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The virtual speaking world offers us a variety of delivery formats to consider. Video for screen delivery is the common denominator, length is shorter than their physical siblings, and each type represents a different challenge for speakers. This blog post presents twelve great virtual formats to master, both live and recorded.
Starting with WEBINARS, a solid route to early virtual deliveries
Before the pandemic broke out, the 60-minute webinar was the primary virtual format we have learned to master. A natural companion for our early virtual event explorations, as slides played an integrated role, with speakers visible in the corner of the screen.
Webinars will continue to be relevant in your virtual speaker repertoire to master as both moderator and speaker, with a few tweaks. Aim for shorter and snappier webinars, targeting a 30-minute session, covering 5-6 key questions under the main topic. Use slides, but look for options to elevate you as a speaker beyond a brief stamp in the corner, to share the screen real-estate 50/50 between you and your slides.
Webinars are primarily a live tool where the questions and answers at the end remains one of its signature features.
VIRTUAL COFFEE as a tool for creating new connections
In-person events and physical meetings allow us to establish new contacts to expand our Rolodex. An approach we have been forced to live without during the pandemic.
In the virtual world, this job is both more complex and more straightforward. More complicated because you don’t get access to new contact through physical coffee meetings. More straightforward as you can suggest a virtual coffee to anyone on LinkedIn. Great speakers leverage this to kill two birds with one stone. They proactively approach people with virtual coffee suggestions. Once accepted, they work to connect AND to refine their virtual speaking game.
A few key things define a professional virtual coffee meeting:
- Find a spot in your home that mimics a cozy coffee corner, and the one you have approached will notice that you care.
- Ask for 15-20 minutes of their time for a casual conversation—short enough to get on a calendar and long enough to create a connection.
- Always look into the camera and not at the screen. This behavior is the most challenging part to master, but you want the person at the other end to see you more than you see them.
This format is always a live session and a phenomenal practice opportunity. Two great speakers at this will both stare at the camera and learn how to communicate visually through the lens and verbally with audio. It is more challenging than you think but will make all the formats below easier. I would start here to hone your virtual speaking skills beyond classic webinar drills.
Evolving your KEYNOTE speeches to fit a virtual audience
Keynote speeches were essential for live presentations where you were interacting with the audience in the room. These prime sessions were taking place early in an event, for prominent speakers.
The virtual keynote should be part of your repertoire, with a few crucial twists. They are best in a short, punchy format, 8-10 minutes, or 12 at the most. Focus on one clear theme for each delivery, with 2-3 topics, using one topic per 3-4 minutes as a rule of thumb. Aim for a few powerful one-liners in the script for your virtual keynote. Let your charisma shine and skip slides; you are better off connecting with the audience with yourself as the main attraction in these shorter formats.
Make sure you manage both the recorded and the live version of the virtual keynote. The recorded option is less stressful and always allows for a retake when needed. The live version of keynotes is a high-pressure environment that requires your A-game, always.
FIRESIDE CHATS delivering exciting conversations in virtual form
Fireside chats are popular at investor conferences and for prominent guests at a big event. This format is very conversational, flowing from a host asking questions to a guest providing answers. Providing the host with the option to guide through the articulated questions and add color commentary where and when suitable. Real-life fireside chats are often 30-60 minutes long to reflect the importance of the guest.
The virtual fireside chat is an exciting format that can spice up an event, where a mix of keynotes, fireside chats, and panels make virtual events vibrant. A virtual fireside chat is shorter, 12-20 minutes for one host and one guest or 15-25 minutes for one host and two guests. This format builds around powerful questions, with 2-3 minutes allocated per topic for both questions and answers. The host and guest/s handshake the questions well in advance.
As for keynotes, fireside chats can be both recorded and live sessions. Less experienced virtual speakers leverage the host for both time management and to move the conversation between topics. Fireside chats are therefore less stressful than a short keynote and easy to deliver without visual support.
