Hybrid presentations – a challenge and an opportunity

Public speaking trainer Gavin Brown offers tips for presenting to people working in multiple locations.

Fifty-five percent of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. This was one of the headline statistics from the recent CIPD Working Lives Scotland report.

And as we all adjust to the post-pandemic workplace, it seems clear that for many organisations, on any given day, some employees will be working in the office and some employees will be working at home. It is therefore highly likely that if you are giving a presentation, your audience will be at multiple locations. And you will be delivering a hybrid presentation.

This will be new or unchartered territory for many – but the concept is here to stay and we must be ready for it.

Get them on the same page from the beginning

Like many a failed ‘office project’, a poor hybrid presentation often goes wrong from the start.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in hybrid presentations is bringing your two separate audiences together as quickly as possible. So, before you start presenting, it’s crucial to remember that your two audiences have had very different experiences.

In the room, the participants will have been able to take in the atmosphere, and they may have had a refreshment, seen some familiar faces or even met some new ones.

Online they will probably have made their own coffee, will have less of a sense of the atmosphere and may well have a few distractions on their screen.

The first time that both audiences are experiencing the same thing will be when you start to speak. So, start with something that makes everyone feel like they are in this together in the same place. To ensure that you do this without delay, force yourself to write down how you are going to achieve this, and look at this written commitment to yourself before you go live.

Nail this and you are going to stand out.

Hybrid delivery

Give careful thought to your eye contact in a hybrid presentation. If you look only at the audience in the room, your virtual audience may feel disconnected. Similarly, if you only look at the camera it will feel strange for the audience in the room.

Here are two actions I recommend:

  1. Position the camera to align it with both audiences. This way, even when you focus on one group, the other audience does not lose out entirely. Take time in advance to play about with the camera location and angle until you get it just right.
  2. Secondly, fix your gaze in the right place. Even when there is broad camera alignment, it will not be exact, so split your time between looking down the camera and straight at the audience in the room. There is no exact science to how you balance this, but I normally ask myself how many people are in the room and how many people are watching remotely, and I work it broadly in that proportion.

Hybrid materials

Slides need to work seamlessly for people in the room and for those joining remotely.

There can be a significant difference between those that work on the big screen and those that work on a laptop or tablet. I’ve seen it too many times where it works fine in the room but the virtual audience struggles to read small text on a fuzzy screen. This could have a severely negative impact on your presentation.

Before jumping to your final rehearsal, do a run-through of your slides without presenting.

Get one person to sit at the back of the room to observe. Get another person to sit in another room, observing from a laptop or tablet. Invite them both to provide feedback on how the slides came across.

Was there anything to flag up regarding readability or understanding? Make a note of all comments and adjust accordingly.

Taking you to the next level

Hybrid presentations aren’t the easiest to present and can be difficult to get right. The actions I’ve recommended are a good starting point, but there are many more things to consider.

Referring to another result from the CIPD’s Working Lives Scotland report:

What was the most common enabler for career progression? The opportunity to develop new skills.

Developing new skills can be a great enabler.

Hybrid presentations will become far more widespread. Being able to master them is the next new skill you and your staff may need to acquire.

Gavin Brown is the director of Speak With Impact. He is a former Member of the Scottish Parliament and has worked as a litigator in a large commercial firm.