How I adapted my in-person presentation SOPs for a virtual world | A SOP Story

TL;DR It’s rare that what works in person will perfectly transfer to virtual settings, and vice versa. When transitioning, it’s important to (1) identify your “must haves” in terms of those things you must keep in order to preserve your brand identity and quality of work and (2) vet and tweak your new format according to those “must haves.” Survey data from previous presentations can be a big help here, as can having a well-defined brand identity (e.g., brand identity keywords, and company vision/philosophy/mission statements).

This is a story about how I pulled together my historical data and my company’s philosophy and mission statements to adapt and generate virtual presentation SOPs for the pandemic and beyond.

Pre-pandemic, my presentation specialty was live, in-person, group training sessions. These were largely tech focused – coding, database design, metrics, dashboards, strategic decision-making, etc. And I was popular, because I’m good at providing value in this format and on these topics.

To both illustrate my point and provide some data that I’ll reference later, here are some snippets from pre-pandemic workshop surveys:

  • “She was great – talks to level of person w/ question.”
  • “Was well presented and showed great examples.”
  • “Thanks for the presentation. I enjoy your simple straightforward approach.”
  • “Very professional”
  • “Thank you for your applied examples + your friendly humor approach to a technical subject.”
  • “Very knowledgeable, flexible & personable.”
  • [the best thing was] “very hands on, getting to practice things”

When the pandemic hit, I had to pivot from wholly in-person training to wholly virtual training. In the back of my mind, I’d been toying with the idea of offering some online courses for a while, but the pandemic is what gave me the push I needed to really commit to virtual presentations.

I had to take a hard look at what I’d been delivering and what I wanted to do moving forward. That meant reviewing, among other things, my old survey data to see what folks really valued and where they felt there were gaps or omissions. It also meant reviewing my in-person presentation SOPs to see what I would need to translate to or transform for this virtual space. Finally, on a per topic basis, as the “expert” in the room, I also had to make sure that the topic-related components that I valued would persist. So there were a lot of parts that I had to manage to make an all new cohesive, virtual whole.

The “Must Haves”

As with all SOP stories, my first focus was on the “must haves.” This is where the survey data came in, as well as the notes I add to all of my SOPs on “why” I’ve decided to do something a certain way. (Sometimes, these also invoke one of my Decision Logs, which is where I document alternatives I’ve explored and what data I used to choose one direction over another.)

The primary historical factors that popped for me, and that I felt I needed to keep, were, in no particular order:

  • The Personal Touch – As they arrived, or soon thereafter, I was introducing myself to everyone in the room with a handshake and a business card. I also asked what brought them in today, which I used to tailor some of my examples during the presentation so that it would be a little more dynamic and relevant. If I had a handout, this is when I would distribute that, 1-on-1, along with the survey for the end. Combined with body language, this interaction is what helped me always answer questions at the “level” of the person asking it (see the survey snippets above).
  • (Inter)action – I don’t like any of my presentations to be passive. I used a lot of methods for getting the live audience involved: (1) setting ground rules for raising hands any time for questions or comments, (2) providing handouts for complicated diagrams that people might want to annotate for themselves, or, as applicable, providing files to work through together so we’re all on the same page and exploring and applying what I’m talking about right there, (3) saying things like “write this down” or “practice this now” or “someone volunteer and tell me what they would do in this situation,” and (4) one of my favorites – “quick quiz” to see what folks were paying attention to, retaining, and what I needed to work on more before moving on – which I generated verbally on-the-spot based on questions and facial expressions.
  • Takeaways – When possible, I was incorporating those dynamic elements that reflected “why are you here today,” but the topic of the presentation was also driving what I thought should be the takeaways, or learning objectives, from the presentation. And I wanted real takeaways, like, “I understand what just happened, my questions have been answered, and I feel like I can go and apply this on my own now.” Depending on the complexity or importance, I would provide a reference handout for these as well.
  • Technology doesn’t always work as planned, so be ready for none of it to work.

