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Speaking at a Virtual Conference

I had the honour of having one of my talks selected to NDC Oslo 2020. I was looking forward to speaking at Oslo Spektrum for the first time. This has been a wish for a long time.

Unfortunately, Coronavirus has destroyed those plans. NDC was converted into an Online Conference. With that, I was facing a new and different challenge: Virtual Conference Speaking.

If you had the chance of speaking in a virtual conference, you know that it's not the same experience. Even if you are an experienced Speaker, you will find yourself with strange feelings.

Fortunately, my talk went really well. So, this post serves to share what I have done to prepare myself. If you will be speaking in a virtual conference, this may be useful to you. My goal here is to describe what I've done and what I've learned. Hope it can be helpful to you.


Setup

Video

To me, image is an important part, and I didn't want to seem sloppy or unprofessional. Having a good camera is a must, but there are other things to consider.

Camera

I bought a Logitech C920. The image improved when comparing to the laptop webcam. Besides that fact, I'm able to use a tripod to hold the camera and align it with my eyes.

Aligning the camera with your eyes is useful. You will be speaking to a camera, so it's good to have it in the correct position. Level it with your eyes. It will feel more natural to you and to those that are watching.

Lighting

Lighting is a small investment that makes a huge difference in the result. You can always use natural light. In my case, I bought a simple light ring from AliExpress.

Background

If you don't have a green screen, you need to take care of your background. Having a lot of things happening in the background can be quite distracting. Remember that your goal is to get the attention of the audience. They are at home, on their computer, and they can easily be distracted when compared to a conference room.

I didn't want to give them another good reason for distraction by having shiny objects on the background.

So, I tried to create a minimalist background with a small dΓ©cor to have a better look and feel than a white wall. I also used a led strip that I had at home to have a backlight.

Background

Microphone

A decent microphone is a must. Using the laptop microphone is terrible. Dylan Beatie crafted an excellent blog post that can help. There you can also see the difference between different microphones.

In my case, the microphone was a concern, especially because I live in a noisy place with a ton of traffic. It's impossible not to listen to background noise in my house. So, I decided to invest in a USB Dynamic Microphone (SAMSON q2u).

So, I recommend you to find the quietest place you can and use a good microphone. At least, something other than your laptop microphone. If you don't have background noise, an inexpensive Condenser Microphone can improve your sound quality a lot.

I've found really good information about Microphones, Cameras and Lighting here.

Glare on Glasses

If you use glasses like me, Lighting and positioning can be quite difficult.

Facing direct light or bright screens was reflecting everything on my glasses.

Light and screen reflexes can be quite distracting and don't feel natural. To overcome it, I position my screens on a diagonal line and the light ring from top to bottom. Besides that, I reduced the brightness of my screens.

This video was really helpful.

Stand-up

By standing up, you will see that your voice will be clear and you will have a better posture. If not have a standing desk, improvise. I managed the same result by stacking up my kitchen table with my daughterΒ΄s playing table.

Setup - Stand-up


Preparing

  1. Rehearse in the same environment and with the same setup that you will be using.
  2. Record it and share it with your friends and colleagues. Ask for honest feedback. Use the feedback to improve.
  3. Rehearse
  4. Make sure that you have a Plan B
    • What if your computer fails?
    • Will you use a pointer? Do you have extra batteries?
  5. Rehearse
  6. Rehearse with the same software that you will be using in the day. Make yourself comfortable with it.

No. Rehearse written so many times isn't a mistake. Honestly, the most important thing that you can do is rehearse. Rehearse in the same conditions. Over and over again. By doing that you will feel more comfortable speaking to a camera.


The day

The day has been really pleasant to me. After multiple hours of rehearsing, I have found that my muscle memory kicked in. I didn't have the chance to feel stressed. I was feeling prepared. It was showtime and I was enjoying it. Nevertheless, there are a few things that helped me.

Dress-up

This will signal to your brain that it's time to do important stuff.

Barefoot

Barefoot or use socks. You will find yourself more relaxed. You will also make less background noise with your feet.

Shutdown your doorbell

Make the possible not to be interrupted. Delivery man ringing the doorbell, your partner walking by, your dog barking... Try to find a way to reduce the probability of something like that to happen. But, if it happens, embrace it. Play with it. Prepare a joke if you can.

Hydrate

Have a glass of water nearby. Do not forget.

Connect to the audience

You can't move around, so try to make your hands visible and use them to communicate. Use different tones of voice to keep people connected. Ask for feedback in the chat and try to keep an eye on the chat in case you are looking for a more interactive talk.

Setup - closeup


Always remember that those attending, are there because they want to learn from you. So enjoy!