Christina Iluzada and Allison M. Alford
In a typical semester, students in our Business Communications courses at Baylor University are given multiple opportunities to practice giving face-to-face presentations and providing and receiving constructive feedback. As professors, we teach rhetorical strategies and coach students for confident, engaging, and effective presentations. It is satisfying for both student and professor to see the growth over a semester of instruction and practice. Like most other instructors, our routine semester was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, upending everything normal and replacing it with the new and unfamiliar.
We rapidly shifted to an online format using our university’s LMS, Canvas, quickly changing our presentation assignments to asynchronous, recorded virtual presentations through the video platform Kaltura within Canvas. It was quite a surprise to find the students were ill-equipped to complete a recorded virtual presentation despite the technological facility of their generation (Akçayır et al., 2016). It became apparent right away that the ability to communicate skillfully with a technological device or on platforms such as social media does not translate to effective, professional virtual presentation skills. Also, even though we had practiced and prepared in class for delivering excellent in-person presentations, students struggled with producing video presentations. As Hemby (2016) noted, research has not established a correlation between oral presentation skills and virtual presentation skills. Indeed, we have found that students need additional instruction to succeed in the new medium of recorded video presentations. In this article, we will describe the challenges our students had in creating effective asynchronous, recorded presentations and the ways our online teaching practices have expanded to include the technique SO FAB and ten tips for making better virtual presentations.
Beyond the necessity of sharing valuable content, students must be able to effectively perform in a video presentation. As Smirnova and Nuzha (2013) observed, “Developing business presentation skills tends to focus on delivery skills, namely effective and persuasive communication strategies and extra linguistic components,” (p. 408) such as eye contact, hand movement, and body language. These extralinguistic components are multiplied in an environment in which lighting, background, and camera stability can greatly detract from the content of a remote presentation. Issues related to the performance of a recorded video presentation were much more noticeable than when students speak in person. One possible explanation for this is that when sharing a physical space, during a live, face-to-face presentation, the audience is aware of and able to tune out the distractions in a room. In a virtual presentation, the other speaker is in a separate physical space, and the audience becomes drawn to the differences between the speaker and the audience, which can then become noise that prevents comprehension.
Problems with Presenting Online
Once our classes switched to a virtual setting, we noticed problems right away. Issues included the following:
1. Lighting: Several students used distracting lighting that glared at the camera, obscuring their faces.
2. Angle: Other students filmed with their cameras far below their faces, making the presenters look down on their virtual audiences.
3. Nonverbals: Some displayed nervous body language such as face scratching and hair touching, perhaps because the virtual environment does not seem as formal as an in-person environment for presentations.
4. Setting: Many students presented in front of a messy background or presented in overly casual attire.
Granted, the specific circumstances surrounding students’ never returning to campus after Spring Break contributed to these problems. One student, for example, volunteered that she would need to borrow a work shirt from her mother because she did not pack anything but t-shirts when she left campus. Other students had challenges regarding the quality of their cameras and Internet speed. These challenges seemed to affect the minority of students, however. By the final presentation assignment of the semester, most students managed to obtain appropriate clothing and record with adequate audio/visual quality.
Overall, the presentations’ initial weaknesses seemed to present a glaring window of opportunity, showing us what students needed to learn to successfully communicate through this medium. Therefore, we pivoted our teaching to incorporate appropriate instruction. Although there is an overall lack of detailed extant research on creating and giving virtual presentations, Flatley (2007) noted, “Preparing students for today’s and tomorrow’s workplace clearly means teaching them how to prepare and deliver the virtual presentation” (p. 302), and recently Lind (2020) lamented that business communication courses are not already teaching students to create compelling videos since “[v]ideo use is ubiquitous across modern business practices” (p. 111). This reality will be likely continue to be true in our post COVID-19 world, as many businesses have now adjusted to employees’ remote work and adapted to virtual meetings and presentations.
Teaching the presentation acronym SO FAB
The acronym SO FAB is a straightforward tool for organizing virtual presentation content. SO FAB stands for the following:
When students use the acronym SO FAB, they are reminded of the complexity of communication and attend to more elements of the communicative process. The result is greater effectiveness in virtual presentations with benefits to both speaker and audience.
