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I was recently invited to give a seminar talk at another institution. Ordinarily I would have travelled there for the day and given my talk in person. However, due to the travel restrictions imposed by the UK government in the wake of the coronavirus, I will instead be giving my talk via video conferencing.

I had already prepared some slides for this talk, and have given variations of the talk before. I tend to prefer a lighthearted style of presentation, and have a couple of humorous slides. I'm concerned that this style will not work well with a virtual seminar, as the audience feedback will be non-existent if everyone has their microphones muted and cameras switched off. I'm also not sure if I should change the layout of my slides in any way, to reflect the fact that people will be looking at them up close on their small laptop screens rather than from a distance in a lecture theatre being projected on to a large screen.

My question is this: how can I best adapt my talk in this situation? I'd appreciate answers that address dealing with the lack of audience feedback and interaction, as well as practical points regarding slide layout and so on.

  • Surely something here: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4680/72855 – Solar Mike Mar 26 at 11:29
  • I feel like it's quite reasonable to ask to leave videos on for this very reason; I've had a lot of people ask people who have good connections to leave their videos on so they aren't talking to a sea of names – Azor Ahai -- he him Mar 26 at 15:14
  • I hope you haven't any anyway, but I suggest you to remove any slide transition/effect. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 26 at 15:15
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There is nothing more boring that watching static slide after static slide while listening to someone who you can't see. If at all possible, come up with a system where for the most part, people see you via video chat, and if you have something that absolutely needs a slide -- a picture, a formula -- switch to screen sharing.

This kind of system requires you to think carefully about what actually needs to be on a slide. Minimize the amount of text, maybe to zero on many of the slides you would ordinarily have (and then skip those), so that your audience doesn't actually need the slides. This way they also get to pay attention to you.

All of this is of course good practice anyway: Packed slides often lead to people reading ahead of what you have to say and not paying attention to what you actually say. The best talks are those with minimal text that serves to abstract and highlight what you say, but not distract. This is your chance to practice this!

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  • I would find constantly switching between faces and screensharing very distracting. Most software allows for a small video while screensharing, in my experience. – Azor Ahai -- he him Mar 26 at 15:13
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To avoid the problem of people just reading your slides and ignoring you, you might try to use a system that lets you overlay text on a live video stream. If you organize it properly the text will supplement what you say rather than interfering with it. To do this effectively the text needs to be pretty sparse. But that is usually a good solution in any case. I assume that some, at least, of the available tools will let you overlay things other than text; graphics, for example.

A separate feedback channel, voice or text, would also be good to arrange, perhaps something like a group chat room.

I've never done this and don't know what software would be best for it, though I know such things exist. An internet search for "text overlay on live video" will turn up some solutions.

For recorded video there are more options in which you can overlay text during post production.

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