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Responses to request for distance learning tips

Diane DiResta

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I asked about presentation tips when giving video conferences/distance learning. Here are the responses:

-- Michael Hudson

For the past three years I have been actively using distance learning technology for both video conferencing and for the delivery of training programs....both as the presenter and as the program coordinator.....here are a few tips based on that experience:

  • Plan the program thoroughly. The down time that is easily covered in a face-to-face session is awkward and will appear unprofessional when viewed by others who are not in the room with you. Developing a clear schedule for what is to happen when and for switching between locations for presentation segments in a program is critical.
  • Rehearse before going live. We often found that a rehearsal one or two days prior to the program, especially if it involved people unfamiliar with the technology, made a major difference in the outcome.
  • Tape everything. The technology makes it easy to tape the program and many who cannot attend will request a tape since they will assume that the program was taped.
  • Use name tents with HUGE letters at remote sites. The "live" element that is missing the most in distance learning and video conferencing is interaction between the presenter and people in remote locations. There is often a tendency to keep the cameras at a distance so the presenter can see the entire room, but this ensures that they really see no one.....If name tents are developed with letters that are sufficiently large, the presenter can personally interact with people at the remote sites, thereby enhancing the impact of the program for the "studio" audience as well as those at other locations.
  • Pre-test sound levels. Be sure to check all microphones and sound levels from all locations where people will be speaking....a great program that includes dialogue with other sites will fall flat if the questions or responses cannot be heard from certain microphones.
  • Use quality visuals. It is easy to link PowerPoint visuals or video clips in with such meetings and trainings....take advantage of this to deliver a powerful presentation!
  • Provide handouts at all locations. One of the most frustrating things encountered in such programs is when people in remote locations do not have the same handout materials that those in the studio have.....and they seem less willing to accept an "I will get it to you later" apology from the presenter. Plan ahead and be able to fulfill for those who are in attendance.
  • Require preregistration. It is important to set the rooms for the number of people who will be there, thus preregistration is crucial.
  • Identify a site moderator. Make sure that each site has someone (who participated in the rehearsal) on hand with the schedule to keep things on track at that site......and to let people know what to do in the even the technology goes down during the program -- which requires a contingency plan that can be launched simultaneously by people in different places at the same time. Site moderators should be connected via cell phone to ensure program flow in the event of technical disruption.
  • Provide question sheets for participants. If you want interaction from the audience with the presenter, guide it by providing question sheets for them to write down their questions prior to asking them....the moderator can collect them and fax them if you want, or you can have the participants read them...which will go more smoothly since they are written out.
  • Prepare for reluctant participants. Some people will not like the idea of being seen onscreen during the meeting or training....provide areas where they can sit and be present, but not feel like they are in the spotlight...a bit of preplanning to let them know what to expect helps here.
  • Obtain releases from everyone for the video-tape. If you plan to use the tape, you need to have the permission of those in the audience.
  • Get the best technicians you can and work with them. Technicians are critical to an effective program....moving cameras in on those who are speaking, monitoring audio levels, scripting in titles, etc....producing the event....learn from their experiences and recognize the limitations of the system that they tell you about.....it is better for the presenters and participants to know what is going to be feasible before the day of the event!

-- Tom Antion

Television & Videotape Tips

  • Gestures should be smaller.
  • Make sure clothing is "broken in" and comfortable when you are sitting and standing.
  • Prior to your performance, have instant photos or video taken of you while sitting and standing. Make sure your clothes look good in both positions.
  • Find out the background color of the set if possible. You don't want your clothing to blend in and make you invisible.
  • Ask the producer for wardrobe color suggestions.
  • Do not wear any clothing with tight patterns or pin stripes. This causes an optical illusion called a moire pattern which makes you look bad.
  • Avoid clothing with large patterns or geometric shapes. The audience will watch your clothes instead of you.
  • Avoid wearing black, white, or red on television or video. Even the best of cameras have trouble with these colors.
  • Avoid flashy jewelry. It reflects light.
  • Avoid jangly jewelry. It reflects light and makes noise that will be picked up by your microphone (this applies whether you are on TV or not).
  • Wear your eyeglasses if you want, but avoid shiny frames.
  • SUPER TRICK: Tip the bows of your eyeglasses up slightly off your ears. This angles the lenses down to reduce glare from lights.
  • Wear makeup. It has the practical purpose of reducing the glare of TV lights. Apply it to all exposed body parts, like backs of hands, arms, neck, etc.
  • Apply cover-up below eyes to mask bags and/or wrinkles.
  • Good studios are kept cool to negate the effect of the hot TV lights. You may freeze for a while until the lights are turned on, then you may burn up. Dress for the heat, but bring a jacket or extra cover-up to be used while you are waiting to go on.
  • Bring a handkerchief or tissues to dab perspiration during breaks.
  • Don't second guess the camera. Act as if you are always on screen.
  • Make sure your makeup, wardrobe, and hair are consistent with your message.


  • Wear knee-length socks.
  • Always keep double breasted jackets buttoned (unless you are specifically trying to look cool.
  • Single breasted jackets can be opened, but not too wide.
  • I SAY AGAIN Wear Makeup. TV lights can penetrate several layers of skin. You can't possibly shave close enough to prevent whiskers from showing without makeup.
  • Don't forget makeup on receding hairlines or bald heads.
  • Trick: Run the thin part of your tie through the loop in the back of the main part of your tie then clip the thin part to your shirt below the loop. This will keep your tie perfectly centered without the tie clip showing.


  • Don't wear vivid red lipstick or lip gloss. Stick to softer tones and dab lips with a little powder.
  • Consider dress shields if you perspire easily.
  • Make sure your hair will stay where you want it. You don't want to be fooling with it while on the air.
  • Make sure a lavaliere or lapel microphone and transmitter can be attached to your clothing.


  • If possible prior to the videoconference, send remote location participants handouts, copies of agenda, and copies of visuals.
  • Try to get someone else to operate the camera and other equipment. Have them shoot close up if possible. With more than one presenter, if you leave the camera on wide angle, the viewers will have trouble picking out who is talking.
  • Periodically ask for feedback from the remote sites. Your chances for misunderstanding multiply when communicating electronically.
  • Remember: assume you are always on camera. Use the mute button for your microphone if you must converse off the main program.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions