Top 5 Best Presentation Skills
for Rocking the Virtual Stage
with Rich Bontrager
Rich Bontrager should be dead at least three times, and yet he has defied the odds medically since birth, through a severe fire accident, liver failure, and transplant in 2017. “Trigger,” as he is commonly known, has enjoyed a 30-year career as a sports broadcaster, talk-show host, and now keynote speaker, despite being born with a horrible stutter. He also hosts a YOUTUBE channel equipping leaders and communicators Defy the odds, and host a weekly live TV show “How To Rock the Virtual Stage.” Follow him @KeynoteRich on Twitter.
More about Rich at https://www.richbontrager.net
The value and importance of learning how to present powerfully, purposely, and professionally on the virtual stage. Your message and mission are important, and how you present your message virtually is just as important. I can help you learn broadcast, media, and speaker skills that will transform how you present, raise awareness, and raise money.
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, this is Hugh Ballou. Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. What a great time we have with amazing people who have amazing things to share. For a long time, I have worked for 32+ years with clergy and nonprofit leaders. I have often thought, They have a really good message. What if they worked on their presentation skills? We are presenting to people who could be on our board, our teams, our committees, could write us a check. But we sometimes don’t come across very well.
My guest today, Rich Bontrager, he goes by the nickname “Trigger.” Rich is not far from Lynchburg; he’s on the other side of Virginia in Washington D.C. Rich, welcome. Tell people a little bit about yourself, would you please.
Rich Bontrager: Thanks, Hugh, for having me on. Great to be here. Trigger is a nickname that I will explain. I have been a broadcaster for over 30 years. I have also been in church ministry for about 25 years. I have worked with nonprofits and ministry outlets. I have been a public speaker on the physical stage, from the church pulpit, and in the broadcast studio. I have always had a microphone. I have learned skills of presentation, communication, and with the advent of the COVID shutdown, the birth of the virtual stage is here. I have all these skills, and I have brought them together like a news sandwich: broadcasting and public speaking, let’s help people do better on these virtual stages. Your camera presence, your enunciation, your hand gestures, your backdrops, all of these TV and broadcast skills, now we have, regardless of your industry, to learn broadcast skills to share your message better and make an impact.
I have a great family. I’ve had a great life. I love to do this. This is my new passion: to give back with what I’ve learned and help other people rock the virtual stage.
Hugh: Amazing. I was talking to a mutual friend of ours yesterday who will be celebrating her 90th birthday in just over a week. We had talked about various careers. I had shared I am in my third career and having the best time doing great things with great people. In our SynerVision network, we have some people doing some incredible stuff, making a difference that matters in the lives of people.
You have been in the pulpit. You are also a member of the National Speakers Association. I assume you have clocked a lot of hours to be a member of that association. There are some skillsets with being a presenter. I flipped over from being a conductor to a presenter, which means I had to turn around and face people where I had been turning my back to them. In May 2007, I was on a big stage with a lot of people. It’s different. Conducting an orchestra is more difficult than speaking, but having to face people is a whole different skillset. I have studied content with a speaking coach, and I have studied with a drama coach on how to present myself on stage.
We’re going to talk about your title, “Five Tips for Rocking the Virtual Stage.” I want to have you list those. You have that background you mentioned in those areas. What are the specific skillsets that you bring to the table to help nonprofit leaders and clergy be better at presenting their message?
Rich: Like you said, I’ve clocked over a thousand different stages, at least. I have been from the public to the professional to the entertainment sector to the ministry sector. The crowds are always changing. The overlapping goal is education of some kind. We are trying to educate, share knowledge, inform people of something. The tools are very similar, but they’re also different depending on who you are trying to reach. The verbiage may change, but the skillsets are the same.
This is now broadcast TV. I have met with a lot of well-known speakers that have been on stage, but now this is TV. This is changing, where you put your hands, how you talk, where you look. Turning around from your back to the stage to the front, there is no more crowd in front of us. We are all in rooms by ourselves trying to figure out how to be entertaining and engaging. A lot of what we do now has to be a mental adjustment. It has to be a mental conversation here.
Hugh: You almost have to imagine your audience, don’t you?
Rich: You do. That is the precursor to everything else I am going to talk about. I have been gifted with a great imagination. I love Walt Disney. I love cartoons. For me, it was very easy. Plus I had to overcome a stutter when I was young. I was always imagining playing to different things. I know a gentleman who had a real struggle with this who took his kid’s Pixar toys. He was talking to Buzz Lightyear when this whole thing began with COVID. He created an audience. I encourage people to put pictures on the other side of the camera, your loved ones, a fake audience, cardboard cutouts, whatever you have to do to imagine you’re not in a room with someone else. Turn the camera into a person. Fall in love with them. Then you can engage with people through the lens. If you have a hard time with that adjustment, that’s going to be tough. You are playing to an empty room. Everyone right now is doing it. But the best people have to learn to turn on their imagination and see people smiling and laughing and having a good time with you.
