October 14, 2020

TL;DR Speaking in a Remote World


Introduction

Today I'm here to talk about a topic that's near and dear to me: speaking in a remote world.

Preface

Because while there are a lot of people trying to replicate the in-person experience as best as they can, the reality is that life as a speaker in a remote setting is quite different, so I wanted to share my experience and observations with you.

As someone who has spent the last few years attending and speaking at events around the world, and then suddenly jumping into this fully remote setting, I can tell you firsthand that the transition has been a difficult one.

The way we deliver talks have changed

One of the biggest changes to giving talks in a remote world is that you're talking to a lifeless camera rather than an engaged audience. This is by far one of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a speaker because you don't get the natural vibe of being able to play off the collective energy of having a bunch of people gathered together in the same room. In other words, the energy is dependent solely on you.

So when you're delivering your talk, I would recommend bringing up the energy in your talk since you're now confined to your camera and cannot rely on a big stage and production value to add that extra bit of magic to your talk. It might feel a little awkward at first, but even a little bit of engagement on your end can go a long way for making your talk more memorable for the audience.

If you are asked to record your talk, my first piece of advice is to make sure this is a conference worth doing it for. Preparing a talk already takes a lot of time, and when you add recording onto it, it could easily double or triple the amount of time you have to invest into the talk.

Once you've decided it's worth it, I have two pieces of advice for this:

  1. It doesn't have to be perfect
  2. Don't do it alone

It doesn't have to be perfect

My friend Rahul wrote this great tweet recently:

Remember, you are your worst critic and you are going to find yourself re-recording things constantly if you're still new to the recording game.

Heck, even as someone who does it professionally and on a regular basis, I still get in my own head and find myself recording the same paragraph multiple times because I think it sounds weird, or I forget what I'm supposed to say mid-sentence while staring into the camera lens.!

Don't do it alone

Once your talk is ready, call a friend or hop on a video chat, then hit record and deliver your talk to them. By doing it this way, you will minimize the amount of time you spend on recording the talk, have the emotional support to get through the entire talk, and still have a chance for some edits afterwards if it's necessary.

And while a benefit of events going remote is that people from all over the world have a higher chance of attending live, this brings us to the next issue with remote events.

All internet is not created equal

When we are giving presentations, most of us are used to giving it to a live audience. This means that we are used to the audience being able to see our slides and hear what we are saying in real time. However, this is no longer that case. Whether it's your upload speed or their download speed, the reality is that lag and interruptions to either the visual or auditory part of your talk can basically be guaranteed. And what’s worse is you can’t predict where it’ll cut out for each attendee.

As a speaker, how can you mitigate this?

  1. When using animations, being more intentional about taking pauses in between sequences can help to account for the lag.
  2. And if you're transitioning between different topics, give ample time for users to catch up with summary statements of what just happened or provide ample introduction to what is about to happen next.
  3. Ask your event to have live captioning which will also have the added benefit of helping attendees better understand the talk regardless of their familiarity with the language.

Some of you may be thinking, what about attendees with reliable internet? Well, that brings us to my next observation:

Distractions are inevitable

Unlike in-person events where attendees have committed to being at an event and are much more reliable at being engaged in the event, this is no longer true with remote events. After all, while most attendees have the utmost intention to fully pay attention to your talk, attendees will be more distracted than usual. Whether that's a random text message, Slack messages about work, family emergencies, or simply needing to use the bathroom, we should account for these distractions.

How do we do this?

Well, the best way to do this is to always ensure that every talk you deliver has some sort of artifact that attendees can reference afterwards. This could be as simple as a PDF of your slides, or even better, a written version of your talk.

And last but not least, this bring us to my final piece of advice.

Participate in the community events

This is going to be a particularly challenging one for speakers because speaking remotely can already be an incredibly draining activity. Because it's a remote event, rather than transitioning from giving a live talk on stage to a fun atmosphere with free food, drinks and planned activities to unwind, it feels like you're simply going to another meeting; but what I want you to understand, is that even showing up for just the first 30 minutes can go a long way.

As someone who had the chance to attend conferences earlier on in my career, some of my best memories was being able to just hangout with the speakers. So don't forget that a lot of people attending these remote events most likely would not have been able to attend in-person, so this is really a chance to get to know people in the community you might otherwise have never met.

Conclusion

I hope you found this useful for navigating the world of speaking remotely. Thanks for watching and see you in the next video.