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3 winning tactics from Toastmasters webinar contest champion to elevate YOUR public speaking

Last week I wrote about how the contest would unfold and some tips regarding succeeding. (Be sure to check out my comments in the section entitled “Webinar contest scoring: the categories and what I’ll be looking for” for an ‘inside the head’ look, and then find additional tactics in the “7 advanced ‘celebrity judge’ tactics any professional can use to improve their virtual presentations” section after that).


What the contest winner nailed


Every contestant had a trick or three up their sleeve, but Jessica Breitenfeld’s presentation is worth calling out because it’s easy for you to do put one or more of these into action.

You don’t have to use every trick in the book.

Unlike most contestants, Jessica didn’t mess with virtual backgrounds. In fact, she used fewer “engagement” tools than the other presenters.

So what do we learn?

As I mentioned last week, the objective is to “connect THROUGH, not “TO.” This means that tools like polls are perhaps part of your palette of options, but they can’t replace story and even physical engagement that begins with the person on the other side of Zoom.

For example:

Use “callbacks” to create momentum (and even set up transitions)

A “callback” is a reference to something the audience experienced or heard earlier. This could be reference to something you said 15 minutes ago, but it could happen at the program level. For example, Jessica brilliantly referred to something one of the previous contestants said.

The reason “callbacks” create momentum for several reasons.

  1. Callbacks reinforce key points. And seriously, it’s ok if it was someone else who made the point, and you’re bringing it back to their minds. The crazy thing is that, like you citing a source in a written paper’s footnote, this raises your cred.

  2. Callbacks create a sense of unity. Connecting something in the past to the present, it makes the presentation feel more cohesive and unified.

  3. Callbacks (re)engage attention. Remember, attention isn’t perfect – even in a blockbuster movie! So if your presentation is a notch or two less exciting than Lord of the Rings, you can use all the help you can get. Things that (re)engage attention, giving the brain a reason to pay attention (again) (such as callbacks), there is a momentum that is created in the ‘rhythm’ of attention coming back to you.


There’s yet another form of callback that Jessica used, but it’s worth it’s own bullet point:

Use a physical prop, gesture, or visual cue (yes, in a virtual presentation!)

Jessica used a donut (yes, you read that correctly). Besides the metaphor that it provided that was itself visual, the donut wasn’t ‘on cam’ the whole time…and when Jessica brought it back, it was a visual callback to the point she’d made.


Now in your corporate presentation, you might not “do story” with a donut, but there are countless ways you might reinforce key messages. Is it a significant gesture that gets repeated? Is it an object with symbolic value (like, for instance, a trophy that signifies victory)? Is it something you wear that communicates a theme?

Importantly, of course, what you do or use needs to work “on camera,” but doing that isn’t hard…it’s just different and takes a little planning.

Consider the non-computer physical space of your audience

If you start watching Jessica’s presentation about 3-minutes in, she has the audience move physically to get out of view (of their cameras). She then gives people to come bounding back into view.


Could she have used a poll? Yup.

Could she have used a digital show of hands or other emoji? Yup.


She could have asked for a show of actual hands (on camera), and that’s not exactly new. We've all done that. BUT...


…she had people move their bodies.



Now I realize you may need to find a place that works in your corporate banking job context, but as a guy who’s often had people physically stand up and do something (in a virtual class!), I promise you virtual audiences LOVE this.


Because it’s so different from the other 73 staff and customer meetings they had sitting on their gluteus maximus this week.

The bottom line

Are there things Jessica could have done better? Of course. And that’s true of every one of us.

Live (real time) presentations are rarely perfect, because you and I don’t rehearse them as we might a part in a Broadway play performance. They're also not "perfect" like video that's been edited. 

But "authentic" beats "perfect" every time. (Particularly in an age where AI will start producing flawless content!).

Here's the good news:

Even in a corporate context, you don’t have to use all the tools (and heck, Jessica won without using slides!). Use of callbacks and other rhetorical brain-engaging tactics based on your use of language, not “engagement tools” built into Zoom. And then even if it’s as simple as having your audience stand up for a 30-second stretch break, thinking about the physio-social experience of your audience on the other side not only recognizes that engagement is more than just content, it connects through to the persons on the other side.


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