Excel at virtual speaking skills in 2021 to become almighty by 2025

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A year ago, you were a strong speaker on stage and in front of customers. But 2020 pushed you into the unknown territory of virtual speaking. This blog post is the first in a series to raise your virtual speaking game to shine in 2021 and to develop an excellent long-term trajectory. 

Outlook for virtual speaking 

Based on how 2020 played out for business speakers, there are five reasons to believe virtual speaking will remain relevant:

  • Business travel will not bounce back wholly – to a level where all customer-facing meetings and speeches become physical as before. 
  • Virtual customer interactions are proven to work – will remain an essential part of the digital transformation of marketing and sales, especially os more agility and digital touchpoints are required. 
  • Virtual speaking by flipping slides on zoom from a laptop at home is just the beginning – get ready to leverage micro studios in homes and offices for your next step. 
  • Virtual coffees are here to stay for – by far, the fastest way to make new connections in a digital-first world. 
  • Virtual business development is hard – room for improvement when it comes to creating new opportunities from scratch. 

These reasons represent an excellent opportunity for frequent flyers to take flight in the virtual world and embrace virtual speakers’ new realities.

The shift from theatrical to cinematic appearances

As a speaker on stage and in customer meetings, you interact with and get energy from your audience. Not that different from an actor in a theatre play. Virtual speaking is less about delivering theatrical and more about providing a cinematic experience. Like entertaining through movies, TV shows, and live studio TV without an audience. 

Your development potential here is about strengthening your cinematic speaking skills – becoming comfortable with various formats, and interacting with a camera lens. Worst case, your virtual delivery will look like a recorded theatre play. But your goal is to transform you, the theatre star, into a movie star.

A very crowded arena, when everything is virtual

The pandemic triggered a virtual-only stage overnight. Forcing conference producers, event teams, and speakers to embrace virtual deliveries before we were ready. By the fall of 2020, the exceptional volumes of alfa/beta quality gigs generated zoom fatigue. A key success factor in 2021 is to secure high-quality virtual speeches before delivery. 

As a speaker, your speaker biography is your most powerful tool to secure great gigs and prove yourself in advance. A bio that is making you attractive to the ones placing virtual speaker bets. Leverage previous performances to demonstrate which formats you are comfortable with and which topics you are ready to deliver on now. Get prepared for stricter screenings in advance in 2021 before you get selected.

Delivery time cut in half, serving impatient audiences  

When your audience is in the room and you, or the audience travel, you are rewarded with ample stage time. The risk of someone leaving halfway through a session is smaller. But virtual audiences are ruthless; they tune in and out quickly. A big challenge for you is to get them to stay and hear you out to the end. 

Aim to deliver your movie-inspired experience in half the time. Your 90-minute customer meetings become 45-minute virtual sessions. A 45-minute physical fireside chat takes 25 virtual minutes. Deliver a 30-minute keynote speech in a quarter, down to your 118-second elevator pitch, now delivered in 30 seconds on social media. Too long is a good reason for audiences to tune out. Virtual speaking is about mastering the short movie format. 

Expand your horizon to cover five main formats 

As a speaker in the physical domain, you could get far with keynotes, industry panels, and excellent customer presentation skills. Build around support from a concrete master presentation deck. 

As a virtual speaker, you need to be ready to master a broader range of different formats. Virtual speaking comes in both live and recorded forms. Keynotes and industry panel presentations are still in play. The moderator-led “question and answer sessions” are attractive for virtual sessions, where you can aspire to handle both moderating and answering. Fireside chats come across well in virtual channels. Webinars are still relevant but consider ways where you as a speaker are as visible as your slides. 

Scripted talk tracks replace slides as information anchors 

Physical speaking relies on compelling visual support where slides and notes are the most critical content assets. This content base is proven to work well for webinars where a large screen real estate can show slides. But virtual success relies on more attributes than your voice overlay to slides. 

Aspire to develop into a movie actor reading up on a screenplay with great scripts. Develop Executive talk tracks and cheat sheets as a base for reading up before performances. Learn from great actors to memorize key message lines and remembering facts and details. When the time for delivery is short, you can’t wing it! No movie star or producer would survive without the screenplay writer. 

Promote your speeches with great trailers 

In the physical-only world, you could expect conference attendees to show up at keynotes and panels. A reality secured by the heavy lifting from conference organizers to gather a crowd. In the virtual speaking world, more of the heavy lifting shifts to speakers and their digital networks. 

No writer releases a book without going on a book tour. No movie producer releases a movie without creating a trailer. Make sure there are great trailers in place for your next speech—pre-event trailers to recruit an audience and post-event ditto to drive visitors to replays. Virtual speeches have multiple “release windows” to explore. You should expect to dedicate as much time to promotion as you do to prepare and deliver your speech. 

Find new ways to create interaction

Audience interactions in the physical world are an integrated part of the experience. The opportunity to ask questions gives the session life and allows you to tailor messages to the audience. In the physical world, this happens naturally through questions and answers. 

In the virtual world, you need to build interactions into your session. If you speak live, ask a moderator to stop you with questions. If recorded, make it clear to the audience you are present and take written questions and respond as they hear you speaking. Decide in advance if interactions are closed or leveraging social media platforms to reach outside the audience at your virtual event. Make it a priority to design-in interactions into your sessions. 

Bring out the tech gadget guy/girl in you

The default technology choice in 2020 was to leverage laptop integrated video and audio with an external light source and standard video communication tools as event platforms. The high-quality option was limited to senior executives, getting visits from professional camera crews at home for live and recorded sessions. 

As an influential speaker, you deserve a leap forward in technology for 2021 for audio, light, video, and background quality. You target an environment ready for both recorded and live deliveries. Aim to go as high in your technology ambition as you are comfortable supporting from home on your own. Larger businesses plan to introduce micro-studios, self-operated by an in-house video team or remotely operated by an agency. The digital speaker’s corner in a room moves from a novelty to a standard virtual delivery tool. 

Virtual after-hours – informal conversations around formal meetings 

The informal conversations after event hours require extra attention. In the physical world, conferences have these integrated, and for virtual events, they are evolving. 

Aspire to engage beyond the delivery of your talk. The best virtual events bring back speakers for a moderated Q&A-like session. The moderator leads the conversations, and speakers tee it off. It can get fascinating when the audience engages with follow-up questions or adds perspectives beyond the panel. This piece might be the primary live session for the event, and audio platforms like Clubhouse open up new opportunities to explore. 

Virtual speaking is a team-work 

Speaking in the physical world is centered around the speaker and the storyteller/visual creator. Someone is pulling it all together, and the star is delivering on stage or in front of customers. 

Virtual speaking has more moving parts. Minimum, you need a planner/writer, a speaker, a moderator, and a producer. Scripting needs to be tighter as your work with shorter windows. Most events are like live moderated short film-festivals, where moderators are essential for bridging between sessions and advancing the agenda. The video/audio/light producer manages both recorded and live challenges and provides critical support for home-based speakers. 

Questions to ask yourself 

Suitable questions to ask yourself for your 2021 development are

  1. Which of these areas do I want to develop? – all ten might be a steep task.  
  2. Am I technology or ambition restricted? – dare to push boundaries on both fronts. 
  3. Which cinematic skills do I have in my personality? – pick low-hanging fruits close to your true self. 
  4. How can a moderator fast-track my virtual speaking career? – moderators reduce the bar without compromising quality. 

Great resources for additional inspiration 

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