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By Anja van den Berg

In the world of work, taking the role of the presenter is already stressful. The corona virus pandemic has only contributed to this pressure. First, the national lockdown forced presenters to adapt to remote appearances. As the world is slowly getting back into a rhythm, we must adjust to the new normal of social distancing. Hybrid presentations offer an answer to this predicament.

However, while Zoom presentations are far from ideal, at least the audience is on an equal playing field. Hybrid presentations, on the other hand, can place remote participants at a severe disadvantage.

Presenting their findings via Harvard Business Review, academic duo Sarah Gershman and Rae Ringel explains the problem behind hybrid presentations.

A critical factor involves the energy created when people are physically together – and the energy that is missing when they are not. A group derives their shared vigour (at least partially) from in-person, nonverbal cues. Expressive glances, facial expressions and personal eye contact are all factors that make a conversation flow naturally. These social cues are palpably absent online, and the lack of shared energy among remote participants can be exhausting.

Gershman, the president of a communications firm, and Ringel, a faculty member at the Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership, offer some strategies for presenters and meeting leaders to engage both their in-person and online audiences:

  • Require that cameras be switched on for the entire presentation

It’s critical that the presenter must be able to engage visually with the entire audience, not just with those in the room. Make switching on cameras a requirement for remote participants to show their full presence and make their attendance part of the happenings in the room. It can also be beneficial to set up a screen in front of the room so that everyone can see the remote participants.

  • Make direct eye contact with the online participants

Start the presentation by looking deliberately and directly at the camera. This action instantly sends the entire group a message that those attending online are just as big a part of the event as those who are physically present. It may feel strange, but focus on the camera as if you were making eye contact with one person.

As the presentation continues, switch between looking at individuals in the room and focusing on the camera. Designate specific times during the talk for speaking directly to the remote participants. Build messages into the content that are directed specifically towards your online audience.

  • Let the camera frame guide your backdrop

Keep the camera frame in mind and preset your backdrop to the parameters of the frame. During the presentation, change your position. Move towards the camera to help remote participants feel connected to what’s happening in the room. Then, as you continue speaking, move towards the people in the room.

Alter your position throughout but be sure to keep the camera frame in mind. Don’t venture out of the shot. This back-and-forth movement communicates greater inclusivity and facilitates a feeling of group cohesion.

  • Facilitate hybrid collaboration

When dividing a larger presentation into smaller groups, many presenters will be tempted to split the in-person audience and remote individuals into separate groups. Gershman and Ringel discourage this tactic. The research pair says that it reinforces the notion that there are  two different groups rather than one group working together. Instead, devise a plan where virtual and in-person participants can work together.

Possibly the most critical point of a successful hybrid presentation is to keep it short. Aside from being well prepared and identifying clear objectives, resisting the urge to speak longer than absolutely necessary is crucial. Keep the meeting time as brief and efficient as possible. Eye strain, immobility and the general “unnatural” setup of attending online events mean that the cognitive load is much higher in video chats. Try to time the meeting based on the energy levels of the remote participants.



Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-to-nail-a-hybrid-presentation

Stanford University: https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/

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