24 key insights from two years of virtual speech deliveries

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As public speakers, we face many learning opportunities for virtual speech deliveries. These learnings can be valuable as we pivot to the next big challenge, hybrid deliveries. This blog post covers the 24 most important aspects of my speaking learning curve during the pandemic. Use it as a menu of ideas to support your growth as a public speaker. The insights gained while being grounded for 805 days represent one of the steepest learning curves in my professional career. 

Fundamentals differences between virtual and on-stage-deliveries 

Halfway through the pandemic, I hypothesized that virtual speeches represented a multifaceted shift covering ten-ish major development areas

First, you are moving from theatrical to cinematic experiences, where you as a speaker must learn to perform without an audience—a journey where you start to get a feel for the job side of being a movie star. Eye contact through a camera without looking down at the screen is an art to master. 

Second, you face a challenge in using new fixed and mobile video, audio, and light technologies—a stationary set-up as the base, with a mobile as back-up and for the flexibility of delivering remotely. Many have been surprised to see a new smartphone showing better results than a decent laptop. 

Third, we have tested our love and hate relationship with slides. Great talk tracks are better than slides as story anchors. Your virtual deliveries get compromised when hiding behind slide decks, like the standard in webinars. 

Fourth, virtual events and speeches are a team sport and more resource-intensive than events with speakers on stage. Teams are learning by doing at a hectic pace, and multiple unique competencies are required to make it all fly! 

Hybrid events and deliveries represent a new ball game. Prepare yourself for a new learning curve equal to or bigger than the last two years’ transition to virtual. This shift is easy to underestimate if you see it as moving back to something known rather than moving ahead to something new. 

How planning for virtual and hybrid events challenge speakers and organizers 

Event organizers and speakers plan a virtual/hybrid event project differently. The most fundamental shift is that virtual/recorded events are front-heavy, with most of the action in the first half of the project. 

Virtual audiences are less patient, and sessions, therefore, need to be shorter in length. As a rule of thumb, I aim for virtual sessions half as long as an on-stage version

The time commitment required from speakers for virtual deliveries is higher than in-person deliveries. 5X more preparation time is a good starting point on what it takes to deliver virtually in half the time. 

Audience interactions are more challenging for virtual deliveries, and you need new tools to avoid the risk of ending up on a one-way street. For recorded sessions, speakers can take questions in the chat while talking. 

For live sessions, 2-3 questions every 10-12 minutes keep the energy level up.

Both speakers and organizers need to exchange more information to connect it. A headshot, a bio, and a draft slide deck used to be enough. Now I ask for 20 facts from organizers as part of signing up, and I expect to provide 17 points to them to do their job well.  

The speaker outreach process and the way event organizers and speakers interact are comprehensive. Both parties invest more time to ensure expectations from both sides are aligned.

Where virtual/hybrid speakers invest time to raise to the new challenge 

Speakers face stricter qualification criteria to be trusted to deliver in virtual/hybrid settings. Expect your bio to be scrutinized for proof of virtual delivery capabilities. Professional speakers consider qualification bios to boost the chances of getting accepted to the primary virtual/hybrid stages.

Regarding formats, keynotes and industry panels are not the only virtual options. A great speaker can deliver stories in 12 different virtual/hybrid formats in half the time compared to being on stage. 

Structure your virtual/hybrid talks in 3-minute punches. Great for energized fireside chats, brief keynotes, and points made on a panel. In three minutes, you can cover three talking points on each topic. 

Speakers can grow by adopting talks tracks that executives use. Executives must be to the point and manage communication situations where visual support is limited, on- and off-camera. 

It is easy to miss the importance of virtual appearance by not reflecting on what it means to show up 4 feet away on a 27-inch screen. Plan to be closer to your audience than you ever are on stage.

As a virtual/hybrid speaker, you have a more significant promotion task to handle. This job is a bit like writers going on a book tour when their book is published, and neglecting this half of the job compromises your overall reach and impact. 

Beyond all these parts of a plan for success, there is still an execution job to do. Consider these six quick wins ahead of your next delivery—a good checklist for all speakers to consider. 

Planning and development mean little unless you execute well

An essential part of the delivery is choosing between live and recorded deliveries. Live allow you to prepare closer to the event; recorded sessions increase quality and reduce timing risks but require most of the work early on.  

Virtual/hybrid events benefit from a tight production “run of show” that scripts all details in camera positions, recorded episodes, and interstitials. Greater attention to detail is key to successful delivery.

Think through where you best keep your notes. Virtual and hybrid speaking is intense, and we all have different preferences for where to keep our notes and how much to capture. 

Lastly, learn to look straight into the camera the whole time. Avoid locking at your audience on the screen. Easier said than done but paying off well. 

Now it is time for you to choose where to focus your efforts. The suggestions provided here are an extensive superset making you an excellent professional speaker. 

Questions for speakers and event organizers to consider 

  1. Which areas do I need/want to develop to become a better virtual and hybrid speaker or event organizer?
  2. How much time and effort am I prepared to invest? 
  3. Which three of these twenty-four ideas can I implement in the next 90 days? 
  4. How can I find speaking opportunities that allow me to grow? 

Additional reading suggestions 

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