Three top tips for presenting your engineering ideas in online meetings

Young woman wearing wireless headset video calling on laptop

By Tony Malkovic 

Everyone in business knows how to use online meeting software, such as Zoom, Teams, and Webex. 

But it’s obvious not everyone knows how to do it well. 

You see and hear it all the time: poor audio, bad lighting, fuzzy thinking/hard-to-follow presentations, no eye contact, distracting shadows and mannerisms, and those odd shots where the camera points up to show the fluoro ceiling lights and air-conditioning vents. 

Which is a pity, because many people haven’t realised their video meeting skills can help them win business — or lose it.  

You need to remember that you’re on show to your peers, your boss and your clients. 

As a former television news and current affairs producer, I’ve spent years helping people look, sound and come across more professionally on TV. 

A lot of the skills are straightforward: lights, sound, speaking rate, eye lines, etc., can be improved relatively easily.  

But in my work with engineers and other people in business and government, there are three more subtle skills you need to nail. 

1. First impressions 

The first is the ability to present on camera in a friendly, authoritative way that wins the confidence of your audience from the get go. 

As the saying goes: "you only get one chance to make a good first impression" — and you won’t get much time to do it. 

‘I tend to make up my mind about people within 30 seconds of meeting them.’ Richard Branson

The same applies in the Zoom era, where people will either tune or tune out to what you’re saying quicker than the length of a TikTok video. 

The knack is to build your online video techniques so you come across as a credible communicator, so you can pitch your proposals and persuade people your ideas are better than other options on the table. 

2. Know how to use your software seamlessly 

A second skill needed is the ability to seamlessly work with your presentation software (such as PowerPoint) so you don’t fumble your transitions, making your audience wait interminably through extended pauses where nothing’s happening, while you awkwardly apologise or ad-lib. 

Those glitches can be relatively easy to address, once someone shows you what to watch out for. 

3. Pitch and sell your ideas in simple, easy to understand ways 

But what takes more thought and some effort is the ability to avoid coming across as confused and confusing. 

Overcoming that involves good storytelling techniques, structuring the way you present information online to your colleagues and clients, and knowing how to best match your words with pictures, which is the ultimate video skill. 

Most important of all is the ability to distil sometimes complex details or ideas, so your colleagues and clients can understand them in one go, and have the confidence in you to trust (and do business with) you. 

That’s not a software or technical or engineering skill.  

Rather, it’s the ability to present your ideas and tell complex engineering stories clearly and concisely. 

More importantly, it’s the very subtle skill of coming across on video as informed, authoritative and trustworthy. 

Which is what we focus on in the online course Pitching and Presenting in Online Meetings.  

Tony Malkovic is a former TV news/current affairs producer and long-time writer on engineering topics. He's also the facilitator for the upcoming Pitching and Presenting in Online Meetings course for Engineering Education Australia. The next course is on 8 November, more details here.