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How to Give a Virtual Talk (and How Not To)

This week, I had another quarantine first: waking up in the middle of the night to give a virtual talk to a Hong Kong-based trade show.

The talk was on behalf of Outernets, my client that powers omnichannel, data-driven experiences in the physical world, at the Connected Retail Experiences conference within the Start Me Up HK Festival.

As I wrapped my talk at 5:30am Eastern time and IMed with visitors at the virtual exhibition booth, I jotted down some tips that may be helpful for you. Given that the talk was unabashedly an exhibitor presentation for Outernets, these tips apply to both thought leadership-driven sessions and pitches.

Here’s what you should remember:

Rehearse the talk all the way through. This applies to any presentation, but for this kind of talk, rehearse in a room where there’s no one reacting to you. Often, for talks, you want to practice in front of other people. For a virtual talk, assume the worst – that you’ll have no idea if anyone’s in the room, what kinds of people are there, and if there’s Q&A. With an in-person audience, if it’s a dead crowd, you have a chance to rouse them and turn around the talk. With no audience reacting, you’re just praying the whole time that anyone cares.

Talk less. Smile more. What, you think I can avoid Hamilton references right now? It’s not so much about talking less at it is slowing down your speech enough so that people can capture every word. They might not have cues like seeing your face; even if you’re on video, you might be in a tiny box in the corner that’s enough to let people know you’re there but not enough for anyone to really see you. And smile. Have a tech glitch? Smile. Forgot what you meant to say on a slide? Smile. Fielding a question over Q&A that you’d rather not answer? Smile. It’s the easiest way to pep yourself up and give the audience a way to relate to you.

Don’t play video clips. If you’ve ever had to watch a video on Zoom, the frame rate is often worse than thumbing through a flipbook. If you want to show something with motion, turn video clips into GIFs. You can do this with Giphy or other tools.

Show examples early. Have a visual – some kind of demo, example, or simple framework – that you can reference throughout the talk. Use it as an anchor. It’s great to get into big ideas about how you’re changing the world, but attendees will need to grasp what you’re talking about. If you want further proof of what to prioritize, follow the Q&A sessions at virtual events. Questions are usually very practical and tactical. That’s good. It means they get what you do and want to know how it applies to their business. It’s not as fun as talking about your vision for humanity, but you know what’s fun? Solving people’s problems and getting leads.

Encourage Q&A. If there’s any kind of chat, it’s more fun to take a break from your slides and riff on what people are asking. Make this time theirs. I’m a fan of the reasoning that when one person shares a question, a lot of others are wondering something similar. As a bonus, it shows you can think on your feet. That fuels a dopamine rush as your confidence rises, and it will make your talk better. During this talk, I got so into Q&A that I didn’t get to half my slides. That’s okay. See the next point.

No one ever said, “I wish there were more slides.” No one. It’s like George Carlin’s “Things You Never Hear” bit. One of Carlin’s tamer lines in this genre: “Dad, you really ought to drink more.” People just don’t say it. Ever. I bring this up whenever I can – not the Carlin bit, but the principle. If you’re ever debating leaving a slide in, just toss it. If you just watched or rewatched Hamilton, did you think, “Great show, but I wish it was 10 minutes longer”? No. And you and I are not Lin-Manuel Miranda.

End on time. This relates to the “peak-end rule” from psychologists Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman. For any experience, people tend not to remember the whole thing but rather the most salient moment and then how it ended. You know what’s a great way to have conference organizers invite you back? End on time. It may be the only thing the organizers remember, and they will love you for it.

Are those useful?

Let me know if any tips resonate.

Let me know if you have any tips of your own.

Let me know if you want the Outernets slides from the talk, or if you’re working on anything involving omnichannel marketing. I’d love to learn more and compare notes.

And let me know, as always, what you’re making of yourself.



William Alvarez and Jason Berkowitz launched the #seo channel in Serial Marketers and recorded a video where the two answer members’ questions. There are tons of great search engine optimization tips in here.

