When to Consider a Virtual Presentation (and When Not To)

As the author of a book about conducting virtual presentations, I have an obvious bias toward presenting virtually whenever possible. Having said that, though, I am a pragmatist: there are going to be times when giving a virtual presentation would not be the best way to go. In most cases, I would encourage you to consider conducting a virtual presentation, but there are definitely circumstances that call for the tried-and-true technique of presenting in person. Here is a breakdown of times when you should consider a virtual presentation, and times when you should not.
Virtual Presentations are a Must When You…

Need to present to more than 25 people at the same time

As stated previously, there is only so much space in a conference room. Whenever you need to send a message to the entire floor or the entire company, your best bet is to go virtual.

Need to reach people far away (cheaply)

If it’s in your company’s best interest to keep the travel budget low, then a virtual presentation can get your message across while saving a fortune in airfare. Virtual presentations will enable you to reach larger and more dispersed audiences that you may not have been able to reasonably accommodate in the past.

Have serious stage fright

Some people are excellent communicators in certain settings, but deathly afraid of being in the spotlight. They are great on the phone, but not so good in person. Although programs like Toastmasters can be beneficial in the long term for helping such people improve at presenting in person, in the short term, a virtual presentation is ideal.

Need the more advanced capabilities of virtual presentations.

You should consider using virtual if it would be beneficial to archive your presentation for viewing by those who were not able to attend in person. A virtual presentation may also benefit your organization by establishing and maintaining a cohesive group of participants (e.g., a community of practice) who stay in touch after your presentation. Finally, using frequent virtual presentations may foster collaboration and build stronger teams.

In-Person Presentations Are a Must When You . . .

Have bad news to deliver. If the meeting is about something that is deeply emotional, such as an announcement that layoffs are forthcoming or that performance has been poor all-around this quarter (and hopefully that isn’t the case for anyone reading this book!), then the message needs to be delivered in person. Many people feel that finding out bad news on a computer screen feels like a slap in the face on top of the bad news itself. It’s better to conduct these kinds of meetings in person.

Need to establish trust

A crucial objective of many meetings is to establish trust. Presentations designed to engender investor confidence or unquenchable desire for a new product would be a couple of examples. Establishing trust requires engaging many of the attendees’ senses. Visual cues and social presence are critical to building trust. These two elements are usually missing from a virtual presentation. They can be achieved only by someone who is highly skilled in the art and science of virtual presenting. After reading this book, though, you may become a member of this elite group.

Need to change attitudes

Conducting a presentation that can change people’s attitudes is difficult to pull off in person and nearly impossible in a virtual environment. As with building trust, visual cues and social presence are critical here. To succeed, these presentations not only need to establish trust, but must create an environment that is intimate, open, and accepting. After all, you might have to call people out on the carpet regarding their current attitudes before you explain the need for change. You may attempt such a feat with an audience of people who are already familiar with one another and are committed to the tasks at hand, but even then, you need to tread carefully.