Hugh: Some of the stages we’ve been on, there’s lights, and you can’t see your audience. But there is a presence there. People respond to what you’re saying. There is no comparison now to what we used to have when there was a live audience. Before we go to your five tips, tell us about this Trigger thing.
Rich: Bontrager. When you’re doing sports play by play or interview shows on the radio, where I spent most of my career, you get caught up in the excitement and the energy. Bontrager usually gets cut, misheard, misspelled. It’s been butchered so many times.
Trigger is part of my personality. I was with the same sports partner for seven years, three different stations with a talk show. He was more of the straight guy with the facts and the stats. I had the personality. When the phone lines lit up, I would take the same information and twist it a little bit to get people to call in and say, “That’s wrong. You’re an idiot. Let me debate you because your opinion is wack, Bontrager.” Trigger became the personality of that little skew, and it got people more engaged and excited. The personality that I am very outgoing and energetic added to it. For 30 years, Trigger has been around. Since we are in a new world of branding and marketing, I can’t come up with a better branding tool than my own nickname. Trigger, it is.
Hugh: Trigger, it is. Trigger is a noun and a verb.
Rich: Now you’re getting deep.
Hugh: The suspense is building. What are these five tips?
Rich: Let me give you the five real quick, and then we will break them down. Energy, engagement, entertainment, environment, and education. Those are the five. I also break them down in order. There is a reason for that order. Education is where we all want to get to: product, sales, biblical teaching, whatever. If you don’t do the first four well, they won’t stick around to #5.
Hugh: #1, energy.
Rich: We are going to build this pyramid up, and energy is #1. We are now in rooms by ourselves. This has become exhausting. People are having a tough time playing to an empty room. We don’t have the emotion of the crowd. We don’t have the applause. That energy how it feels when you’re on stage. We all got used to walking on a stage after an introduction was given, and you would say, “Thank you for being here!” The energy would flow out, we would hit the mark, and we would light it up. You’re now in a room by yourself. It’s me, myself, and I trying to make it a fun, engaging time. The energy you have to exude right now, you have to be so intentional and extra pumped up for the camera that it takes more out of you. More and more people are finding out a long coaching session, a webinar, church sermon, it takes more out of you because it’s just you doing all the hard work with your energy.
Hugh: I’m curious. Are you standing?
Rich: Yes, I’m standing. That is intentional. Standing is part of the way to get energy. This is part of the presentation. We have been trained this way to get on stage. To me, this is a real stage. Part of this mental adjustment is this is not a small thing. The virtual stage is ever-expanding. It’s getting bigger and bigger. Bring the bigness of the full stage. Present like you’re on the grand stage and bring the energy. Bring the passion. Let’s have a great show.
Hugh: For 40 years, I was in church music ministry. Teaching singers posture and all that goes with vocal production is important. The warm-up to that. There is a preface to creating the energy. It’s not only mental. It’s physical, correct?
Rich: yes. Before every show that I do, and I have my own weekly talk show, I will turn on music and use it as an energizer bunny. I get jacked up before every show. I turn it to 12, turn it to a favorite song. I have some go-to’s. it gets the blood boiling. I rock out in my own green room. Then I get on stage and am ready to go for you. I encourage people to do that. Find a way to get the fuse lit before you go on camera.
Hugh: Even my audio podcast, when I switch from being seated at a desk and doing my script to standing, you can hear the difference.
Rich: I approach professional speakers who have sat down and doing the desktop conversation. They are wondering why it’s lagging, why the crowd is not feeling it. I tell them to stand up. “This is stupid.” We keep coaching and talking. In the middle of every one, they ask, “What just happened?” What happened is you are feeling the energy. You are getting back into full body language. 70% of what we communicate is through body language. When we present again, we are talking a new language. That speaker and the audience feels the language in a whole new way. Speakers haven’t forgotten it. Now let’s talk about churches, pastors, CEOs, nonprofit organizations. This is a new skillset to learn. You need to stand up and have new energy to go where you want to go.
Hugh: Energy is front and center. What’s #2?
Rich: Engagement. We talked about this on the physical stage, how there is a glass between you and the live audience. On the physical stage, you need to figure out how to break the glass. What do you need to do to engage them and bring them with you on a journey, on an adventure? When I was in church ministry, I did not talk about doing a sermon. I talked about giving an experience. How can I engage your heart, your mind, your soul? How can I engage you? The engagement now is poll questions. You can use polls, chat boxes, breakout rooms. You can do different things to raise virtual engagement, get people together in small groups. Do your big presentation. Smaller presentations in breakout rooms. You can change the rhythm with these engagement tools. The opportunities are endless if you start learning how to do it. Engagement is key because they will turn out. If you don’t have the energy like on TV, they will turn the channel someplace else.
Hugh: What I determine in speaking in front of large audiences, the bigger they are, the faster they’ll turn on you. The engagement piece is. Key.
