Online Stage Presence

This workshop is for people from marginalized or underrepresented groups who are thinking about speaking at online WordPress events. You do not need to have any experience in public speaking, and this workshop is for all levels of experience.

Learning outcomes

  1. Learn tips to help improve your online stage presence
  2. Identify ways to become a better speaker, and things to avoid
  3. Discover techniques for handling nerves

Comprehension questions

  • What are some ways you can practice speaking online?
  • What are some becoming a better speaker “dos”? “Don’ts”?
  • What steps can you take to help handle nerves?
  • How can we connect with our online audience?


Jill 0:00
We’re in workshop number three, previously recovered from it speaking and finding a topic. The next day was writing a pitch in today’s on stage presence. They’re all standalone, but it’s also nice to take them together. Today we’re going to be covering becoming a better speaker, practicing speaking do’s and don’ts, handling nerves, and we’re going to cover some online tips, camera angle, what to do with your hands connecting with the audience, when you can’t see them at all, where you can see them and they look bored, and practicing for speaking online, which is different from speaking on stage. First time I did this, it was just online tips. And people said they wanted more on becoming better speaker. The second time was almost all becoming a better speaker. And people said they wanted more online. So now today, I’m going to try out doing both. And so this thing that worked pretty well last time, and I’m I’m want to try it again, is I’m going to teach a con, I’m going to go through and teach concepts and have us practice. And to do that practice, you can use this bit of a nursery rhyme. You can use your topic that you the topic title that you came up with, or some other sentence. And I’d like us to do this once before learning anything to get that baseline comparison. And then as we go through, how do you what do you think?

Hari 1:31
Let’s go with the nursery rhyme I guess. That’s the baseline. I’d like to start from there.

Jill 1:38
So I’ll start since it’s two of us, I will participate as well. Twinkle, twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are.

Hari 1:52
You want me to say? Yes, please.

Jill 1:55
Thank you.

Hari 1:57
Cool twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are. Thank you.

Jill 2:11
So I’m going to start talking about concepts now. First, I’m going to talk about practicing speaking. So the most important thing that you can do to become a better speaker is to practice, the more you speak in front of a mirror in front of friends. Once we’re offline, offline, again, in front of a roomful of people, the more comfortable and the better you’ll become. You can even give your talk to a friend over the internet, especially now but even during normal times, using Skype, zoom or other teleconference software. And you can also video record yourself, which is a great idea, especially now that you’ll be delivering it online anyway. But either way, take notes on behaviors that you exhibit while speaking and practice reducing them. I definitely, you know, I’m not like the best speaker in the world. But I’m lightyears better than I used to be because I used to play with my hair and touch my face and little things that I didn’t even know I was doing and recording these things and watching them. I’m like, Oh my gosh, what am I doing? And so I’ve been able to produce them over time. Yeah. Also, when you practice time yourself, you might be surprised how long or short your talk is when you’re speaking out loud. And it’s important to know how long the talk is going to take because these things are always in a certain timeframe. If you’re looking for opportunities to practice speaking, you might see if there’s a Toastmasters in your area or online. That is a group that I think is even talked about Toastmasters before.

