Now that virtual events are the norm, you might be wondering how to prepare for and take the fullest advantage of your virtual speaking engagements. Read on to set yourself up for speaking success on virtual platforms.
Our teams at PRH have spent the past few months fine-tuning the ins and outs of book events on Zoom and other virtual platforms, and we have observed the important role that an author’s online speaking skills can play. If you are hoping to hone your virtual speaking skills and elevate your digital events, consider these helpful ideas!
Create a visually appealing setup
Lighting can really enhance a virtual event. A small light on your face can be helpful when you’re appearing on a webcam—you could use a small desk lamp, or consider investing in a ring light. If you’re doing a daytime event, avoid sitting in front of a window, as the sunlight will create an effect that darkens your screen.
Put a stack of books underneath your computer to elevate the camera, so that your frame displays you from your chest to the top of your head. Though it feels natural to do so, try to avoid leaning all the way into your webcam, to the point where your face takes up the entire picture. And finally, don’t be shy about showcasing your real at-home environment in the background—this adds intimacy!
Be a conscientious guest
During a panel with multiple authors or guests, mute yourself whenever you are not talking to eliminate echoes and background noise. Just remember to unmute yourself before you are ready to speak again! If you’re on a panel with other people you haven’t met, check ahead of time to make sure you can properly pronounce everyone’s names.
On Zoom or other virtual platforms, try to use Gallery View rather than Speaker View, so that you can look at the entire panel at once rather than having the view change constantly. (Instructions on how to change your Zoom layout can be found here.) Just as with a regular event, avoid speaking over anyone else’s lines, and let your co-panelists finish a thought or sentence before jumping in with your own. And try to remember to look into the camera when addressing the audience.
Keep your message engaging
Zoom fatigue is very real, and the more energetic you can be, the more likely you are to engage your audience. Think about how to vary the tone and speed of your message. Consider developing a few “sound bites”—quick and quotable takeaways to drop into your conversation or talk. The more you think about how to stand out as a virtual speaker and make your talk unique, the more memorable it will be for those tuning in.
Keep in mind that while every virtual event would ideally have a packed audience, sometimes the turnout will be smaller than expected. Prepare for a Zoom call full of readers, but also think about what you would do with a smaller group. Consider using the chat feature to engage directly with the participants and make the event feel more informal and relaxed—you can respond to questions as they come in, and even ask your own questions and read the chat answers out loud. Small virtual events give you a great opportunity to connect with your most devoted readers, so it’s always helpful to plan for that experience!
Learn from the experts
Many of your fellow authors have gotten closely acquainted with virtual speaking during the pandemic. It can help to watch events (either live or recorded) and closely observe how other authors deliver their messages. What do you like about each talk? What verbal and nonverbal cues resonate with you? How is the author interacting with the audience, and what prompts the strongest audience response? Is there anything you would change if this were your virtual talk? Use these points to help you hone and enhance your own message.
Make sure your tech is top notch
Internet connectivity is vital to a successful virtual event. Ideally, your recording setup is either very close to your wireless router or plugged directly in with an ethernet cable. If you’re set up in a different room from your router, you can improve your signal with a WiFi extender. Since virtual events are going to continue for the foreseeable future, investing in reliable high-speed internet is highly recommended.
For more tech tips, take a look at this deep dive article.
PRH authors have done an amazing job of pivoting to virtual talks and events these last few months, and we’re proud to work with you in navigating this sometimes tricky new situation. With preparation, good energy, and insightful discussions, you can make your virtual talks just as worthwhile for readers and audiences as anything they might experience in person!
Neda Dallal is Senior Associate, Publishing Development and Author Platforms at Penguin Random House.