Listening and reading are wildly different forms of consuming content. So are physical and virtual audiences. Therefore, presentation to virtual audience must be adapted accordingly

You’ve just sat down to watch the 7’oclock news on NTV. The newscaster comes on. He is holding that day’s Daily Nation. Your face spells, “Huh?” Then you smile. It must be a prank. But it’s not Fool’s Day. He starts reading it; right from the headlines. It suddenly hits you – the bulletin is going to be a verbatim reading of the newspaper! You exclaim, “Are they mad?!”

Well, that is precisely what your audience thinks when you do a presentation that is lifted straight from a document. Sadly, this is more the norm than the exception. A client asks you to come with a presentation. You refer to content from your company’s website, proposals, reports, and brochure and, borrowing from your company’s recommended structure, come up with what you believe is a killer presentation. Until it falls flat.

Presentation to virtual audience is not reciting proposal or website

Right from the ‘headline’ slide the audience’s eyes glaze over and they start taking an interest in the grains on the table and their upturned cell phones. They silently ask, “Is he mad?” Why? You repeated the news anchor’s mistake. You took information meant to be consumed by a reader and presented it to a listener.

And with online meetings including presentations this is even more pronounced because you cannot read the audience’s body language as easily as you would face-to-face.

Presentation to virtual audience

Listening is passive, reading, active

Listening and reading are widely different forms of consuming content. Content intended for one audience must be adapted to the other if it is to achieve its intended purpose.

Here are three things to be aware of when adapting content from “reader” to “listener”. First is brevity. The news bulletin does not last as long as it would take you to read the newspaper word for word. In fact, within the first 10 minutes they have already shared the gist of what they intended to. This is because, unlike the reader who is actively engaged with the written content, the listener is a passive stakeholder that is easily distracted.

Presentation to virtual audience. Don’t make audience think

Which brings us to the second thing. Being passive he wants to be told, interpreted for; not made to think. He wants to be fed pap, not made to chew food. The active reader will pause and reflect on what he is reading; he can even go back to it. The shelf life of a presentation, on the other hand, is in real time. Being easily distracted, the passive listener forgets as you speak.

And that’s the third thing- know what you want your audience to know and tell them from go. Now you know why the bulletin starts with, “In the news today”- an overview that serves as an introduction.

Why it doesn’t happen

Why don’t most do the foregoing? Maybe, ignorance. Likely however, it’s because ‘copy-pasting’ content intended for the eye, not ear is easier. Irrespective though, both assume that because their audience’s mic and video icons are off, the audience is actively listening, when instead it is asking, “Is he mad?”

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