Hari 3:48
No, no, there was so

Jill 3:51
many opportunities to speak in front of a supportive group of people and give you tips and tools for improvement. You can also practice at smaller meetups. WordPress meetups are good for practicing for workcamps. But also WordPress meetups tend to be very well attended, especially these days now but they’re online. So if you want to practice for WordPress meetups, you could find something smaller, some related that would be interested in hearing, right. I have some becoming a better speaker do’s and don’ts. No matter how much public speaking experience you have, and you’re somebody has a fair bit of it. There’s always room for improvement. And so I’ve got some do’s and don’ts here to help. One do is speak slowly. Many speakers speak too fast, but audiences almost never complain that someone went too slowly. Take pauses in between sentences. It may feel strange to you but it’ll actually seem very natural to the audience. have water available and drink it Most events will provide water for the speaker. In live, I like to always bring my own water if I don’t know if there’s water available. And also at home, you get to provide your own water to yourself. When and then when you find yourself going too fast, taking a drink of water is a great way to slow yourself down. It might feel like it takes forever to take a drink, but the audience doesn’t mind. You can vary your voice. This is something that gets easier. With practice, you don’t want to speak in a monotone. So make sure that you have some inflection in your tone. During normal times, you want to be looking at the whole audience. You want to make eye contact with people if you can, but you can also make sure to scan the whole room and not just look at one part of the audience wintered here is to locate some friendly faces and multiple sections, have a big audience and then address them one at a time in a loop. And I’ll cover later in the session where to look. When you’re online. Make sure the audience can hear you. If you aren’t sure whether your mic or voice is loud enough. Ask the audience if they can hear you. Ask the people in factually so hands if you get too quiet. And when you’re doing for online, if this is going to become part of your online rehearsal, you’re going to make sure that all your tech works and microphones work. And then you never know what’s going to happen. Like this is a microphone I use all the time and yesterday. So also, always be prepared to be flexible and be thinking in the moment. Keep your so this is something that’s good for both online and in person is to keep your hands above your waist. If you do this, you’ll find yourself gesturing naturally. Kind of like this. Remember to breeze. And also practice without notes. Even if you’d like to have your notes with you like by need to do you practice your talk without notes. To help you map your content to your thought process. You already know your subject matter. So avoid trying to memorize your notes and scripted verbatim. This will help you talk sound more natural and help you feel better about deviating from the script. So that’s something that I do even though I need to read, I make sure to look up and connect with the audience. And I also go off script and improvise. And the next one. So what I’d like to do is to do a rehearsal with our nursery rhyme again. And you have the choice to do some or all of these, I recommend either practices because slowly varying your voice, keeping hands above your waist, stopping to try any of those and it does not matter if your sound ridiculous, supportive space. We can just try things here. So I’m going to practice I’m going to practice slow and I don’t know I’ll just play fast and see what happens. Twinkle little star How I wonder what you are.

Hari 8:29
So I’ll go Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are?

Jill 8:37
Right, we practice slow, very voice in the hands only.

Next we are going to go over some don’ts. Soaps recommended. Don’t drink too much coffee. You’re already jittery from nerves. That’s one of the things we just talked about. And you don’t need a coffee buzz on top of that. Don’t turn away from the audience. This is more common onstage but it will also happen in person. If you’re on stage and you need to point something out in your slides. Make sure that you keep your face pointed towards the audience as you do points. And even at home if you need to, you know talk to family members Make sure to turn back to the audience before speaking again. And also things like not you know, I have notes but I’m not like this. I’m I’m still you can still see my face the notes are below. Try start the sections. Um, try reducing your filler words like um, you may not even notice that you’re doing this. So ask a friend to point it out in rehearsal or record yourself and take notes. And there’s some things you can do to help yourself reduce filler words like take a small breath or Take a sip of water instead. And also try not to read your notes, slides and notes directly. And if you must make sure you look up from your notes, and I’ve lived at least a little bit. Now we’re going to talk about handling nerves. Everyone gets nervous about public speaking, it’s just part of the human. In fact, it’s hardwired. For our caveman ancestors, anytime more than five pairs of eyes, were looking at them at once. That meant that in all likelihood, they were about to die. We still React that way, we get up in front of a group of people, and see them all watching us. Keep in mind that your audience is on your side, they want to see you succeed. And all of them would be nervous if they were in your shoes. In fact, it’s okay to admit that you’re nervous people be sympathetic. Here’s some things you can do to help soothe soothe your nerves. First of all, practice, it really does get easier practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll know your material and the more confident you’ll be. Even practicing, just once I’ve seen people say, Oh, yeah, I can just get up and wing it. And if I’m in the room, when they say that, I’m like, No, you are rehearsing with me before the thing. And the first time is always a disaster. I like to say I like to get my disasters out in the rehearsal, I have to rehearse in front of people. Because doing it by myself, I’m perfect. And as soon as I’m in front of one person, I’m a disaster. I need to get all those stumbles out the first time, at least once and then do it for real. Sleep, if you’re well rested, will do a better job. Resist the urge to network or socialize too much the night before, which is challenging with workcamps. Because often, we have our speaker dinner the night before, and sometimes people go out afterwards. So it’s a recommendation that you can decide what to eat what you want to do with that. I always prefer sleep yourself. Exercise, the best way to get rid of nervous energy is to burn it off. physiologically, the reason you get nervous is so that you’ll have energy and adrenaline to fight or flee from a predator, if you’re able to running or getting some other form of exercise is a great way to burn off that nervous energy and convince your body that the danger is over. And specifically the part that you asked about breathing, absolutely 100% we are going to talk quite a bit of a breathing and we’re going to do an exercise later as well. When we get nervous, we tend to take shallow breaths into our chest as part of the body’s preparation for fight or flight. And it actually deprives the brain of some of its important oxygen. Take a long, slow breaths into your belly. And this will help calm you and clear your mind. It’s a good idea to take breaths before getting on stage while you’re waiting when you’re onstage just before you start talking, which is what you just asked about. And every so often during the talk, we’re going to do a breathing exercise later. there’s a there’s a breathing exercise that I started doing during this online time that has been especially helpful for calming myself and for getting connected with the audience. And so we’re going to go through that later.