And then I added one factor that was pandemic specific and two factors that were virtual specific:

  • Familiarity – We were adapting enough as it was, and I didn’t want the presentation medium to be yet another jarring change. I played with a few technologies before quickly settling on Zoom.
  • Me – I was a “given” in in-person sessions, but I had to figure out how to incorporate myself purposefully into virtual sessions. As per the survey snippets, being “personable” and having a “friendly humor approach” were concepts that came up in a lot of my data, and so were definitely part of what contributed to my in-person success.
  • Professional – I knew how to look and act the part of a professional in a business setting in person, but now I was going to have to define what this needed to look like in a virtual space.

Finally, there were the factors that are part of everything that I do under the umbrella of Blou Designs:

  • Blou Designs’ Philosophy & Mission – This one is part of all of the Blou Designs SOPs.
    • Supporting people in the things they actually want to do, which I manifest as pulling together real-life examples and asking people about their own situations as they come in. (survey snippets about examples used)
    • Helping people find clarity about what they want to do and how to get there, which I manifest as breaking things down as simply as possible and talking a lot about why I’m doing something a certain way and what other options there are and when those might be more applicable.
    • Supporting the idea that humans are the most important part of any technological solution and that the tech only exists to create a support structure for humans, which means a lot of things:
      • Joking around with my jargon-heavy definition with phrases like, “and that’s fancy pants talk for… (a jargon-less explanation).” Jargon should be recognizable so that people can recognize all the words and what they mean, but the definition should always involve some human-centric examples.
      • Foregrounding fundamentals and why they’re important, because it’s easy to jump right in and start putting together the tech, but then you’re diminishing your chances of designing something that truly meets your needs and expectations.
  • Consistency – If I could carry all of the selected factors with me into the virtual presentation space, I would be able to keep the Blou Designs brand consistent in terms of both its philosophy/mission statements and the value provided via presentations.

What makes this a SOP story?

I embedded these characteristics into a checklist of criteria that my presentation designs must meet, including how I evaluated technologies like Zoom for their appropriateness for my application. I apply them to all of my presentation types, i.e., demonstrations, hands-on workshops and training sessions, and online courses; the exact way they manifest changes a bit for each type, but the criteria remain.

Application Examples

Regardless of the exact technology I chose, the “Me” and “Professional” criteria meant that I was going to have to think about my video feed and sound quality. For me and the Blou Designs brand, this meant dress clothes from at least the waist up, good lighting, good sound quality, and good video resolution. These are explicitly listed in my SOPs as things to check off before I go “live.” To quickly ramp up my skills in this area, and see if I was missing any hardware (e.g., microphone), I joined the vidwheel Creator Network, where I was able to get up to a reasonable level of professionalism very quickly, and I’ve been making various incremental tweaks since.

Part of inter(action) (i.e., not being passive) and staying in the moment requires a little more work on the personal touch front, particularly when we’re already so remote and appearing in people’s homes or offices as a little square. So I work in a little more time for chatting at the beginning and expect things to take a little longer overall. To be mindful of people’s time, I still “show up early” by starting the Zoom meeting early, and welcoming people as they join.

As I got more experience with virtual presentations, I learned how best to incorporate other inter(actions), like “quick quizzes,” handouts, screen shares (mine and others), breakout rooms, whiteboards, etc. Sometimes switching between screen share and gallery view can be more of a distraction than a benefit, and unstructured breakout rooms can meander wildly off course, so all of the lessons learned from using them, or watching other people try to use them, have found their way into my SOPs. And I keep learning  – thanks Sesha Yalamanchili for the demo on different ways to use screen annotations and turning cameras on and off as a means of answering questions!!

What’s the Takeaway?

So, enough about my story. If you remember just one thing from this article, it should be that your online presentation presence is the culmination of a lot of reflection and preparation, and your historical data (e.g., your survey feedback data, your brand identity keywords) can really help; once you’ve embedded these in your SOP, creating and delivering an online presentation is a much easier, faster, and more consistent lift. If you remember a second thing, it’s that a SOP is a living document, and you can always go back and tweak.

Barbara Olsafsky

Owner and Data Wrangler/Strategist

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