Preparation is key to a good virtual presentation – including considering what your background will be and whether you will sit or stand. Photo by Troy Bishopp

by Troy Bishopp

Farmers are now being asked to present virtually by organizations and conference committees in lieu of face-to-face meeting venues. Opportunities abound in reaching a worldwide audience from your living room or farmstead. Are you ready to share your knowledge through the tiny video portal on your computer?

According to most studies, public speaking is a person’s number one fear. Some would say the pandemic has helped this fear by not seeing who you are talking with, but as a result, you end up speaking into a void with no feedback. When your brain doesn’t get the energy or feedback it needs, it’s more frightening than speaking to a live group. For most of us in the agriculture sector, we haven’t had a whole lot of training.

So what’s a farmer to do? Plan, prepare and practice. Start with the attitude of “better.” Working with the organizer’s tech person or a team of friendly advocates ahead of time relieves much stress. Have a Plan B in case the power goes out, the technologies won’t speak to each other or the internet connection freezes you out.

The beauty of the virtual world is there are literally thousands of tutorials on how to present effectively and concisely in this medium.

As a farmer-presenter, I started with the basics:

Is your computer or smartphone and the internet connection adequate to work, or should you seek other avenues?

Place good lighting in front of you.

Position your device so you are looking level with the camera.

Be mindful of your background and its contents.

Practice your position so it frames your face and voice well and decide if you want to sit or stand when you talk.

Be your authentic self.

Generally, the virtual recipe is similar to sharing knowledge on stage. Tell great stories, showcase high-quality pictures, limit word slides, engage the audience and stay on time. To do this still takes preparation and practice. It’s imperative to do a dry run with your moderator and try new things that the virtual world offers, like impromptu polls, video graphics, chat-box questions and involving a virtual friend and their experience. These exercises can stimulate participation and help the information flow to myriad audience learning styles.

The problem with many virtual opportunities is the organization wants a legacy of information in the form of slides (to be seen later) which may contradict you not wanting to “PowerPoint” your audience to death. There may be a compromise of developing a longer, resource-based slide program after your story-forward live event, which can actually enhance the information presented. It’s important to find this balance, as farmers are typically asked to present from a hands-on perspective.

Let’s not forget compensation for prep and imparting your knowledge to the virtual masses, which can take several hours of work. Delivering information on a Zoom platform is short compared to the overall content creation. Many farmers do pro bono presentations and workshops, but consider negotiating a fair return for your work, given the amount of travel and lodging fees that are saved from going virtual. Your story and time are valuable.

Every presentation is practice. The key to “better” is in learning from what went well and what didn’t. Getting constructive feedback from a select group of participants, your host and even a professional “toastmaster” is invaluable in developing your next great speaking engagement.

Remember, whether you are presenting in-person or virtually, all presentations are performances. Your performance is in service to your audience. Their time is valuable too, so honor that time by delivering the best presentation you can. You must find ways to create authentic audience connection, engagement and value. It takes planning, preparation and practice.

Success happens when you’re finished talking before your audience has finished listening.