Also, dressed comfortably. Being body conscious never helps. So make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever you’re wearing. take time for yourself before you speak. This helps you compose yourself and get mentally prepared. You could go for a walk. This is some favorite music. Go over your notes. Just take some deep belly breaths. Get to know the stage which at home means get to know your equipment. Try to find some time before your talk to see the room where you’ll be speaking. Hopefully, you’ll be doing a full tech rehearsal from your home which we’ll talk about. I’m going to skip use your own devices because again at home you know that’s the thing for stage if you can use your own devices at home you are using your own devices. This is an interesting one that was added to by the community to these workshops, adopter persona. This means don’t, this doesn’t mean don’t be yourself. It means be the speaker version of yourself. For instance, if you tend to talk with your hands when you’re nervous, embrace that and make it part of your suite of persona. You will behave differently when you’re in front of a big group of people. Go with it and don’t fight it and also be excited. Mel Robbins, the author of the five second rule says nervousness could actually be excitement. There’s no chemical difference between the feeling excited and anxious. It’s the same physical state. So if you think you’re nervous, try turning it around and remind yourself to be excited. Are there things we can practice? Yes, we can practice taking three deep belly breaths, and then saying the sentence? Actually, well, yeah, I think I have time I’ll take one or two, when I do it, it’s up to you how many you want to take some pretend I’m on stage to start speaking, and before I start speaking,

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are?

Hari 16:04
I’m going to try: Twinkle, twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are?

Jill 16:21
I don’t know if you noticed. But breathing right before, does a number of things including regulating your voice and sound. People told me I had this great stage persona. And it sounds sort of so smooth. And a lot of it is because I breathe just before.

Not sure if this is in the notes, I’m not sure if there’s going to be repeated. But another thing is I find when people just walk on stage and start talking. There’s something a bit off about that. But if somebody gets on stage, take some moment, breeds, and then start speaking, the whole stage feels transformed, the person feels transformed. And it’s a completely different experience for the audience.

Hari 17:11
That is an excellent tip. I’ve never really because what I normally do is I just walk into the state and start talking. I’ve never really played this.

Jill 17:20
So yeah, that’ll be fun to play with and try. And especially with the other exercise, then recommending end of no, yes, end of the the end of the regular workshop material onto the online tips. So some things for online. First of all, there’s a camera angle that is recommended as being the best tool for being online, you want to have it be you want to have it be directly seeing your face, ideally, being able to see I’m actually not at the ideal, I didn’t even pay attention today. Being able to see some of your tour. So having a bit of space above your head and not have been cut off of the joints because there’s something disconcerting looking like you have a fraction of an arm and having the camera be almost to your eyes, but just a little bit lower. Yeah. So there’s that. And there’s also the tip about what to do with your hands. So while you’re in this position like this can be like that. So if you have the opportunity to do those adjustments, we can try that right now with the thing again. So I’m going to go ahead and make those adjustments for myself. I have my camera, I have my computer on a shoebox when I’m online. And that’s how I get it at a pretty good height. And so here’s a pretty good

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Hari 19:13
Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are?

