The Keys to Becoming A Better, More Dynamic Virtual Speaker: Andrew Churchill


As B2B and SaaS companies scramble to leverage virtual events, many people are looking to become better and more engaging virtual speakers.

These are people who thrive at in-person events but now they have to present digitally. There's no stage and no audience sitting in front of them.

Now, that's a huge challenge.

Andrew Churchill has seen his consulting business explode as more people look to become better, more dynamic virtual speakers.

In this episode of Marketing Spark, Andrew talks about the tricks and techniques that speakers need to deploy to keep people focused, interested, and interacting.

One good piece of advice is to stand up when presenting virtually rather than sitting down. It's simple but, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.


You're listening to marketing spark, the podcast that delivers insight, tools and tips from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches in twenty minutes or less. It's one theme for companies to embrace virtual events, but what about the people who need to make presentations? What's it like to talk into a camera versus being on stage and being able to engage with an audience and see how people are responding? In this episode on talking with Andrew Churchill, a pitch and presentation coach. Andrew helps people focus on better content and visual development, as well as voice by language and other engaging strategies. Depending on how you look at it, Andrew is facing a big business opportunity or a big business challenge, and that's what we're going to get into today. Welcome to marketing spark, Andrew. Thank you, it's great to be here. Let's talk about what you do and, more importantly, how your business has been impacted by COVID and the lack of in person events. Yeah, so it's interesting with covid. I Apologize Sometimes for saying this because I know it hasn't been true for everyone, but my business is actually exploded. I think the key to the key to the explosion is that people are no longer we've removed the emotional barrier to asking for help. So you'd to be that people presented in person. Everybody thinks they're a good presenter. People don't really think they need help. It's kind of cool to be good at this. We all have that secret like, Oh yeah, I could do a Ted talk. And what's happened when we moved online and now we're working with video cameras, as everybody says, Oh my God, I have no idea what's going on help. So it's opened up. It's opened up a whole new group of people. It's it's given people permission to ask for help. So what you're saying is that people who may have been comfortable speaking in person are uncomfortable speaking virtually, but they still want to present, but they want to do it in the right way, they want to do it in ways that are engaging and they're coming to you for help, which is it's really interesting to hear that point of view, that you are busy. You, a person who focuses and helping people make presentations, mostly in public, are busy during Covid I find that fascinating. Yeah, it's been good news for me. The A lot of my work is done through the university at McGill, so some of it and and the presentation world is still going on there. Interestingly enough, a lot of the a lot of the presentation work I do there has actually increased because it's the one event that can keep going right. So it's a way to actually so. So doing virtual conferences and and virtual events, virtual talks with each other is one of the places we can still create community because we can't travel. So I think the the demand actually for online, interactive the demand for interaction has gone up because we're not interacting with each other walking down the street, sitting in our offices, sitting. So we're all thirsty for interaction and it's just a matter of trying to figure out ways to meet that need. I want to get into how people can engage their audience has virtually and drive interaction. But before we get into that, I'm really curious about your thoughts on virtual events. This has been a topic that I have been focused on, maybe you could say obsessed with, recently, because most virtual events that I register for and actually attend are pretty awful. It feels like a Webinar. It feels like someone is broadcasting to me versus creating an environment where it's interactive. I feel engaged, I feel like there's a sense of maybe their spot in Aty. Maybe there's this, there's space, there's a serendipity, the the opportunity to learn and meet New People. I'm not not getting that... all and I'm just curious about what's your view is on virtual events, given you got a completely different perspective. So I'm so I have a new paradigm that actually I haven't shared with anyone yet. So this will be good. I'll be interested to see how you you react to this and see if it starts to resonate with you, mark, and that. And the paradigm is this. When we go to a conference, they're two things going on. One is the dissemination of information. So if we go to a conference and we sit in a we sit in a presentation for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, however long the person was allowed to talk, that's a that's a dissemination moment. But there's another piece of conferences and and just before we leave the dissemination moment that actually works really well online the online space is actually really good for disseminating information. The other piece, though, is the communal piece, and that doesn't happen when we're sitting listening to someone. That happens when we're getting a cup of coffee between talks, or that happens when we introduce ourselves to the person next to us before our talk starts, and that space has been completely eliminated in the virtual conference world and I don't think people are figured out how to replicate it and I frankly, am not even sure it's possible. That's an interesting perspective because to me that's the conference goal. Like when I go to conferences, to be honest with you, I could be I could easily be on stage. I don't mean that in a boastful way. It just means that the information that I'm getting from most speakers I already know. I'm really not there for the content, although some of it can be interesting. What I'm there for is the people. I'm there for the opportunity to bump into someone unexpectedly or to meet completely new people and open up completely new opportunities. That's the value for me and I think you're right. I think a lot of conferences are struggling with that. I look at a platform like hop in, which allows people to hold these it's almost like speed dating. So you're on a virtual event and then they'll have the speed dating opportunity where you'll meet somebody random in a side room, which I think try to replicate that conference experience. But you're right, I just don't know if anyone's going to figure it out, going to be able to replicate that whole conference experience. My question is the fundamentally I've I've a question about whether or not. So a lot of talks going on about synchronous versus asynchronous right, and I think it's really difficult to do synchronous multi people conversations online virtually there's a there's a fundamental barrier of technology that people haven't really figured out yet. Of How do we have like there's a reason we're doing a podcast with two people, not seven. Right. Can't do it with seven people, but if we were in person we could, and this is a this is a real challenge. I think one of the things that conferences need to figure out is how do they create space for people to interact organically and then how do they create space for to do seminate information, and I think what's happening with conferences right now is they're just hyper focused on the dissemination of information and they're getting that fine, but without the organic interaction it's useless. Nobody wants to go. It's a horrible experience. So what we need to do is figure out how to do this organic interaction. And I'm not sure you know to me my best organic interaction in the last six months has been in the last sixty days and it's all been on Linkedin and it's all been a synchronous but you and I have, you and I have had conversations on Linkedin and sometimes there's four hours, sometimes there's three days between those responses, but we've gotten to know each other, we've developed a relationship, we've...

