By Ian Hawkins

Early Bird Speakers is regarded as one of the best public speaking clubs in the UK.

With regular weekly meetings held in the heart of London, it draws members from all walks of life: a good number of barristers swing by from the nearby legal district, overseas students polish their English and entrepreneurs get the morning off to a good start at Holborn’s iconic Freemasons’ Hall.

EBS has begun to meet in person once again after over a year during which meetings were held online. The club that has focused on stage presence, vocal projection and mastering the art of looking the audience in the eye has had to pivot to holding meetings on Zoom. Mark Steele, club president, says that the experience was radically different:

“Public speaking is all about getting up on stage in front of strangers, feeling the fear and delivering a performance. You just don’t get that when you are sitting in front of your computer at home.” Nevertheless, some of the positives of lockdown were that we were able to welcome guests from around the world. EBS has an excellent international reputation, and we had guests from India, the United States, Australia and China.”

Unwilling to lose the interest of these visitors and mindful that some members were not yet ready to go back to in-person meetings, Mark and the EBS leadership team decided to create a series of monthly meetings to be held online: “EBS+” Allows speakers to experiment with form, receive feedback on speeches and discuss how to approach Zoom meetings, which have become a reality for all of us.

Members of the group were invited to give their opinions on what does and does not work in a virtual meeting. Their comments are below. Next time you are on a Zoom call, remember this advice to help you to deliver a better performance.

Top tips for better online meetings

Make the medium work for you: with zoom you can be creative with backgrounds, or can surprise people with things that you bring into the frame at an opportune moment.

With most online platforms you can host polls. This is very important if you are trying to maintain engagement with the audience, so consider what questions you will ask and ensure the results are meaningful.

Unlike the stage, people can see your face in a lot more detail, so be prepared to use it: remember to keep eye contact with the camera, and develop the art of “face craft“.

The chat option gives you the ability to give people feedback that is written rather than spoken. This can be very helpful if you are trying to gather people’s opinions.

Online meetings enable you to follow up much more easily.

Accessibility is an issue for Deaf and hard of hearing people, so make use of closed captions, generated by AI.

Bring energy into the room. There is a temptation to sit back and be low energy – try to avoid this, a bit of enthusiasm goes a long way.

It is too easy to fall into the trap of propping a script up against the screen and reading rather than learning your words.

Ultimately this does make you less spontaneous and even if it is subconscious, people will be more likely to check out.

Looking at yourself can be very distracting, if you really can’t stand it, change the settings so that somebody else is pinned to the main page.

Don’t leave yourself on mute – but everybody does. “You’re on mute” should go into the dictionary as a phrase for the year 2020–21. Don’t scrabble for the mouse, on Zoom and many other platforms, the space bar will unmute you.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a member of Early Bird Speakers, it’s free to attend as a guest at one of our meetings which take place every Thursday morning at 7am at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ, Holborn, London.

To find out more, click here.