Jill 19:31
And we’re going to talk next about connecting with the audience. So first of all, before getting up online, specifically, even more important, we want to imagine ahead of time that we’re going to be speaking to a specific person or a specific kind of person. So I imagine ahead of time, you know who is it that I’m trying to reach with this what I want them to get from it. And I, sometimes I even picture a specific person, I’m like, I want to reach a Meetup organizer. And I think, Oh, I know this specific Meetup organizer, I’m gonna pretend I’m talking to her. It’s a great idea, if you can put a little picture up by the camera, if you can’t get a picture, even just a sticky note with their face. In cases like this, I sorry, not their face, little sticky note with a happy face on it. In cases like this, you know, I know I’m going to be seeing your faces. I’ve asked ahead of time, if everybody can have their cameras on. And I’ve been doing this for long enough that I can just do it. But in cases where I think I might be thrown off, I will still try to do that. And I still, the energy reset that we’re going to do next is a thing where I go through, it’s a breathing exercise, as well as I do actually think about, you know, who am I trying to reach? What do I want them to get? How do I need to be for that to happen? So I’ll go through that in a moment. But first, if you’re thinking about your talk, kind of give some thought right now to what kind of person are would you want to be connected with. And you can keep that to yourself or shirt.

So there’s this energy reset exercise that I started doing before every online meeting and every presentation. It’s from an authentic blog coach named George cow. He does, you know, marketing as well as he has those spiritual stuff. I’ve modified the exercise so that it’s not spiritual. Just as a forewarning the version on his website, he keeps the spiritual aspects in it. But he also says you can do whatever you want, you don’t need to do that. The way I’m going to teach it is a four step exercise. First, I. So we we breathe in a concept and breathe out another concept. First, to get grounded, and to feel safe. I breathe in the idea of love. And breathe out the idea of total security, meaning I’m completely safe and supported. I feel really good about being here. I’m grounded and connected. I breathe in love. Without total security. And because I’m an anxious person, I usually do this a few times until I feel good. And then the next step is imagining the person I want to be reaching and imagining what is it that I want this person to get from this talk, by the end of the talk, I want this person to feel something, they want this person to do something. So I breathe in and think about that person and think about what I want. What’s my intention for that person? And I breathe out, how do I need to show up? How do I need to be for that to happen. So for example, for these workshops, it is my goal for people to feel really motivated and inspired to start speaking into, like, I just picture that people are like running off being like, I’m gonna supply to speak for everything. So I breathe in imagining if I’m delivering it to participants, I breathe in imagining that people are just so excited and motivated and applied to speak immediately after, at their Meetup or WordCamp. And usually, when I’m breathing out, it’s usually who do I need to be connected with the people connect with the material, also open and supportive and creating a supportive space for people. So feel comfortable to be exploring something that can be really scary for a lot of people.

So let’s do the exercise together. I will, I’ll do it and then I’ll do each part love to security, and then we’ll do it together. And then I’ll do usually talking through what I’m imagining and doing together. Love, security, security. imagining that I want participants to imagine a specific participant imagining why would why want her to walk away with I need to be open, connected, supportive, safe. Present, I often am not present until I remind myself to present these things. So imagine what imagine a person and what you want that person to get from the talk and how you do this. So that’s an exercise that I’ve been grabbing on to, especially for online and probably going to continue it after as well, because I found that to be very powerful. And it goes along well with imagining thinking in advance what kind of person you want to be connecting with. And on top of the next section about where to look. Okay, so I’m going to talk now about where to look. So you’re going to be finding, you’re going to be reading your slides, you may have notes, as much as you can try to look into the camera itself. The other thing is, you know, if you can see people, you might be looking at your screen of people, or in my case, I’ve got a monitor behind, try to position it, so I’m not too far off. But, but even even then, I try to stop and look into the camera from time to time, even though I can’t actually see you, when I look into the camera directly. You feel like I’m connecting more. And whether your participants are visually visible on the screen or not, you know, if they’re all in a chat, or the visible on the screen, it’s still a good idea as much as you can to look directly at the camera. And imagine that you’re talking to this person, especially if you have that little picture next to the camera that makes it a lot easier as well to imagine talking to that person. And along with that, if you’re anything like I was before taking the camera confidence course, I was a deer in headlights in front of any camera I’ve been, I’ve always been great on stage in person, but in front of the camera, I would just freeze up. And so there’s an exercise called daily video journal that helps clear me up from that which was from Daniels course. And this is for 10 minutes, by yourself, but you have to be recording yourself talking to the camera, as if you know stream of consciousness journaling. As if it’s your best confidence or, you know, it’s an exercise to find out who you really are. When there’s nobody else, there’s nobody you need to impress, and find out what your authentic voices. And that’s actually when I found out that, you know, I was working through things telling it all my deepest secrets. And I got very quiet. And that’s when I realized, Oh, I’m actually I’m getting really connected with my camera. And that’s something I can actually bring more into my workshops because that’s my authentic self. I also would get silly and make faces and that is not something I’m bringing into these but I do bring that into like calls with friends and other situations. But it’s you know, I’m I’m a little bit jokey in these, I don’t quite bring that. But it’s the thing that that loosened me up and got me comfortable being in front of the camera and also finding out who I am. And so I am going to have this link in the speaker resources, which Harry you are already getting because you filled out questionnaires.

