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Paula Wallace’s Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism — Part One: Speak!

We miss the handshakes and hugs of in-person presentations, yet we revel in the newfound control we have over our messages and spaces.

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Months ago, back when we packed auditoriums and spoke from stages, I unveiled a paradigm-shifting forum, a launchpad for tomorrow’s thought leaders called SCADamp, SCAD’s professional communication studio. SCADamp debuted to empower students to speak, visualize, and connect with audiences. Suddenly, though, seats emptied. We traded amphitheaters for home offices. Proximity faded in the distance. Yet, SCAD stood ready—transformed digitally, dynamically. Today, we continue to ensure that our students excel through unmatched professional preparation and elite communication coaching—exclusive SCADamp advantages, thoughtfully designed and personally tailored for virtual landscapes.

As we’ve converted bedrooms into boardrooms, we’ve breathed new life into sleepy nooks. And while work-from-home will endure, we are energized by this truth: never before have we, as public speakers, professional presenters, and thought leaders, had as much control over the shape of our message—in its spoken form, graphic display, and emotional tenor. These engagement elements (read: speak, visualize, connect) are a professional’s power skills, the tools, tech, and techniques we engage to welcome, woo, and wow. About a month ago, I offered my pro tips that elevate a speaker’s ability to pitch, perform, and persuade in the knowledge economy. Now, I share Part One of my supercharged sequel: Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism. Enjoy, and let’s Zoom!

Prepare. Details, details, details! Prioritize preparation. Practice powerfully. And master the tech—learn to set up and position your mic and adjust your levels. For Zoom presentations, practice (using, you guessed it, Zoom) and find a friend to listen with an attuned ear. Ask for feedback. Then, return the favor: joint rehearsals improve everyone’s performance.

Abbreviate. Shorter is sweeter. Keep it under 10 minutes (as the experts at TED advise). Time rehearsals like runners track laps: beat your personal best. Curate compelling content; eliminate empty calories. (Yes, I intentionally shortened this tip.)

Narrate. Remember: on Zoom, you are literally a talking head, yet there is an antidote—the story. A recent study showed that chemicals in our brains (responsive to feelings of trust and acts of kindness) reach greater synthesis when we hear stories. The effect: listeners are more likely to connect, empathize, and commit to a presenter’s platform. So, instead of presenting as a flat character on a laptop screen, morph yourself into a round protagonist—employ endearing (and appropriate) personal anecdotes and invite colleagues on zippy thrill rides that surprise, delight, inform, and engage.

Elevate. Speaking of engagement, seize opportunities to elevate the scope of presentations beyond yourself. How? Simply say “you” at least twice in your first two sentences, and avoid saying “I.” While there are certainly occasions for “I” statements (see: job interviews), use “we” to evoke inclusivity and empathy. When you address your audience directly and collectively, you invite them to invest in a communal moment—a shared journey. Speakers transform spectators into partners when they exude tones of “us” in lieu of “me-me-me.”

Stand. By all means, stand when you speak! As my mother always said, “A teacher on her feet is worth two in the seat,” and she would advocate today for standing during a Zoom presentation. Why? It’s true that no one is likely to see you standing, but your audience will hear the energy in your voice. Seated presentations quickly devolve into casual conversations, yet upright speakers project authority and experience heightened focus, studies have found. And standing reminds us to honor the occasion—that’s why I stood during remarks I delivered for SCAD virtual orientation. Finally, and as SCADamp Communication Coach Nonalee Davis advises: “If you’re going to stand during a Zoom presentation, practice purposeful hand and body movement in the frame.”

Smile. Second only to professional attire, “Flash a smile” sits atop Zoom’s very own list of tips for body language. The key word, though, is “flash.” While you’ll want to avoid a stern resting face, the forced perma-smile is not your friend. A recent survey found that 32% of video conference attendees noticed, first and foremost, their colleagues’ facial expressions. So, grin a bit, and practice what our SCADamp communication coaches call the soft face: relaxed brows, subtle head movements, and bright eyes. Smize, as Tyra Banks suggests!

Project. PSA: again, please check the levels on your mic! Next, hone your voice for effect. “In a Zoom session, it becomes even more important to convey dynamic vocal expression,” SCADamp Director Ally Steinweg advises. “So, vary the pitch, volume, and speed of your voice to create interest, excitement, and emotional connection with and for your audience.” Drink tea (a black-and-green combo is my favorite) to care for your voice between rehearsals. And remember your SCAD honey sticks (my fave throat soothers kept in my bag at all times).

Design. Curtains. A rug. Or even a woven throw tossed artfully across your chair. Before you do anything else, fill your workspace with cozy accoutrements that dampen vibration, reduce echo, and create a warm, rich soundscape, from which your voice will captivate and dazzle. Want a sneak peek at Part Two of Pro Tips Digital Dynamism? We’ll talk about visual virtuosity—how, for example, decluttered work areas and compelling Zoom backgrounds add style and sophistication, while intriguing artwork (from SCAD Art Sales, of course) or a well-curated bookcase enhance your je ne sais quoi.

We miss the handshakes and hugs of in-person presentations, yet we revel in the newfound control we have over our messages and spaces. Now, each of us is a stage director. We monitor our soundboard. Create our effects. Set up our props. We wield our own spotlight. And for all of us who feel a touch of nerves when we present, there is comfort in caring enough to prepare. So, be bold. Be confident. Speak out!

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