...gotten to know each other's businesses. We've now ended up having a conversation virtually with the two of us in the form of this podcast. But I do think that there's some asynchronous components that virtual conferences ought to be looking at and integrating. Things like volley that's coming out with like a and and Linkedin just started right where now you can send people a short a short audio clip what do you think? It's a new landscape, it's a completely new engagement landscape and we're all trying to figure it out. I think that's one of the interesting things about linkedin. That is happening right now. People are having making connections, they're commenting, there's all that activity going on and I still believe that the real value Linkedin is conversations, is the ability to break through the digital barrier and ask someone if they're open to having a conversation. And my experience has been, for the most part, that you're right. As you said earlier, people are thirsty for interaction, they're thirsty for conversations, they're thirsty to connect with other people, and so those barriers have totally disappeared and I'm talking to people all around the world and the conversations people are enthusiastic, they're interested, they're curious, and this is something that I don't think would have happened pre covid. Now let's turn our sets a little bit to what you do and how you are helping people do a better job presenting. Virtually so when I do presentations, like I'm a very energetic speaker and I move around the audience and I ask questions and people. That's part of my stick, right. But how do people engage audiences digitally when you're just looking at their face? What are some of the techniques that they can use to get their audience excited, curious, interested, all the good things that happen when you present in person? So this is another one where I'm I'm coming up a little get against a paradigm wall here and I'm starting to think about this word engagement and and what is it actually mean, because traditionally engagement has been about speaker audience interaction, right. So there's some things you can do. There's some really good tools for increasing that online. Some of the things I do like I will use polls quite a bit because it's really easy to get everybody in the audience to answer a pull and I don't ask trick questions, but I answer. I asked questions. I tend to ask questions that every answer is correct, and then I ask someone who gave you know, I ask someone who said see, which maybe only ten percent of the people answered see. I say, okay, someone who said see, will you tell us why you said that, because I think that's really smart and it would be great if everyone could hear from you, and I always get someone who pipes in in those situations. So I haven't called on someone specifically, but I have gotten some audience interaction that that is more curated. So I think the key to the key to audience interaction when you're in the when you're in the online spaces, to curate it. In other words, you've got to you got to set it up more than more than when you're in person, the some of the other things you can do. So so I do simultaneous, simultaneous responses to a chat question. If you've never done that, it's super interesting. We do as you ask a chat question and then you give the audience thirty seconds to type in their answer and then everybody hits enter at the same time and there's this there's this weird everybody feels like they need to do it. So people so so people actually do it. Like I get response where it's upwards at ninety percent when I do this, and then suddenly, of as a speaker, you have this incredibly rich say you have twenty people, Thirty people, you have twenty or thirty comments. You can then build the next ten minutes of your presentation responding to the ones that that you...