Several young descendants of Frederick Douglass read some of the abolitionist’s speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” The storytelling is striking — the words themselves, the descendants who bare some resemblance to him, and certain kids who may develop into powerful orators themselves. Also, the sense of optimism from despair is as relevant now as it was in 1852 when Douglass delivered the message. On Twitter, you see a lot of the comments that say, “If you have problems with this country, leave!” But even Douglass, an escaped slave, was able to answer that he believed in the promise of the country, and he was here to bring the nation’s practices closer to the ideals it was founded on.

I don’t know how Matt does it with this newsletter, but if you want to understand macroeconomic trends and also specific updates from tech and media companies, you need to read this. Like, now.
-Latest edition: https://mailchi.mp/885365a74229/msg-what-i-saw-happen-q2-2020?e=686c4d01f1
-Subscribe: https://www.WhatISawHappen.com

Ruth Stevens interviewed sales and marketing exec Roger McDonald in this piece that explores where both functions are heading for B2B businesses.

Kerel Cooper of LiveIntent, who will soon be a guest on the Salon, shared a couple of recent episodes from their Real Time Banter series.
-New York Times Sr. Director of Revenue Analytics and Operations at The New York Times on phasing out third-party ad data
-Bombas CMO Kate Huyett on understanding your audience





  • Ally.wiki master guide to resources
  • Coursera: learn about race, inequality, and social justice

Speaking of sharing… 
We now have a referral rewards hub to check your progress on earning rewards, and there are two new rewards for frequent sharers. Visit https://referralhub.page/serialmarketer to see how you’re doing.


Please send over any events you’re hosting or attending, and I’ll add them to the list. All events below are virtual, and all times are EDT, unless otherwise specified.

July 8, 4pm
Join the virtual 1:1 rapid-fire speed-meeting event to connect with fellow Serial Marketers, hosted by the Upstream app. It’s iOS only, for now (iPhone or Android). If you can’t make the event itself but want to try it, join the group.
Event: https://link.upstreamapp.com/7Xcb83LoD7
Group: https://link.upstreamapp.com/4fU7kYYO26

Tuesdays, 3pm
We have an incredible lineup:
7/14: Secret Financial Lives with Ben Zeidler and Gunny Scarfo, founders of Nonfiction Research
7/21: Marketing the American Dream with Roya Hakakian, author of the upcoming A Beginner’s Guide to America
7/28: Turning Analytics into Intelligence with John Thompson of CSL Behring and author of the upcoming Packt
Request access to RSVP: 

August 6, 6pm
First Wednesday is back! We have dozens of great people RSVPing for this fun NYC tradition that is now open to anyone virtually. Len Bilello might even by you a drink.

August 27
From my friends at Crowdsourcing Week: “The Virtual Crowd Summit, a 1-day online web conference covers actionable related topics in crowdfunding that are increasingly rewriting the rules in every sector now more than ever.”

September 10, September 17
This group is amazing. Check them out. “We have a trust problem in the marketing and advertising industry. Over the past 15 years, as new distribution mechanisms like social, disciplines like content marketing, or initiatives like diversity and inclusion emerged, we silo’d. We continue to silo, not integrate–while we watch the world innovate. This compromises brand experience, and, in turn, threatens brand trust. Big Yellow Think Tank seeks to advance collaboration across brand experience. By leveraging this abrupt shift in the world, we will reimagine the way we work and serve brands. Big Yellow Think Tank is ready to set a new standard and we need your voice. Our first initiative? A virtual hackfest.”

Events for May and June include conversations between Jack Myers and luminaries such as Ford’s Lisa Schoder and Jim Motavalli, Madison Avenue Manslaughter author Michael Farmer, and LUMA’s Mr. Lumascape Terry Kawaja.

Wednesdays, 2pm
Zeitguide’s Brad Grossman continues his weekly culture classes this week as the start of his 10-week summer semester. He always runs through the need-to-know cultural developments of the week, and features an expert guest each week.

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