As many schools, colleges and universities prepare for more sessions online, Kate Beales offers some advice to teachers and lecturers on adapting their presentation techniques to virtual platforms.

It can be challenging, when teaching in the virtual world, to maintain the quality of learning and sustain the relationship with individual students. As one lecturer put it, “The hardest thing has been feeling my relationship with my students slipping away.”

So how can you adapt your ‘presence’ to make online teaching more effective? The questions below will help you find your own best communication style when working with students online.

1) What are you doing differently when you lecture online that might affect your teaching?

For example, when delivering in-person:

  • Do you stand, or walk about? If you choose to deliver your online lectures sitting down, you may need to use more energy than usual. You can express your enthusiasm by using a varied tone of voice, hand gestures and facial expression.

2) How easy is it for your students to see and hear you?

As one student said: “I love my supervisor, but now I spend an hour talking to the top of his forehead.”

Here are some practical points to remember:

Check the image you’re projecting. Your face should not be too close or too far away from the camera. You don’t need a completely neutral background, but make sure there is nothing distracting behind you – such as a plant on the wall that appears to be growing out of your head.

  • Look at the camera. To make eye contact online you need to look into the camera lens rather than at the desktop screen. This simple trick helps audiences to engage and builds connection
  • It is more difficult for audiences to read non-verbal cues on virtual platforms, so make sure your face is properly lit, ideally from in front of you. Your camera picks up the brightest light in view – so if your window is behind you, your face will be in shadow with a halo behind your head. If the light source is to one side, the other side of your face will be in darkness.
  • Sit up – good posture means you are able to communicate with energy and enthusiasm. Try to place both feet on the ground, feel the small of your back against the back of your chair, lengthen your spine and sit upright without tension in your shoulders.

3) How are you breathing?

  • A deep breath is calming. Before your lecture, breathe in for a count of 4 and breathe out for a count of 6 and repeat a few times.
  • Take some deep breaths during your presentation.
  • Your breath supports your voice, helping to make your content sound confident and engaging
  • It gives you time to pause and collect your thoughts
  • It allows time for your students to absorb your message

4) What do you want your students to feel?

We don’t often stop to consider the feelings of our audiences, as we are usually preoccupied with imparting information – but your students will have emotional as well as intellectual responses to your words. Do you want them to feel bored, frustrated or disengaged? Of course not. They want to be inspired, excited, motivated to go deeper into their learning. Reassured that they are being supported. Or amused by a good joke.

Clarify your intention for various points in your lesson. Knowing what you would like your students to feel has an impact on your tone and therefore helps you to deliver your content with maximum impact.

5) How do you want your students to engage?

In face-to-face lectures, you can simply scan the room to take a reading of your audience. You can see if they are nodding, scribbling notes, or gazing out of the window, and you adapt accordingly. While this is not possible online, you do have non-verbal communication tools – you can use these to check in with your students and help them feel engaged in the same way that you would if they were in the room with you.

Are you inviting participation? Let your students know up-front if you would like questions or comments, and invite individuals to speak, to avoid the challenges of awkward silences or too many people speaking up at once.

6) Are you doing enough?

Don’t be fooled by the fact that you are sitting at your desk talking to a camera. You need as much energy and concentration as if you are in a large lecture theatre. Successful virtual presentation requires clearer visual cues, a wider range of vocal variety, as well as vivid content – including stories and metaphors wherever possible. Together these elements can make online lecturing as rich and effective as face-to-face communication.


Kate Beales

Kate Beales is a Senior Facilitator at Visionworks.

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