...want to so so those are two tricks in the traditional engagement space. But I said, I was running into a little bit of a Paradigm Shift here, and the paradigm shift here is that what happens if engagement isn't really audience? What what happens if we made an engagient engagement not about speaker audience but about audience content, which is really what we want to engage our audience with? Right? We want our engage our audience with the content, not with us. And that shift to me. So I started just thinking about this question. I was actually thinking about this morning because you would ask me this question a couple days ago, right as we were getting ready to and I was giving this some thought. And in that case, so if I want people to better engage with the content, then I fall back two stories, because stories engage age people. And I saw back to really powerful visuals like you show. You show someone a really powerful visual that triggers an emotional response and and that engage is the person. But those are two different ways to think about engagement, I think. Okay, I've got a bunch of follow up questions. One would be of course, what would be okay from a technical perspective? Like you mentioned earlier that you would give people options a, B or c and the person who you would ask someone who answered C to respond. So is that mean that you've got they can there's an open mic, they have the ability to pipe up when they want rubally, or do you have to open up a different channel when you want that to happen? Most of my work I do with open mics or I do with a with a I can give them permission so somebody can raise their hand and then I can UN mute their mic. The other question that I had when you talked about the thirty second go and do your own thing technique. How do you feel about silence? And the reason I ask is that when I've done workshops, what I do is I'll give some good people on exercise and I'll say, okay, spend the next five minutes working on this exercise and then we'll have a group. You'll present and they will have a group discussion and people love that. They love the ability to do their own work or work with a small group and then present and learn from other techniques and get other approaches and get that feedback from other people in the room. Now, is it possible? Does it makes sense to do that online? So let's say that we're doing a presentation and we have a little worksheet that we want someone to fill out. Can we say, okay, for next five minutes, do your own thing and then we'll circle back as that. Does that work at all? I do it all the time. I do it really and so I use zoom as kind of the go to, because that's what what McGill uses and we and they have breakout rooms. So I send people. I send people with an exercise room, with a exercise to do with each other in a breakout room. I think zoom works really well with with groups of five and less. So that's kind of my cap on rooms, as I put people in rooms of five and they work. And when I do do individual exercises, I actually put everybody in their own breakout room because it's kind of weird being on zoom when everybody's quiet, but if you send everybody to their own breakout room, then it's it's the feedback I've gotten from people is less, it's less weird because then they're they're in a room by themselves working quietly and it's not like, Oh yeah, people can see me now, or people can hear me if I mistakenly put my mic on, or people. It's kind of this Oh yeah, now I can go work and then then come back and there's that moment of coming back because you shut down the...

...breakout room and everybody comes in all together. Right. The other thing that is interesting, I think working online is working with stuff like Google docs or one drive, where you have a shared document and everybody can be working on the same document at the same time. We're different parts of the same document at the same time. And then you can combine the two where you send people to a breakout room, they work in their breakout room on a document that's shared with the other breakout rooms. So you can have a conversation of four or five people going on about a shared document that forty people are working on. Yeah, because I mean, if you have a common template and everyone's filling it out, then that would work, but you're suggesting that it would only work in small groups, as opposed to having fifty people completing an exercise on zoom. Fifty people can be completing an exercise, but fifty people can't be in the same room talking about it. One more question I want to ask you about this whole concept of engagement is that how do you keep people on point when they're at home and it's easy to be multitasking, checking their emails, surfing the web, doing work, all the things that they probably shouldn't do, because the reason they are at a virtual event is to attend the virtual right. Are there any tools, techniques, anything that you can do to make sure that people don't do that? Or is that come down to the quality of the content? I think it comes down to the quality of the content, the quality of the presenter, and there's and there's one trick you can do. So the quality of the could there's a little bit of an online shift with the quality of the presenter. The quality of the presenter online is all about voice. There's so little video with most of the presentations because most of the presentation work there's a visual support. Right. So you're looking at something like powerpoint, is different if you're doing a Ted talk, where the primary visual is is the person. But as soon as the primary person is the is the visual being shared, not the person, then it's all about voice and and the biggest mistake people make presenting online is they're sitting in their chair at their desk and it's just a disaster. It's like you'd never be sitting in a chair giving a talk. Why are you sitting in a chair when you're when you're presenting? It's stupid. So what should you do instead? Stand up. I'm standing right now. We're our voice is better when we when we're standing and when we're gesturing. So even though I'm not on camera, I'm still gesturing, I'm walking around, I'm standing up. I like to have two different I have two different places because I do a lot of presenting, because all my all my teaching is online and all my teaching is presenting or workshops. So I actually have one corner of the room where I have a bureau that's like one of those six drawer bureau, so it's really high. It's chest height. I've a set up there for presenting with a green screen. It doesn't take up hardly any room because the green screens only a foot behind me and I'm standing right next to the bureau. And then on the other side of the room I have my desk. I work from my desk, but when I go to present, I go stand up and I'm in a different place in psychologically, it's like going to work. Right, if you were going to a conference to present, or if you were going to an auditorium to present, you'd enter the auditorium. I have a little hole in the green screen at the end and I enter the presentation space. So I have a I have that mental switch that people aren't doing because they're sitting at their desk presenting from their desk. Yeah, I love the idea of gesturing by yourself in a room because it feels like, I don't know, it feels like, I know, singing at the top of your lungs in the shower, right, because you feel like you're performant but no one can know when I can see it is if seems kind of weird, but I guess in time you get used to it. And in the and if you think about the virtual reality space, which is kind of what we're playing in right, there's this there's a concept of immersion that happens right. That's what you need to do for your audience.

