We may feel we’ve come out the other side of a global pandemic and hope life will return to “normal,” but it seems that some things will stay the same in the AEC industry. Our clients have now embraced virtual meetings and presentations, and they have become the norm. What have we learned about adapting to virtual presentations or at least a hybrid option for interviews? Many of the presentation skills and best practices for in-person interviews also apply to virtual presentations; however, it is important to adjust part of our approach to close the deal. 


Here are 15 expert tips to set you up for success in your next virtual AEC presentation:


  1. Engage with the camera, not the screen: This may sound simple, but it is much more difficult than it seems. Throughout the entire presentation, look directly into your computer’s camera, not at the screen or at other participants. This is the most important suggestion and takes some practice. When done correctly, this eye contact makes the viewer feel as if you are looking right at them. Some presenters turn off their self-view so they aren’t distracted by their own image. 

  2. Standing up to show respect. In an in-person presentation you would stand. A virtual environment is no different. Be creative. Set your laptop on a counter, stack some books, whatever it takes to emulate a standup presentation. If possible, use a standing desk or position your laptop so you can stand at mouth level with your computer. It is easier to achieve a higher level of energy and engagement when you are standing. If you must sit, lean forward as you would if you were presenting at a real meeting. Avoid leaning away from the camera so you don’t appear disconnected from the audience. 

  3. Put the camera at mouth height. Try not to have your camera too far above or below you. In film, producers shoot from below to make the actor look powerful and engaging. If it’s too low, then you run the risk of creating a double chin and diminishing the subject. Setting your camera at the height of your mouth is a subtle way of positioning you as a slightly taller partner to the selection committee. Remember you are always “on camera,” so pay attention. Powerful presenters create eye contact throughout the entire presentation. 

  4. Lights, camera, action!: Lighting can make or break your connection with the AEC selection committee. Make sure you have good front light—ideally shining above and slightly off to one side, emulating the sun. If windows are behind you, it may create a silhouette and place you in the dark. Instead, draw the blinds or sit in a windowless room and use a table lamp to cast a soft glow. While natural light is often the best choice, consider purchasing supplemental lighting to enhance your on-screen image.

  5. Choose your background wisely: Creating synergy with other team members that are presenting from various locations is difficult. Consider coordinating similar background environments. This simple attention to detail can make people look like a team. Try to use a background that enhances your professional image and is aligned with your company brand. Make the background interesting and clean. Avoid a cluttered background or anything that can be distracting. If necessary, remove items on the wall or bookshelf behind you so it appears professional and orderly. 

  6. Know your “props”: Doesn’t it seem like something always goes wrong with technology during in-person presentations? Virtual presentations are no different. Nothing kills the chemistry than a presenter struggling with technology. Practicing is essential and helps to rehearse various scenarios of troubleshooting. Having a non-presenter assist your team with the technology so that you can focus on making a connection during your presentation is vital. Make sure you practice with the same technical set up (computer and internet connection) that you will use when you deliver the presentation.

  7. Get Close (But Not Too Close). You want the camera to frame your face, neck, and shoulders. Standing also allows you to move around a little bit so that you can be more animated. If you level your camera, you can create noticeable effects by backing up, leaning in, or shifting the angle of your shoulders to define the 3D space and change intensity. Viewers want to see your face so you don’t want to lose that connection by being too far away. Practice and choreograph your positioning and distance. 

  8. Be Animated: A presentation is your chance to create chemistry with your audience. Just like in a live presentation, you want to present with energy and animation. Stay attentive and connected by maintaining eye contact with the camera lens, even when others are talking. Be attentive with your body language as well. If your voice is too slow or too monotone it’s easy for your audience to disengage and tune out. Keeping your audience engaged virtually requires you to actually be engaging.

  9. Pace Yourself: Being animated does not mean talking fast. It’s difficult in a virtual environment to get feedback cues. If you tend to be a fast talker in real life, practice slowing down just a bit. If you’re a slow talker, you may want to speed up just a bit.

  10. Do a sound check:  Make sure your sound emits clearly. Sometimes headphones or external microphones work better than the computer audio, sometimes not. Every platform is different, so make sure your sound quality is excellent every time. And again, you should practice with the same technical configurations and location that you will use for your presentation.

  11. Get connected: You can prepare for every scenario, but if your internet connection is weak your efforts will fail. If possible, plug your computer directly into your modem using an Ethernet cable. This will give you the strongest signal and most stable internet connection. In the event another presenter has technical issues, have the team practice taking that speaker’s narrative and present without skipping a beat. This enables the speaker to with technical difficulties to reconnect without distraction and join in again when appropriate.

  12. Start off on the right “view”:  It’s hard to know that you can’t control the presentation environment in a virtual setting like you can in a physical setting. Take control of the virtual environment by setting the stage correctly. Ask the selection committee to set their viewing options in one of the following ways: 

    • In “gallery” mode, you can see multiple video windows at once, which is good for showing team synergy. The downside? This mode shrinks in size as you add participants, and sometimes creates multiple screens of postage-stamp-sized video windows. 

    • Presenter mode is the most effective way to capture the presenter’s presence, but most software does not allow you to control what the viewer sees. Ask the audience to set their viewing options to the presenter mode. 

    • Split-screen mode (displaying a PowerPoint image and speaker), most applications favor the slides, putting the speaker in a small window. This effectively reverses the proportional emphasis to 75% slides and 25% human presenter. 

    • A mixture of all of the above can be a good solution to keep your presentation engaging. Most virtual interviews still use a slide deck and split screen, accepting that the impact is compromised. Consider: 

      1. Presenter mode for initial introductions, opens, closes, and possibly “Why Choose Us?” stories. 

      2. Split-screen mode for main presentation body sections. 

      3. Gallery mode for Q&A presentation movements. 

  13. Always have a back-up: Consider sending your presentation to a member of the selection committee ahead of time. If you have technical difficulties, you can always present by calling in. If you are using slides, make them visually appealing. Use high-quality graphics and limit the amount of text on each slide. It’s your job as presenter to deliver the content. The slides are meant to enhance your spoken words, not replace them. 

  14. Watch a re-run: Public speaking takes practice. The best way to make sure you are aware of your speaking abilities is to watch yourself. Record a practice session. Take time to review and look for areas that worked well and areas that you might want to improve upon. Great presenters, whether virtual or in person, understand the value of continually honing their craft. Be sure to acknowledge your strengths as well as areas of improvement.

  15. Be Yourself and Have Fun: Audiences connect to authenticity, so be yourself! Let your personality show through. Have fun. If you look like you’re enjoying the presentation so will others. Research shows that happy people retain information better than bored or disinterested people, so model the energy you want to create. The audience takes its cue from you.

Remember, whether you are presenting in-person or virtually, all presentations are performances. You must find ways to create authentic audience connection, engagement, and value.

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About The Author

Keri Hammond, FSMPS, CPSM

Keri is a long-standing trailblazer in the Utah AEC industry. Clients appreciate her ability to get things done – they know she does whatever it takes, with integrity, to help them build their business. Keri is known for her leadership and diplomacy; she motivates others with positivity, trust, and unwavering support.

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