Presenting at an Online Conference Part 3: Preventing Technical Difficulties

Just as you would for an in-person conference, you need to prepare for things to go wrong in an online conference too. However, in an online context, there are new potential issues to consider. Technical difficulties can eat into presentation time; so follow these tips to prevent them.

Know your camera set-up ahead of time

Know where your camera is. Know how to set it up correctly. What things are in the background behind you? If choosing a virtual background, select one that is appropriate for your venue. As humorous as it is for the team video chat to have you on a beach with a pina colada, for most conferences it may not go down well. Consider also, if you have a virtual background, that as you move around you will blur and go fuzzy around the edges, which could be distracting for your audience.

Think about what microphone you’ll be using

Check that it works, and that you know how it works ahead of time. If you’re using the inbuilt microphone on a laptop (for example), remember that there is a reasonable distance between you and the microphone – so speak up and speak clearly. If you’re using a microphone headset or headphones, remember the microphone is only centimetres from your mouth and you really don’t need to speak up or project your voice as much as you would at an in-person conference.

Avoid, if you can, speaking too close to the microphone as it can cause popping and sibilance that reduces the clarity of your voice. (I’m sure you’ve been at an in-person conference where every “p” and “b” caused an explosion of air through the microphone and every “f” and “s” ended in a hiss.)

If pre-recording, be aware of ambient noises (street noise, etc.) and pause the recording, if need be, rather than struggle on through.

Also be careful of the placement of your microphone to speakers as it can cause feedback. You may need to mute your speakers or put in headphones while presenting.

One thing I discovered making my own videos, is that my headset records mono but my wireless microphone records in stereo. The next time I present online I may take that into consideration. Certainly, if I’m preparing my video in advance, I’ll want to record it in stereo for the better audio quality. If I’m presenting live, the headset (and mono sound) will allow me to react faster to questions and interruptions from attendees and the session chair.

Fill the screen

Most of the time, your slides should fill up the screen and take focus. Bear in mind that attendees might join the session on small screens, so make sure your fonts are large and clear. If using PowerPoint, use “Slide Show” mode rather than scroll through the document. If you are using animations in PowerPoint to reveal content within the slides, you need to be in ‘Slide Show’ mode for the animation to work.

During Q&A, if you want to quickly jump to specific slides in PowerPoint, hit Escape to exit ‘Slide Show’ mode, navigate to the slide you want on the left side of your screen, and then enter ‘Slide Show’ mode again to talk through the slide in detail.

If you use more than one monitor, make sure that your slides display in ‘Slide Show’ mode on your main monitor.

Practice, practice, practice

If you have time, practice some more. Just like an in-person conference. Start by making a 1-minute recording of yourself so you know what your presentation looks and sounds like. Then practice your entire presentation. This will help you to feel familiar with the presentation, the audio levels, and camera settings.

Check back tomorrow for some general tips to make the best impression at your online conference.

About Scott Pilkington

Scott is a Postgraduate Coordinator and Health, Safety & Wellbeing rep at the Graduate Research School. His hobbies include museums, campanology, history, anthropology, cats, dance, fibre crafts, science communication, and gin. He’s a graduate of University of Auckland, University of Otago, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and of course AUT. His current research projects include how we use museums to communicate science, and the form and function of doctoral academic dress at New Zealand universities. Past research includes the Albert Park tunnels, taphonomy of burnt human skeletal remains, and the sex-politics-law dynamics of 13th C England. He is weirdly passionate about palaeoecology and urban spaces. He uses the pronouns he/him. You can often see him at GRS events being our resident photographer.

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