INDUSTRY PANELS reinvented to deliver exciting 360 conversations
Industry panels, or break-out sessions with multiple speakers, are prevalent at industry conferences. A moderator introduces a theme, each speaker gets to make a short pitch, and then rolls over into a brief question and answers session. Great panels have a good spread in experience between the panelists, each providing their perspective on the questions and playing off each other. The panels can be anything from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the conference and theme.
The virtual panel is significantly shorter. Aim for 10 minutes per panelist in your session, e.g., 30 minutes for three panelists. Moderators ask panelists to aim for succinct 90-120 second introductions upfront to get into the panel discussion quickly. Panelists need to be prepared to deliver snappy answers. Well played, virtual panels can be a real gem at a virtual event but require a high energy delivery to secure this is not the channel zapping moment.
Recorded panels require more calendar coordination than keynotes and fireside chats and are likely the session you plan first and record last. Virtual panel sessions can be run live with extra attention to tech checks, dress rehearsals, and strict timekeeping by the moderator.
ONE-ON-ONE customer meetings
Sixty to ninety-minute customer meetings are fundamental to drive business development initiatives in the physical meeting world. Well prepared and rehearsed, with visual support in the form of slides in front of a live audience. Half of the time planned for presentations and a half for interactions and clarifications.
Expect this type of virtual presentation to be the hardest and the most valuable part of your virtual speaking repertoire. You often get the same time at your disposal but need to stimulate the interactions that come less naturally in a virtual setting. Limit speakers to one or a maximum two people. Aspire to give both speakers and presentation material equal room on the screen. Plan of micro-breaks during the session as an audience easy tune out during a thirty-minute keynote-like presentation part. Take the opportunity to go “off-slide” for portions of the delivery to avoid coming across as too webinar-like.
Live sessions dominate this format. Consider recorded sessions when the audience requires captioning/subtitles to follow your presentation or when the speaker is a subject matter expert in very high demand.
DYNAMIC DUO with two speakers playing off each other
A dynamic duo is an excellent format for two speakers of equal strength but complementing skills. A speaker pair providing a business and technology or market A versus market B or a current and future perspective. This format doesn’t involve any moderator and time management, and moving between subjects, is up to the speakers to manage.
The dynamic duo is a powerful format in the virtual world for both interstitials or shorter sessions. The dynamic duo can share the burden for interstitials by summarizing the previous session and introducing the coming session. 60-90 second sessions playing of the speakers’ main points and quotable one-liners that you pick up. For the shorter sessions, you target an 8-12 minute frame, just a smidgen longer than a keynote, to make room for both speakers. You design the flow around 3-4 topics where you roll between the speakers, so both make their point on each topic. The main attraction for the audience is to see a topic from two different lenses.
Expect interstitials to be live and shorter sessions recorded. To manage live interstitials, you need to see all the recorded sessions in advance to identify appropriate transition points. Record the shorter sessions in advance as it is easy for speakers to run over in this dynamic format.
TERRIFIC TRIO covering broad, complex strategic subjects
In some cases, two people are not enough to cover a broad and complex topic. The terrific trio adds a third dimension to cover the complex subject thoroughly. This format is suitable for an internal 360-degree overview of strategy, portfolio, and sales for a significant business opportunity. For external sessions, it is excellent when covering portfolio, business models, and go-to-market models in a single session.
Three people sharing a virtual stage require trust between speakers and careful design of the topics to be covered. Aim to get each speaker to talk on two points and get a total airtime of five minutes, for a total of 15-20 minutes. The format is easier for speakers than a dynamic duo as you speak fewer times and get more breathing room in between your speaking points.
This format is harder to pull off live with good time management, so aim for a recorded session as the baseline.
PODCASTS where you engage with exciting voice conversations
Podcasts are growing in popularity, and it an excellent channel to consider for getting out with your message. There are great solo podcasts, but podcasts with dialogues between two people are more common. Once you have your story together, jumping on a new podcast for a conversation is a low effort undertaking.
