Virtual Presentation Skills: Why Timing Matters

One of the most important skills to have when running a remote presentation is the ability to get your timing right so you keep people engaged. People may show up with the intention to pay attention, but there are just too many temptations when working from home. We’re texting, emailing, cooking…you name it. If our camera’s off, we’re off the hook. But don’t let that be an excuse to give a meh presentation. Here’s how timing plays a role in getting and keeping attention virtually.

All those little clicks add up.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a moderator helping you with the tech side of your presentation, you are now your own AV department. That means you have to know the platform you’re using inside and out.

The other day I gave a webinar, and I thought I was golden. I had rehearsed for hours. My script was tight. My slides were beautiful. But the last time I used that platform I had a moderator who was helping me manage the participants. That one was a big webinar, 1300 people, so I thought this time with only 35 I could handle it by myself. You know where this is going.


When people started logging in I pushed the “allow to talk” button for a few people because I wanted to get their voices in the room as soon as possible. But one of the participants didn’t realize she had been unmuted, and all of a sudden you could hear her throwing expletives at her husband. She was upset. I was embarrassed.

Eventually I managed to find her mute button and moved on to give a great presentation, but I knew I was working to override that less than successful first impression for the first 10 minutes or so of my talk.

It can be completely nerve-wracking to keep your flow in the face of all the things you have to do when presenting online. All the little clicks add up: share screen, open chat, allow to talk, mute, unmute. Don’t let managing participants trip up the flow of your presentation. You’re better than that.

I recommend you commit to working out all the tech management ahead of time by practicing your presentation with friends or family and recording it. That way you’ll give your attendees the luxury of experiencing the magic of your presentation without any tech glitches. Recording a test run like this will also give you an opportunity to see if you’re making enough “eye contact” with the lens too. More on that in another article I wrote on the topic here.

With the tech handled, you can then focus on using timing as a tool to help your audience digest your content. Here’s how to do that.

Scaffold understanding.

One of the things I teach in my presentation skills bootcamp is how to use animations to reveal content to scaffold understanding. This is a teaching concept that says people learn best when they are given content in digestible chunks so they can slowly build their understanding of a concept. This is the way we learn anything. Take language for example.

At three years old our parents don’t hand us a page in a dictionary and expect us to get it. They help us build up understanding by teaching us bite-sized concepts using the world around us as we go. They reveal concepts over time by drawing our attention to them. It’s the same when you are presenting.

As a presenter, you are essentially a performer, a leader, a teacher, and a guide. It’s your job to take people on a journey of understanding by revealing the path little by little. That means you need to know when to reveal slides, animate words, and pause in your content to concept check. Are they getting it?

use animations

I recommend building your slide deck as if you were presenting a concept for the first time to a smart sixth grader. There are very few instances when everyone you’re presenting to is on the same level in their understanding of the concept as you are (that’s why you’re presenting it after all). So don’t assume anything. If a smart sixth grader wouldn’t get it, your audience won’t either. Scaffold understanding and reveal bits of content as you go.

Don’t forget to hit your notes.

Another way timing aids in mastery when giving presentations is in matching your visuals to your words. This may seem obvious, but we’ve all experienced presentations where the speaker stays on one slide for far too long. Not only is it visually uninteresting, but after awhile, you’re not sure what that image has to do with what they’re saying anymore. It’s not helping them tell the story.

Slides matter so much more in virtual presentations because they dominate the screen. They have to be beautiful, and you have to advance them faster to keep people engaged. And what’s the point of creating all these beautiful slides if your timing is off?

Timing is just as important in presenting as it is in comedy. Advancing your slides in time with what you’re saying is like delivering a joke: there’s a set up and there’s a punchline. If the timing is off, you “won’t get the laugh” so to speak. You’ve got to reveal your content at the right pace to keep your audience on the edge of their seats.

A trick that I use is to put my presentation script into a two-column table with the slide image on the left and the script on the right. That way I can make sure I’m advancing the slide to match the words it corresponds to. You can achieve epic transitions by using this technique. That’s right, epic.

Presentations should never be boring.

Presentations should never be boring.

One of the participants in my presentation bootcamp wanted to use the course to create and get feedback on a presentation she was putting together for work. She had to present the results of an employee engagement survey (sounds like snores-ville, I know, but give her a chance).

Through the course she learned the basics of storytelling, how to structure content, and of course, how to hit your notes in your delivery. What she delivered was engaging and memorable. She drew us in, she made meaning from the data, and she even made us laugh. You could tell she was having fun, and that enthusiasm translated to confidence. She went from dreading that presentation to looking forward to giving it.

Giving any presentation can be anxiety-inducing, but it doesn’t have to be. When you learn the tricks of timing that help keep the audience engaged, you’ll be able to relax into your delivery and focus on connecting with everyone on the other side of the camera.

If you struggle with virtual presentations or just want to master this skill set so you can be more visible as a leader, register for my Virtual Presentation Skills Bootcamp and slay your next presentation.