Five tips for speaking virtually

Nikki MacCallum


May 29, 2020

One of the top universal fears often mentioned in conjunction with spiders is public speaking. Given the state of the world post-COVID-19, many individuals who elected to never speak publicly are now in positions where they need to turn their cameras on and speak up in virtual meetings in ways they may not have had to prior to the pandemic. In many ways, this pandemic is actually the introvert's worst nightmare as we are now living in a business world where it's expected that your camera is on, and everyone is on high alert for engagement. If this is out of your comfort zone, you may be finding this pandemic doubly terrifying. Below are five tangible tricks to help ease your public speaking anxiety and hopefully help you shine.

  1. Prepare. Decide what you are going to say ahead of time. Unless you are insanely skilled in this arena (in which case you are likely not reading this blog), it is never a great strategy to wing it. Map out what you'll say. Write it down. When you do write it down, notate your talking points in the form that is most helpful for you. I personally am not an advocate of writing down full sentences and reading them off the page. To me, that is a recipe for sounding unnatural and scripted. Furthermore, if you're super focused on reading what you wrote down, it becomes impossible to look at and connect with your audience. Everyone has different comfort levels with memorization so it is important to find the one that works best for you. For me, in the speaker notes section of a PowerPoint, I always write down keywords as opposed to sentences. Those key words keep my presentations on track, but also allow me the flexibility to deliver the content in my own language. That said, if public speaking is literally your worst nightmare, it might give you comfort to have some full sentences written out.

Doing a test run with your technology is almost as important as preparing your actual content. If the technology doesn't work, neither will your presentation. Also, if there's a technical issue during the time you're set to speak and you're anxious to begin with, that could completely derail your ability to focus.

  • Practice in front of others. Like anything else in life, the more repetitions you can get in prior to your presentation, the more prepared you will feel by default. I strongly suggest practicing the presentation for a friend in whatever capacity possible. Rehearsing by yourself is an incredibly different dynamic than practicing in front of others. When you're by yourself, chances are, you're focused on memorization. It isn't until other people are present that the dynamic will shift and you will start to experience some anxiety and feel self-conscious, especially if performance anxiety is something you're prone to. It has been proven time and time again across multiple mediums of performance that the more repetitions you can do in front of other people, the more comfortable you will feel.
  • Look at the persons you are speaking to, not at yourself. This is a very common mistake as it is a human tendency to watch our reflection when it is staring us in the face. When presenting virtually, this is unhelpful for two big reasons. First, when your attention is on yourself, you are far more likely to be stuck inside your own head, overanalyzing and judging every move you make. The more you ruminate in your head, the more anxious you will feel. The main release of anxiety in any type of performance ultimately comes from getting your attention off yourself and onto the people you're talking to, or onto what you're doing. The second primary reason it is beneficial to look at the people you're speaking to as opposed to your own reflection is that it will help you stay connected and present in what you're doing. The more focused you are on your audience, the better your ability to read the room, make adjustments based on the audience's reactions, and assess whether or not people are engaging. As a side note, if you're operating off of more than one monitor, make sure your slides and or notes are on the screen with the camera to avoid a visual of you looking off into the distance.
  • Put the presentation into perspective. How high are the stakes, actually? As someone who has a significant background in performance and handling audiences, my performance anxiety tends to rear its head when I view a presentation as a life or death situation. If I think there might be a promotion attached to a presentation if I do well, that adds an unnecessary element of pressure. The higher the mental stakes, the more room for error because mistakes matter to you ten times more. Before giving the presentation, assess for yourself the best possible outcome if it goes well versus the worst possible outcome if it doesn't. More often than not, the worst possible outcomes aren't so bad and the best possible outcomes aren't actually that important. Especially in the virtual world, remember that a lot of people are likely checking their email and aren't even paying attention. Sad, but true, comforting, and a bit of a stress reliever!
  • Have a friend in the audience who will make you look good. If this is something within your control, it is a great tool to have in your back pocket. I will often approach an individual before a presentation and ask them to type something in the chat box at some point or ask a question. Not only does it feel good to have someone on our side, but it also creates the picture of someone being engaged and finding your content useful. It's a similar concept as being at a comedy club. When you hear other audience members laughing, your first thought usually isn't, "Why are they laughing? That wasn't funny." but instead, "Did I miss something?" And, all you really need is one audience member to demonstrate engagement.

Preparing, practicing in front of others, connecting with and looking at your audience, putting the presentation into perspective, and having a friend in the audience who will make you look good are five quick and easy tricks you can apply today to improve your virtual speaking skills. Best of all, most of these tools can be used for everything from a presentation to a small meeting with your team. Good luck!

If you have questions about this blog article or want to chat about the concept further, please feel free to reach out to me at

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