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You may never have wanted to be a television star. But these days, with remote sales presentations and innumerable important Zoom meeting discussing your proposals, you are performing on video and need to access your inner Lisa LaFlamme or Andrew Chang.

Ottawa sales consultant Colleen Francis finds that solid colours look better on video – the floral skirts she wore in summer looked blurry, so she decided it’s better to pick powerful and bold colours, particularly in customer meetings. And keep the background simple. “I know virtual backgrounds are fun and I use them all the time in internal meetings. However, when it comes to client meetings, they are not professional,” she writes on her blog. “If you are in your home office, ensure it’s tidy. You don’t want clothes, toys or sports equipment littered all over the place. Keep it clean!”

To increase engagement, directly address people, using their name. “John, what do you think?” pulls him in while “does anyone have any questions?” is too vague, creating distance. Use your own name when speaking, for those calling in or without video.

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“Lastly, don’t forget to make eye contact. It’s okay to take notes or look at other screens, but always come back to the camera when you’re speaking and make direct eye contact. Also, smile and use the same body language you would in person with that customer or prospect,” she says.

Sometimes the video presentation might even be highly informal. Kevin Collins, managing director of Software and Platforms Industry at Accenture, tells Karen Mangia for her book Working from Home how he was having difficulty getting e-mail responses about an important client proposal. Knowing his client was busy, he recorded a less-than-one-minute video while walking his dog sharing some key take-aways from their last conversation. Just 15 minutes after texting the video the client called, referring to the dog, indicating the personal element was motivating.

Mr. Collins found timelines have to be compressed with video meetings. His team used to deliver three-hour meetings for clients and day-and-a-half strategy sessions. Now the strategy sessions have mutated into five 90-minute meetings – so each even shorter than in-person meetings from the past, and he wants to compress them further.

That has meant tightening up the choreography for high-stakes presentations, where a team of his experts might be connecting to 30 or more team members on the customer side as they deliver their consulting. Since online events can go awry, everyone now must be able to articulate the entire customer strategy, while experts on certain subject matter can provide greater depth.

Mr. Collins recommends unfinishing your slides. That sounds ridiculous but he argues if your slides are perfectly complete then you’re finished before you start, and lose the real-time engagement video offers. So he aims for a “straw man slide” – talking points around what he believes to be top-of-the-mind issues for the client. One member of his team serves as presentation scribe, listening to what is said and then massaging the various viewpoints into a new and updated slide. The scribe is given 10 minutes for that task while others moves on to another topic but when they return they have a co-created slide that is evidence of their collaboration and a stepping-stone to the next iteration.

He is also big on using the online polling technology, believing that asking people to indicate their opinions overcomes the hesitancy individuals may have commenting on camera. It quickly gives a sense of the group and can be quite helpful when the session involves participants from diverse organizations.

Television shows are carefully crafted. Your online presentations need a similar approach.

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Quick hits

  • If you find yourself constantly trying new personal productivity ideas and apps without much progress but a lot of confusion, behavioural scientist Dan Ariely recommends picking one time management method and using it exclusively for a month.
  • You can probably predict the first question you’ll be asked in your next job interview: “Tell me about yourself.” So instead of winging it, executive recruiter Gerald Walsh urges you to rehearse your answer in advance. And have a good closing comment similarly prepared, to leave with a strong impression.
  • Peter Bryla, Community Manager at ResumeLab, says it’s surprisingly rare to find a job candidate who acts like they’re interviewing for their dream job. When it happens, he is immediately inclined to hire that person.
  • Leadership coach Palena Neale suggests women in their 50s who are eager with an empty nest to reinvest in their career ask themselves these questions: What would your career look like if nothing was in the way? What permissions do you need to give yourself in order to become who you want to be? What do you need to learn to make it happen?
  • In these uncertain times, it helps to know when you’re more likely to crave certainty, points out author Jamie Holmes. Is it when you’re rushed? Tired? Overwhelmed?

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