Teaching SO FAB
To begin, we identified the most crucial elements of the acronym to emphasize due to urgent need in a remote learning environment. The S, O, and F portions of the model are much the same as face-to-face instruction, while the A and B are markedly different.
As in every presentation, incorporating stories (S), creating a logical organizational structure (O), and minimizing filler words (F) are important to emphasize in virtual recorded presentation instruction. Regarding these areas, the virtual environment can uniquely equip students to improve their presentations because they have an opportunity to record themselves and reflect on their outcome before finalizing their video submissions. For example, awareness of the filler words one uses is the first step in minimizing them, and recording oneself can enable the identification and, thus, minimization of fillers (Mele, 2017). When students record and review their virtual presentations, they also have an opportunity to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in storytelling and organization, which help develop effective presentation skills (Smirnova & Nuzha, 2013). In other research, students have reported that they benefitted from an online public speaking course because they could watch and reflect on their presentations (Linardopoulos, 2010). Therefore, the practice of teaching and assessing storytelling, organization, and filler-free language can be done well in an online environment.
Particularly salient and somewhat different for a virtual environment are the areas of audience engagement (A) and body language (B).
Audience engagement (A) is always a central part of presentations, but when the speaker cannot interact with the audience in an asynchronous, remote presentation, appealing winsomely to the audience is especially crucial. We encourage students to follow the advice of Duarte (2013) to center the presentation on the audience, speak to the audience as a mentor would speak to mentees, and remember that the presenter’s role is to impart special wisdom and skills to the audience. Another important concept to emphasize is the “you view” or “you perspective,” which means using the words “you” and “your” to show the audience how the information benefits or affects them. Showing the audience the relevance of the presentation’s information is especially important in a virtual world, where the audience could be tempted to flagrantly multitask (i.e. cover the presentation with a new window or stare at another device). Teaching oral communication in a virtual environment can be effective only if proper focus is paid to rhetorical concerns such as audience awareness and adaptation (Bohme, 2009). Therefore, this part of the acronym cannot be overemphasized; students must learn how to address their audience appropriately, customize their content for their audience, and, crucially, indicate how their material is relevant and useful for their audience. This aspect of a remote presentation may be initially overlooked by a student because the audience is not immediately present or visible when the student is recording; therefore, this part of SO FAB necessitates special instructor emphasis and student practice.
Finally, students must be thoughtful about their bodies (B), especially their eyes, particularly when presenting in a virtual arena. Extant research conducted on video resumes shows that body language and eye contact signal, whether accurately or not, significant aspects of the presenters’ personalities to their audiences. Appropriate and attractive clothing, as well as erect posture, indicate that the presenter is conscientious, and a warm voice, smile, and eye contact communicate that the presenter is agreeable (Apers & Derous, 2017). Conversely, a lack of eye contact and an appearance of uncertainty convey neuroticism (Waung et al., 2014). These nonverbal signals are especially important for international students to practice. If students are accustomed to high-context cultures, they may have learned that direct eye contact is rude and confrontational and should be avoided (Lebaron, 2003). Communication instructors should include as part of their instruction about presentations the ways that nonverbal behaviors are culturally bound. Nevertheless, for students to succeed in Western communications contexts, direct eye contact communicates positively to audiences.
Therefore, students need to be coached where to look during a virtual presentation because they tend to want to look at themselves or at their notes. They must learn that the virtual equivalent of eye contact is looking at the camera lens—not at themselves on the screen. Therefore, they should position their cameras at eye level by placing books under their laptops and/or moving their seats up or down. Students should be coached that looking straight ahead into the camera is preferable to staring down into the camera (and helps avoid the double chin effect). Also, regarding eye contact, students should be encouraged to write a script beforehand and rehearse their presentation enough so that they can confidently speak while making eye contact with their cameras consistently without relying on slides or notes. They might place sticky notes beside their computer cameras if necessary, but their eyes should focus mostly on the camera lens. Students with glasses may want to try different ways to remove the light glare so the audience can see their eyes.