And it’s something that I highly recommend, she says to do it for 30 days, you don’t have to do the whole time. Shoot until you feel comfortable. Or you can do like she’s got you know, on different days, try different things, you can do that as well if you want. So, what I’d love to do now is to practice any of these things of you know, looking into the camera, pretending you’re talking to that person. If you want to quietly do that injury reboot for breath exercise for speaking. You know, you can do it while the person before you speaking if you want if you don’t want to take up too much time or you can take the time. We have a lot of time. Up to you. And also Yeah, I think that’s all that we’re rehearsing. So I am going to do a little bit of breathing and imagining I’m speaking to a person Twinkle, twinkle, little star, I wonder what you are

Hari 30:11
I’m going to try that real quick. So: Twinkle, twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are?

Jill 30:29
Nice. Beautiful.

Okay, we have one more part in this section, which is practicing for online. So for speaking online, when you’re rehearsing, at least once, it’s a good idea to simulate a false speaking situation, full tech on camera recording, mic and lights on. If you do that, having at least one one through without stopping. Because sometimes we’re rehearsing we’re like, oh, I need to do that better, you’re not necessarily going to be able to stop and start again, in an actual rehearsal in an actual talk. So during at least one through, even if you stumble, keep going, because that’s how it’s going to be in a real situation. And anything else. Also, I find that each online situation is using different software. And things look and feel different in different software. Zoom has this wide view, other software has narrow view. So if you can rehearse with the same software, that is fantastic. And if you can’t, any software will do. For example, I am giving a talk for a Vancouver group in a couple weeks, and they’re actually going to have me do a rehearsal with them. So we can practice their tech side, my tech side. They want to make sure everything I’m saying is things that you know is going to be appropriate. And that way we all know how the tech works. Thank you.

Workshop Details



I lead the Diverse Speaker Training group in the Community Team. We have a workshop that encourages more diverse folks to apply to speak at WordPress events.

I helped organize the first BuddyCamp and for three years co-organized WordCamp Vancouver. I was named one of the top 100 Influencers of WordPress in 2014 by Torque Magazine and one of the top 10 Women of WordPress by CloudWays.

Hari Shanker R

I am an Open Source Program Manager at Automattic. I work full-time on WordPress, and I am a Community Program Manager (formerly known as “Super Deputy”) on the Make/WordPress Community Team. My current focus is on making the contributor experience for the WordPress open source software the best it can be. I’m currently leading the Contributor Working Group of WordPress where we are working on building contributor mentorship programs for WordPress! I also help manage, support, and run the Five for the Future program.

WordPress is one of the biggest passions in my life, and I strongly believe that open source tech and the open web have the potential to make the world a better place.

I have had a rather diverse career with significant experience in the domains of Retail Banking, Print & Web Journalism, Web Development, Entrepreneurship, Event Management, Professional Blogging, and Education.

Outside of work, I enjoy writing (blogging) as a hobby, and I’m a compulsive bibliophile. I’m also a happily married pet parent to three cats.