Three Best Practices for Video Presentations at Conferences

Many conferences increase their pool of available speakers by using live video presentations from people who are unable to attend in person. With web-based video conferencing tools this is simple and essentially free, allowing anyone with a laptop or even a smartphone to speak at a conference on the other side of the world.

There are many techniques that speakers can use so that they look their best in these video connections. Some of these were presented in Ten ways to impress people in skype interviews and in How to look better in video, but there are also some best practices that are specially important for speakers at conferences. Here are three that I have found the most useful:

BRING THE CAMERA TO EYE LEVEL. One of the basic rules for framing video interview shots is to have the camera at the level of the speaker's eyes. Many people use the camera in their computer and when it is resting on a table the camera is too low, giving the typical Skype call look where you appear to be looking down. It looks much more professional to raise up the computer on a pile of boxes or books so that the camera lens is at the same height as your eyes. This simple tip makes your video image more professional and makes you look more credible. It might look odd to anyone who is in the room with you but it will look more natural on the screen.

USE TWITTER FOR FEEDBACK. When you speak to an audience far away one of the problems is to get feedback from the room, either from the organizers or from the public. All video conference tools allow some communication back from the conference to the speaker, but this is not always in a place where it can be accessed by the moderator or chair in the conference room, and passing feedback from the audience is complicated. A simple fix to this problem is to set up a laptop or tablet behind or next to the camera and on the screen of that device you display your twitter notifications. Then tell everyone who needs to know that you are watching for tweets sent to @username. This means that anybody on the organizing team can let you know if there is a problem with the connection, or if time is running out. The audience can also use the same method to send questions or comments to the speaker. To make the tweets easier to read you should zoom your browser to make the text larger.

ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B. Technology is never 100% reliable so you need to have a plan B for when your laptop hangs or the video connection fails or is too low quality to be usable. Don't wait for this to happen and then think what to do. Anticipate that it could happen and have an alternative already planned. To guard against a laptop crash, for example, I usually have two computers logged in to separate accounts and ready to go, so I can switch from one to another very quickly. I usually also have a backup Internet connection using a 3G USB key. If you only have one computer and one connection and they fail you could plan to switch to an audio phone connection with a local copy of the presentation slides. Or you could send a pre-recorded video version of your presentation to be used only as a last resort.

Video presentations at international conferences are likely to become more common in future and allow popular speakers to contribute at more events, but there is a risk that your reputation can be impacted by poor quality or even a catastrophic failure. Mastering how to do these presentations effectively and preparing for disaster is therefore a smart career move.

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