Must-See Online Talks By
February 14, 2023

Virtually Speaking

How to Design Must-See Online Talks

IFMM-Col2-Steinberg,Scott-110x140Hailed as the world’s leading business strategist, award-winning expert witness, strategic consultant and professional speaker, Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of “Think Like a Futurist;” “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty;” and “Fast >> Forward: How to Turbo-Charge Business, Sales, and Career Growth.” The president and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, his website is

As a virtual keynote speaker, I’ve delivered and/or hosted hundreds of online webinars and digital presentations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With hybrid and Internet events here to stay though, it’s important to remember: These meeting and event programs need to be designed differently than traditional talks to better grab and hold online audiences’ attention. Noting this, I’ve created a new method of learning about and discussing future trends and business topics known as POP FUTURE, which can help you more rapidly and effectively bring complex topics into focus. In effect, it challenges us to use creativity, wit, insight and other eye-catching and artistic ways to grab audiences’ attention and make sophisticated ideas simple to grasp — i.e. by using cartoons, animated videos, interactive games, short films, and other artistic tools to communicate complex concepts in seconds. Are your teams starting to stay focused during online programs, and starting to fall over from Zoom fatigue? Apply the POP FUTURE method to content programming and formatting — a complete introduction to the method is available free to download at our website — and you can add an instant shot of adrenaline and excitement to your online meetings and events. As a simple illustration, here are five simple ways to use it in practice to give virtual talks a winning makeover.

Step 1 — Streamline Programming and Simplify Your Message

In an age of hyperkinetic media hits and constant distractions where even two- to three-minute video clips now seem glacial, it bears reminding: Online attention spans are limited. Noting this, we are reminded that virtual presentations should be designed to be short and sweet: Think up to 30 minutes maximum for a keynote, panel or similar presentation depending on subject matter complexity and depth. However, don’t forget either: The human brain tends to tap out on consuming a single subject after 15 minutes or so, making it also important to concentrate on limiting programs to one to three key audience takeaways for the average presentation, which should be presented up-front and reiterated in brief summary again at the end. Remember: You don’t have to harp on a subject ad nauseum, cover every topic in-depth, or dissect every nuance of a scenario to make a difference. Even just a handful of actionable takeaways presented to a receptive audience can make an impact.

Step 2 — Find Better Ways to Connect with Your Audience

Digital media creates a layer of abstraction between speakers and audiences — which can cause things that seem authoritative in real-life to seem distant, removed and hard to connect with online. The rise of remote work, and the fact that many audiences are working in sweats from their spare bedroom, has led to greater informality at gatherings. Noting this, speakers will often do better to lead with humor, empathy and relatable stories that capture audiences’ attention out of the gate and invite them to let their hair down rather than to adopt a similar posture to on-stage speaking presentations — which often come off feeling like a cliched and dry corporate training video. As a general rule, while going through the paces of a virtual keynote, I like to keep conversations casual, acknowledge that the new normal isn’t so new or all-that-normal anymore, and remind folks that we’re all in the same boat at present. Not only does doing so make virtual speeches feel more relatable and approachable, it also helps invite viewers into the conversation, and reminds them that they won’t be talked at until they tune out.

Step 3 — Keep Things Moving Along at a Brisk Pace

Online audiences bore easily, and stare at enough screens all day everyday that they’re practically going cross-eyed. Bearing this in mind, pacing for online presentation should be brisk, tone should be upbeat and you should be concise about presenting your theories and arguments. Note that quick-hit stories and examples — or quick-hit animations and videos — serve as a handy tool for helping audiences more rapidly grasp complex concepts by acting as a form of mental shorthand. Personally, I like to deliver no more than two slides of hard content before bookending these insights with a fun parable or story featuring a familiar business or brand. If you have a specific idea or concept that you’d like to share, I suggest distilling it down to no more than one to two concise sentences. Doing so won’t just help keep things moving, but also help you get a much clearer idea about what message you’re trying to get across and establish a much clearer flow for your narrative.

Step 4 — Make it Interactive: Put More Focus on Audience Participation

Online polls and surveys, app-based feedback tools and fun little animated explainers can serve you well in your battle to capture and hold audiences’ attention. However, few exercises hold a crowd’s attention so much as interactive activities that invite participants to perform a task together or call-and-response sequences that invite them to speak up and share. Likewise, you can also liven up online programs with the sudden and unexpected appearance of surprise guests beaming in from afar, or by implementing games, challenges or breakout workshops that viewers can participate in from home. While not every online presentation needs to include such perks, many can benefit from transforming conversations into a two-way street rather than one-way transmission.

Step 5 — Show Audiences What Makes Your Subject Relevant

Trade secret: Audiences have heard enough about Apple, BlackBerry, Blockbuster Video, Circuit City and other familiar Jurassic-age case studies for a lifetime. Likewise, the last time some visited a workplace — or got the chance to make watercooler jokes about increasingly-outdated professional norms — may have been a while. Today, we operate in a business world that’s been completely redefined by digital transformation, the rise of COVID-19, and a growing jump in virtual/flexwork. Stories, examples and images that you highlight in your online presentations should all be adapted to feel contemporary and current. As you go about assembling your presentation, be sure to audit everything — references, jokes, etc. — to be sure it feels fresh and up-to-date. Today’s business world moves quickly, necessitating frequent change. Your command of any given topic and preferred approach to presentations should continue to evolve over time too.  I&FMM

Back To Top