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A video how-to guide from the Royal Irish Academy and Digital Charity Lab

Guidelines for speakers

“In the world of public speaking, there are those who seem to regard the very idea of preparation as an affront to the efficient use of their precious time. In exchanges with friends, they may be morally free (but not necessarily wise to say what they please). But when it comes to public communication, they should have a little care for the rest of us and our precious time”.

From Catching the Worm by William Campbell, Hon. MRIA and Ireland’s only Nobel Prizewinner for Medicine or Physiology

Preparing for your video presentation or prerecorded speech will help you to deliver a more engaging and professional video, and will make the entire experience less stressful for you too.  There are five main areas to consider when you’re preparing.

1. Your surroundings

  • Natural light on your face is best so try to sit near a window.
  • If you’re recording in the evening, sit near a light source. Position yourself so there’s little or no shadowing.
  • If you do a lot of video appearances you may want to buy some professional lights – Instagram influencers use these to create a polished look. You can buy them online. 
  • Choose a quiet place to avoid background noise

2. Your technology

  • Think about your internet connection. Can you plug your laptop in to your router directly? This will improve the connection by as much as a factor of 100
  • The camera and microphone on your laptop will determine the picture quality. If the quality is poor, you can buy HD webcameras and microphones online. They’re not expensive.
  • A wired headset is an effective way to reduce background noise
  • Ensure that your screen name is correct when filming

3. Filming yourself

  • If you’re using a phone, prop it against something sturdy, or use a tripod
  • Place the camera so you’re looking directly into it – this will give a more flattering and natural portrayal of yourself than a high or low angle. If you’re filming with an iPad, take care that you’re not holding it too low.
  • Set the camera to landscape – that will work best for most formats
  • With recordings, don’t worry if there’s a few seconds of footage of you setting up at the start; this footage can be cut out

4. Your appearance

  • Consider the background that appears behind you and, if needs be, choose a template before the recording starts. Your event producer might be able to supply a branded background.
  • Dress to impress: wear the kind of business clothes you would wear to a professional event
  • Solid colours look better on screen than patterns. 
  • Make sure to wear colours that stand out against your background
  • If you’re using Zoom, turn on the ‘touch up my appearance’ option – it adds a subtle soft focus effect

5. Your content

  • Keep your presentation short as online events need to be more concise
  • Your slides should be visually simple and clear, as some people may be watching on smartphones
  • Make sure you know how to share your screen if you’re giving a presentation. Don’t rely on the event organiser 
  • Use teleprompting software if you have a script prepared so that you can look directly at the camera. Teleprompt.me is free to use in the Chrome web browser.
  • Remember you are speaking to an audience and not a screen. Smile, make eye contact, and try to be natural if you can.
  • Be prepared! Do a couple of run throughs of your talk. It’s really worth recording one and watching it back.

If you’re a speaker in an online event such as a virtual conference, be prepared to join a pre-event practice session to carry out advance testing. This will reduce the risk of technical difficulties occurring during the live event. 

We always advise that people join the practice session from the same place as they will be presenting on the day to ensure that the practice session is as useful as possible for all involved. 

You can use the practice session to clarify running order, ensure that you’re  comfortable using the webinar platform controls, and to raise any questions you have about the event as well as to run tech checks on cameras, mics etc.

Guidelines for chairs of online events

William Campbell, Hon. MRIA and Nobel Prizewinner said in his book ‘Catching the Worm’:

“An introduction does not have to be stern. It can be joyful, but it must be free of shilly-shallying: include the title or subject matter of the talk, keep silent about what the speaker is going to say; Include the speaker’s name and essential qualification for being the speaker; keep silent as to whether the speaker is known to be eloquent or funny or to possess other virtues as a speaker. Include an ending in the form of a welcoming call on the speaker to speak; then keep silent. Departure from any one of these precepts is likely to place both the speaker and the audience at a disadvantage. Such departure will constitute a discourtesy, however unintentional, toward speaker and listener.” 

Preparation 

  • You need more rehearsal time than normal 
  • It’s better to keep things as simple as possible

Be prepared to hold a pre-event practice session to carry out advance testing. This will reduce the risk of technical difficulties occurring during the live event. 

We always advise that people join the practice session from the same place as they will be presenting on the day to ensure that the practice session is as useful as possible for all involved. 

You can use the practice session to clarify running order, ensure that the presenter is comfortable using the webinar platform controls, and to address any questions they may have about the event as well as to run tech checks on cameras, mics etc.

Technology

  • If possible, hardwire your internet connection as this will help you avoid any tech issues with an unstable wifi connection, which can affect your audio quality and the overall attendee experience. 
  • Use teleprompting software if you have a script prepared for your opening address so that you can look directly at the camera. Teleprompt.me is free to use in the Chrome web browser.
  • Discuss with speakers whether slides are necessary. Depending on the type of video call, they may only be seen in a tiny box on the screen, and using slides means they can lose the connection with the audience. If speakers are using a slide presentation, ensure they practice it a few times, use simple visuals, and know how to share their screen.
  • Allow resources to create captions if publishing the video. Be aware that it’s a time-consuming process.

Event planning

  • Event duration should be shorter than a real event – it’s harder to keep people engaged with an online event, and lots of video presentations can be tiring for participants. 
  • Allow short presentations at the beginning to allow the audience to connect with each speaker, but avoid long papers 
  • Introduce something fresh three-quarters of the way through the event, and flag it at the beginning to attempt to hold onto the audience 
  • Fall off in bookings is about 40%, giving you 60% of bookings attending 

Hosting and presenting

  • Have a co-chair/producer to feed questions 
  • Convene people fifteen minutes before the event, not earlier, to keep conversation at the event fresh, while allowing time for technical difficulties in coming online 
  • Dress to impress: wear business attire and remember that solid colours are preferred to patterns. Also make sure that you wear colours that are different from your background.

Branding 

  • Top and tail edited videos with a professionally designed opening and closing ‘credits’. 
  • Adjust screen names to include company names as well. 

Thanks to the Royal Irish Academy for collaborating on and funding this guide.