What does it take to keep a classroom full of students engaged in your lecture? Some will say skill; some might say natural talent; others will cite expertise. Take these factors into consideration, add a dash of confidence and humor, and you’re on the road to an effective and engaging lecture!

If you’re used to presenting in person, you’re probably quite sure of what you need to do in order to succeed. However, if you’ve been asked to conduct an online seminar or teach an online course for the first time, you likely recognize that you’ll have to apply some different strategies to achieve the same degree of success. But what are some of those strategies, and how do you begin to hone your online presentation skills?

On another hand, you may have assigned students a project that requires them to deliver an online presentation during class, or record a presentation that will be uploaded and shared online. Your students, then, may be wondering how to be effective presenters in an online setting.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios, you may want to review or share review the following tips, summarized from Rudolph F. Verderber, Kathleen S. Verderber, and Deanna D. Sellnow’s COMM 4. Many are quite similar to the processes you’d follow if you were presenting in person… but with some special considerations relating to how you deliver in an online, technology-based environment.

Effective online presentations: Five tips for you and your students

1. Keep your audience in mind as you plan and prepare. In online courses (and in office environments), lectures and presentations are often delivered live and also recorded for subsequent viewing for those who were not able to attend at the original time.

When planning your presentation, think about how your material will come across to someone who listens as you present, as well as someone who will listen at a later time. This may have an effect on how you structure your presentation; as an example, you might choose to save all questions until the end of the presentation, so that those who watch asynchronously have the opportunity to focus on the core content of your lecture while encountering minimal distractions (such as changes in audio quality introduced by students’ contributions, or “rabbit trail” conversations that would have primarily been of interest to the live audience).

You should also bear in mind that your listeners will approach your presentation with varying attitudes: from complete enthusiasm, to boredom, disinterest, and perhaps even antagonism. As you plan your presentation, do think about these varying types of listeners, and consider how you might keep them engaged.

2. Remember how easy it is to share what you’ve recorded! Thanks to smartphones and social media, what you share in your online presentations may spread much further than your original intended audience. As an instructor, you’re already paying close attention to how you present your material… however, students may need to be reminded that their tone should remain respectful and their content remain truthful.

3. Consider how your presentation will appear to a variety of listeners. Bear in mind that people will be viewing your presentation on devices with a variety of screen sizes, from large-format HD monitors to compact tablets; they may even watch on their smartphones.

Keep those visuals clear and easy to read. (If you want your audience to review a detailed chart, consider posting it to your course website; some presentation programs will also allow you to include a link out to those documents, directly within the presentation.) As you present, describe and explain your key visuals, in case your audience is only able to listen (and not watch).

On a similar note: to ensure readability, keep the onscreen text to a minimum, and avoid using font sizes that will be unreadable on smaller screens.

4. Well before you deliver your lecture or speech, make sure you’re familiar, and comfortable, with the technology you need to use. Contact your campus IT department if you need help with specific equipment. Your colleagues may also have some tips that will help you use tech tools to their fullest advantage.

If you are assigning an online presentation project to your students, ensure that they, too, have the information they need in order to create a strong presentation. Include this information in the assignment sheet or link to it on your course website or LMS.

Will you be delivering online lectures on a frequent basis? Consider attending a professional-development seminar that will help you develop your skills.

5. Last but not least: don’t forget the basics. The public speaking and presentation skills you use in person can absolutely transfer into the online environment! Speak with an energetic tone of voice. Create a strong, well-organized outline for each presentation. Interweave illustrations, anecdotes, and examples that help your listeners understand your point. (Verderber et al., 211)

By following these five suggestions, you (or your students) will be well on your way to crafting an engaging and effective online presentation!


Reference: Verderber, Rudolph F., Kathleen S. Verderber, and Deanna D. Sellnow. 2016. COMM 4. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.


What are your suggestions for creating effective online presentations? Share them in the comments!