Podcasts come both in short or long formats. A few of the weekly podcasts I listen to are in the 12-18 minute bracket that your audience can fit in easily. Another common type is the 45-75 minutes long ones. As a podcast guest, you will have to adapt to the format at hand. Short and snappy points dominate in the shorter format, almost like in the daily news. The extended form offers more opportunities for longer explanations or conversations on a complex topic like in a TV documentary.
Recorded podcasts dominate, and few get to speak live. Aspire to record with outstanding sound quality. Poor sound on a podcast is a guaranteed channel zapper.
LUNCH & LEARN without a lunch box to attract your audience
Lunch and learn sessions are well established for internal and external knowledge transfer. 40-45 minutes talk and 15-20 minutes for questions and answers within your company for a partner or a customer. Less of selling and more about educating. These sessions come across as the live version of webinars. The provided lunch or bagel is essential to lure in the audience.
Virtual lunch and learns is an important education tool. You can expect to get a similar time for delivery as in real life, but a few things are different. It would help if you team up with the organizer in promoting your appearance, mimicking the free lunch. Your and your appeal will have to do the same job. For the planning and delivery, you face a similar challenge as for the one-on-one customer meeting. Two speakers sharing the stage adds dynamics and reduces the risk of your audience tuning out.
Expect these sessions to be live with similar preparation efforts as for an in-person session.
FISHBOWL session after hours for Q&A and networking
The after-hours sessions at in-person events are great for networking. The audience gets to ask questions to speakers and have conversations on a topic. Speakers can mingle and make micro stops to feel how the speech landed with the audience.
One way to mimic this experience in the virtual world is through a fishbowl session. A moderator plus the speakers are invited back for 45-60 minutes after the main program. The audience is scaled back to a smaller group to enable interactions. Beyond a few moderated questions, this an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and for speakers to provide color commentary and make further clarifications.
This session is always a live session, perhaps on a different platform than the main program. It requires clarity upfront to allow all speakers to be invited a long time in advance. It often limits audiences to VIP guests and requires both a great moderator and your key speakers.
Great virtual speakers take pride in being engaging MODERATORS
In the physical speaking world, my moderator or host undertakings were limited. We tended to rely on specialists, moderators, and hosts to get the job done, and speakers were very comfortable with the speaking job to get done.
I would think differently and challenge you to take on more moderation and host jobs in the virtual-speaking world. Experienced virtual speakers are great as moderators together with less experienced virtual speakers. Moving from a demanding virtual keynote into an exciting fireside chat expands the pool of speakers you can select from for a virtual event. An insightful moderator can also add value by asking sharper questions and add color commentary for better flow in a session. A moderator taking his or her virtual coffee conversation skills in a fireside chat format delivers lively sessions.
Moderation undertaking can be live and recorded, and aspire to master both as part of a full-fledged speaker repertoire.
Questions to ask yourself for your development as a virtual speaker
With these 12 ideas on how to up your virtual speaking game, it is time for you to select focus and start practicing. Start by asking yourself:
- Which virtual formats do I already master?
- Which virtual format/s can I up my game in with reasonable efforts?
- Which virtual format/s will your company use during upcoming hybrid events?
- Where do I find suitable training grounds to hone my skills?
Additional reading suggestions
The following resources can take you further into this exciting territory
- Virtual presentation [ARTICLE] – by MIT biological engineering
- Yes, virtual presenting is weird [ARTICLE] by Sarah Gershman, Harvard Business Review
- What it takes to run a great virtual meeting [ARTICLE] – by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene, Harvard Business Review
- Easy hacks to improve your virtual meetings [ARTICLE] – by Leigh Thomson, Kellog Insights
- How to choose the right virtual event formats [BLOGPOST] – Meetingplay
- The best virtual keynote speaker I have ever seen [BLOGPOST] – by Kevin Kruse
- The complete guide to successful fireside chats [BLOGPOST] – Martina Cicakova, Slido
- Four ways to hold more successful fireside chats [BLOGPOST – by Shoshana Luria
- Hosting an engaging and successful virtual event [VIDEO] – by Christina Lambert