Faculty essay: Preparing for a video presentation

Martha Schaffer

by Martha Schaffer, associate director of composition & SAGES instructor

As we careen toward the end of our remote semester, I find myself regularly working in video classrooms, meetings, and conferences. I feel like I am in constant presentation mode, struggling to get my message across to the digital presence I see on my screen. I’m thankful that we have these means to carry on teaching and learning, and I am increasingly aware of how important it is to be able to present our ideas in virtual space to virtual audiences.  

Two things you should always ask (and answer) as you plan for a presentation are (1) who is my audience? and (2) why am I communicating with them? Audience and purpose are key rhetorical concepts that help you shape your message and how you deliver it. In the case of video presentations, consider these strategies, too:

Know your technology and how to use it. What does it require of you? What do you need to know to use it? Make time to watch video tutorials or read tips about using Zoom, Google Slide voice-overs, or whatever platform you are using. You don’t need to be an expert, but you find out what it can do. There’s no shame in googling or watching YouTube videos to learn, but CWRU offers training, too, through LinkedIn Learning.

Think multimodally about your content. Take advantage of all of the modes available to you: sound, image, animation, etc. How can you deliver content across multiple modes? What can you explain orally? What would be best represented by static or animated images, or text? How do these work together to give your audience a clear message?

Engage your personality. Video technology is keeping us going this semester, but it isn’t the same as f2f interaction. You are constrained by physical distance from your audience. Think about how your voice, body, and background can enhance your message and demonstrate your credibility. How do you make eye contact with the camera? How do you convey your tone? What can you do to help your audience feel connected to you? You can find the listicles online faster than I can; as you gather tips and advice, think about what you want to convey about yourself. 

And then there is this old advice: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Plan time to practice multiple times with your tech, your message, and your look.