You need to do the immersion piece for your audience so your audience feels like they're there in the room with you, even though it's on screen and that comes from voice, it comes from gestures, it comes it comes from all the same things that happen. So so the people are good at presenting in person are good at presenting online, as long as they shift, as long as they do what they would be doing in person, right, so as they channel that in person presenter, even though there's no one there and it feels a little silly, like you're like, I'm like gesture and at by wall. Okay, one final question, and this is probably a loaded question, is what are some of the mistakes that speakers make virtually and how can people prepare themselves properly before they make a virtual presentation? So one is to stand up sitting sitting down to big mistake. There's another. There's another inline in person shift. That's a that's a technical one, and that is thinking that our power point, where are visuals that were sharing, are doing the same thing in the two spaces, and they're not. They're very different. So there's some there's some science to suggest we only look at a still image for somewhere between seven and fifteen seconds before we move on. So if you're talking about keeping people on the image, you're sharing rather than going to their email right, which is also on their computer screen. That image needs to evolve a free seven to ten seconds. There needs to be some sort of visual movement. Doesn't need to be much, but it needs to be a little bit. So right. So we do this exercise. I do this exercise with people called activate your powerpoint. If you're working in powerpoint or whatever visual you're working in, and it's just simply making it active. So you animate it so so and one idea comes in at a time instead of all the ideas coming in. You use morphing so that if you have four or five ideas, the idea that you're talking about gets bigger and you talk about it and then it gets smaller and then the next one gets bigger. In person you don't want to do this because in person, if your powerpoint slides, like our little lizard brain right when we're in person and there's movement in our peripheral vision, we want to look at it. So when our when our power points active and we're in person, people aren't looking at the presenter. They're constantly being distracted by the slide. But online you're not really there. You're really just there. Vocally and there's and there's good research that's actually pretty old because it's about online courses. And if you, if you've taken some online courses, you notice that the presenters there in the beginning and then the presenter disappears and only comes back every once in a while. And it's because when people did the eye tracking of what people were looking at with online courses, they they weren't look looking at the presenter after the first minute or so, they were looking at the material being presented. And the same thing if you look at online courses in the way those visuals are developed. Those are very active power points or whatever else is being delivered, but but subtly, so, not like crazy, you know, things flying in and flying out. We're not trying to make it obnoxious, we're just trying to to take care of the little lizard brain that needs, needs to see movement or need this is but not be stuck on stillness. Well, Andrew, this has been great insight and, to be honest with you, I feel like I got a free consulting session on how to be a better, better virtual speaker. I do a lot of it these days and you're right, there is there is a difference between doing it in person and virtually and I have tried some different approaches, but some of the things you said, particularly around standing up and changing your slides on a regular basis, really resonated and I...

...think that's great advice for anybody who is virtually doing virtual presentations or thinking about it. So where can people find out about you and learn more about what you do and and how do you work with people that are looking to improve their presentation skills, both in person and virtually? So the easiest place to find my presences on Linkedin. That's kind of where I where my own business profile has become. So work, work beyond mcguill. I have a I have a business that I've started. It's called Home Communications. So Hone Communications Dot Sea is the is the website, but I'm and I have a blog there. But the but the linkedin activity is is more active than the web blog. And then I have some youtube. I have a youtube channel that's also home communications, where some of this, some of the things that we've been talking about are on there. And every once a while I do like a you know, I've a two minute tutorial on like activated in your power point and that's on and and I'll post those on youtube. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe itunes or your favorite podcast APP. For show notes of today's conversation and information about Andrew, visit marketing spark dot Col blog now. If you have questions, feedback, would like to suggest a guest or want to learn more about how I help me to be companies as a fractional CMO consultant and advisor, send an email to mark and marketing spark dot call. I'll talk to you next time.

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