These suggestions for body language during online presentations should be understood within the context of an able-bodied, neurotypical, Western perspective. For the purposes of inclusivity, each professor should consider the needs of their class and modify accordingly. Some students may be uncomfortable or unable to create sustained eye contact. For example, performative eye contact may be difficult for those with neurodiversity, such as autism (Breward, 2019), with vision impairment (Oswal & Hewett, 2013), or from high-context cultures where a direct gaze is considered disrespectful (Bohanon et al., 2013). Professors may elect to discuss the nature of nonverbal communication in a global business world and encourage students to reach out about their unique needs for any assignments. Also, as professors plan for their courses, they should do so with accessibility in mind for all students (Oswal, 2015). For example, professors might make the body language requirement flexible for students with disabilities, allowing for alternative expressions of appropriate eye contact for students with autism or visual impairments.
Regarding other aspects of their bodies, students need to be reminded that they should treat a virtual presentation as seriously as they would treat an in-person presentation: to dress at least one level in formality above what they envision their audience wearing. In a virtual presentation, wearing professional clothing, as in any in-person business environment, signifies capability and credibility. They also should remember not to distract the audience by touching their faces or playing with their hair or clothes.
In addition to SO FAB, the following tips may be provided to students as helpful guidelines in preparing their virtual presentations.
10 Tips for Recorded Virtual Presentations
1. Choose a room with plenty of light or set up extra lamps behind your camera. Take the lampshade off the lamp and place a white sheet of printer paper over it to filter the light. Light on your face is your best friend for attractive videos!
2. Find a space with a neutral, professional background. There should be nothing to detract from you, so avoid messy laundry or piled bills in the background.
3. Fill up about 60 percent of the screen with your body. Get close to the camera and the microphone. When others view your presentation later, it may be quite small on their screens, so filling up the space commands attention. Most speakers show shoulders, neck, and a few inches above the head. You can still wear pajama bottoms unnoticed.
4. Use an easy program or application to record your video; it does not need to be fancy to work well. Most laptops have a built-in video recording feature that you can use to film yourself.
5. Speak more quickly and with more enthusiasm in a recorded video than you typically do in face-to-face settings. Quiet, slow virtual presentations are hard for audiences to watch.
6. Record in horizontal perspective if using your phone. The vertical video will appear with black boxes on the sides and is quite small once you upload it online.
7. Know that making videos takes more time than you think it should. If you want to use your video in the future, make it “evergreen” and avoid mentioning anything that will date it, such as specific news or pop culture.
8. Edit your videos to remove any lags or filler time if you are more advanced in video content creation. You can also add a title slide and transitions. There is a learning curve for editing software. Watch YouTube videos, and know that each video you make gets faster and easier.
9. Save/export videos as .mp4 or .wav files. These are the most common file types and will be easily recognized when uploading or sharing with others.
10. Upload your videos as soon as you can. Working early can help avoid technology issues that always seem to occur near a deadline. Remember you can upload/embed/link your videos, so explore all your options before getting too frustrated.
Many of these strategies, including SO FAB and the 10 Tips for Recorded Virtual Presentations, can also be helpfully applied to other virtual communication, such as Zoom meetings or Skype interviews. These strategies also provide helpful content for online communication classes as instructors teach video presentations, which are helpful oral communication assignments and should not be omitted simply because the courses are online (Kenkel, 2011). What instructors should not assume is that, though Generation Z students tend to be tech savvy (Singh, 2014), they may not automatically know how to interact in a virtual environment in a professional, effective way. These weaknesses are indeed an opportunity for business communication instructors to equip students in needed and increasingly relevant skills, which will serve them well in their future business careers.
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Christina Iluzada is a clinical assistant professor at Baylor University and has been teaching business communication courses since 2013. Her research interests include pedagogy, ethics, and rhetoric, and her pedagogical research has been published in Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Business Professional and Communication Quarterly, and Christian Business Academy Review.
Allison M. Alford (Ph.D.) is a clinical assistant professor teaching Business Communication at Baylor University. In her cross-disciplinary work, she researches family roles related to business and professional communication. Current projects include messages from parents to adult children about future careers and communication within family businesses.
Recommended Citation: Christina Iluzada & Allison M. Alford. (2020). Videos Can Be SO FAB! Teaching Asynchronous, Recorded Virtual Presentations During COVID‑19. the Western ABC Bulletin, 2.1.