The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person gatherings prohibitive for the past few months, and, even with vaccines available, will continue to prevent people from gathering for at least several more months. Because of this, we should be prepared to talk about our science (presentations, interviews, meetings, etc.) in a virtual setting—something that Mr. Scott Morgan, science communication consultant and director of The Scott Morgan Group, knows a lot about. 

A frequent presenter at NICHD, Mr. Morgan offered a workshop entitled “Speaking (Virtually) About Science,” on December 2, 2020. He began by reviewing relevant tips for virtual interviewing, including employing side and front lighting, having a professional background, being enthusiastic, wearing bright colors, and using a “speakerphone voice.” Repetition, summaries, lighting, and enthusiasm are especially important in a virtual setting. 

Mr. Morgan next stressed that—apart from unintended outbursts from unmuted participants—you will probably get very little feedback from a virtual audience (some might even have their cameras off). It is important for you to bring even more personal and vocal energy to your presentation to keep your audience engaged. 

Visuals are important. Mr. Morgan emphasized the use of animations to keep your audience interested and spoon feeding your story through transitions. Cartoons and schematics can provide helpful illustrations. They are also useful reminders for your audience when you include them in multiple relevant slides so that viewers can reorient if they miss something. 

Despite the drawbacks of virtual presentations, such as a lack of audience feedback, one benefit is that you can have all the notes you want (if they are not visible to your audience). Post-its and index cards around the edges of your computer can serve as prompts to control the rate and flow of information. Remember that you are central to your presentation— “an ambassador/spokesperson for your research.” 

Mr. Morgan, an excellent presenter with a wealth of experience, ended his talk by exhorting his audience to “always end early.” I highly recommend attending his workshops in the future.

Tips for Virtual Talks

  1. Use lighting from front/side, not from the top or behind.
  2. Use a headphone and microphone with your “speakerphone voice.”
  3. Sit in front of a simple, professional background (no windows!).
  4. Don’t use swivel chairs.
  5. Wear bright colors and layer clothing.
  6. Own your project.
  7. Remember that the camera is a presence barometer (your audience can tell when you lose focus)– stay engaged.
  8. Use notes.
  9. Repeat, summarize, and keep your audience engaged!
  10. End your talk early.