Video Killed the Orator!

For those accustomed to addressing others from the head of a boardroom table, the dais of a press briefing or the stage of an international convention, a sea of eyes staring at you is not too distressing. Ask them to launch forth into a little green light at the top of their laptop for 30 minutes and it’s a different matter.


Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a ‘virtual’ conference. This conference was due to take place in Brighton with 500 signed up delegates. Thanks to the foresight and vision of the organisers and a team of tech magicians, the event was moved online to the delight of 900 delegates and several high profile speakers.


You might imagine that sitting at my dining table and taking part in a glorified Zoom call would not have presented too many challenges for a seasoned public speaker like myself. However, I have to admit to finding the whole process utterly terrifying.


Almost immediately the conference began, it became evident to me that I craved the oxygen of a gallery of delegates that I could see and hear. I suddenly felt for the contestants on the lockdown version of ‘Have I Got News for You’ who, in the absence of a studio audience, have no idea whether they’re being funny or not. Interestingly, other speakers seemed to be less audience dependant and far more comfortable with the whole virtual set up.  Thankfully, as the conference progressed, I became increasingly accustomed to addressing the brick wall, which was my laptop screen.


By the end of the two days, I had learned a lot and rather fancied myself as a bit of a broadcaster, a sort of fusion of Sir Trevor McDonald and Zoe Ball. Looking back, there are certain things that I wish I’d been told from the outset and so I feel equipped to put forward my 5 tips on how to survive the little green light. As a disclaimer, I should say that my performance at the conference was far from perfect so these lessons have been self-learned.


  1. Exude energy– when you’re not getting any energy from your audience (who are probably watching you from a Radox bath), you will need to generate more energy than EDF.
  2. Avoid homemade autocue– until Zoom have introduced an autocue function don’t try to line up your script alongside the camera to create the same effect. Your eyes will twitch from side to side as you glance back and forth making you look less trustworthy than a politician getting off a campaign bus.
  3. Get the lighting right– people will want to see the whites of your eyes. A dark silhouette against the light of a window is not a good look and slightly threatening. It creates a sort of Darth Vader effect. A little uplighting, on the other hand, can take years off a 50-something moderator!
  4. Familiarise yourself with the technology– if each session starts with a star struck speaker gazing into the camera like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car crash, it takes the professional edge off the show.
  5. Screen share with care– best leave this to the professionals. The perils of screen sharing more than you had intended could be the subject of a whole different article.
  6. Relax, what’s the worst that can happen?– the great thing about speaking from the comfort and security of your box room is that you’ll never really know how badly you went down. Most of the audience are watching it alone and won’t in the foreseeable future have the chance to critique your performance with their peers at the conference bar.