Rich: Yes. There are lots of new things to learn how to do. We are also in the TV age. We will talk about entertainment later on. We have been trained by TV. Every seven minutes, we have a commercial. Snack break, bathroom break. Part of engagement, as we can present virtually, how can we bring those same things in to engage our audience? You don’t go for 30 minutes, an hour straight through. No one will stay with you. What can you do to change the rhythm every 7-10 minutes? Send them to a poll. Give them a clip. Ask them a question. Take their questions in the chat box. Say, “I am going to throw this question out. I will give you 15 minutes in a breakout room.” Drop people in breakout rooms. Have them come back. Ask the breakout rooms what they did. Now you are raising engagement. It’s not just you; it’s everyone in the audience totally engaging. Their energy goes up. Their desire to stay with you goes up. You get people to stay with you longer and longer. Again, you have to think about this as showrunning a whole different way.
Hugh: I don’t care what you’re presenting. It’s still the common denominator. We are in this TV culture. Even before COVID, we are in a group, and people will be in front of you talking to each other, treating you like a TV. TV is so boring that they have a side conversation going on. What you’re talking about becomes more critical when you are presenting to people you can’t even see out there.
Rich: Right. We all have Zoom fatigue, or whatever platform you’re on. We all have tiny Brady Bunch boxes. You can’t read the crowd. You can’t tell if they’re laughing. You can’t tell if they are playing on their cell phones or talking to their kids off camera or eating pizza. You don’t really know what’s going on. On the physical stage, you could read the room. You could hear the guy reach for his pen, see the guy texting his wife. Now you have to hold them deeper, longer because you don’t really know what’s going on on the other side of the lens. This is more energy, more thought, more engagement, but also make it fun.
Make it a lot of fun. People are craving human connection right now. They want to have people connect with them and engage with them. For many people, this box is the only way they are doing it. What can we do as ministers, thought leaders, nonprofits? How can we better serve the people we want to serve by creating more engagement opportunities? Have themed parties. Have birthday parties. Whatever you need to do to create more engagement with people.
Hugh: I sign up for webinars not because I am interested in the topic, but because I am interested in how they get people there and what they do during the presentation. Some of these are two-hour events. How do they get people engaged? There are some hokey things like put a “Go, Hugh” in the chat, or something silly. There is an audience response piece. I guess you break that glass barrier on the Zoom as well as you do in person. What are some of the techniques you use?
Rich: When I am running a group, we will do themed days. You can rename yourself on the upper right-hand corner of Zoom. I have done, “Tonight, let’s do all our favorite cartoon characters.” Our rooms are Batman, Superman, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse. You are learning the personality of the person. It tells you something about them without even telling you something about them. Now you can say, “Daffy Duck, what do you think of this?” You have a whole new personality going on with people. Everyone else can see, especially if you are working with a company where everyone knows each other, everyone learned a lot about each other by simply changing their name.
Drop in your LinkedIn profile if you want to make a connection with people. Then you can say, “I want to get to know Hugh. I will go to his LinkedIn profile and connect with him right now.” You’re taking the engagement from here to an engagement offline, where you ultimately want to get them.
You can do theme parties. I grew up with a bunch of friends in high school who did bonfires together. We had a virtual bonfire. My background was a fire pit burning. We got together with pizza and other food. Everyone had their own stuff. We regaled old stories. One guy brought a bunch of pictures, and he screen shared pictures of us in our teenage years. Engagement was really high. We had a blast laughing and telling stories. That is the way engagement goes: coming up with new creative ways to pull people in with you.
Hugh: Love it. What’s #3?
Rich: Entertainment. For many people in the nonprofit sector, that is usually the reaction. Ministry people and church people, this is a dirty word. We don’t want to do it. But we are now in the TV age, where medium, media, social media is all wired for sound and entertainment. If you don’t have an entertainment element, and I don’t mean goofy, but if you are not engaging, entertaining, you will lose people. You need to find ways to have this come alive.
Storytelling is one of the best ways in the world. During your presentations, tell a compelling story. Put the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes into your stories. Take them on a journey with you. Entertain them with something that also has value to the greater meaning of what you’re talking about.
Think of Johnny Carson. He was one of the best talk show hosts ever because he was entertaining, he would tell stories, he would always break the glass. He was inside the cube of the TV box all his life, and he had a magical way of entertaining people through the camera lens. You have to figure out what your style is and how you are going to bring laughter and entertainment into it.
Hugh: I love it. When I teach live events, be it virtual or in person, or if I am doing a serious event like strategic planning, there has to be all these elements. The entertainment part, I do believe people learn more when they are having fun. I don’t care if you’re in church. You can laugh if you’re in church.
Rich: You need to make it something that the heart feels. Even comedians, the best comedians are the ones telling you reality about life in a funny way because everyone can relate to it. Jeff Foxworthy, so funny about his Southern jokes. I lived in Georgia for three years. The reason those jokes are so good, he’s not telling a joke. He’s telling the truth with some humor thrown in. That’s where entertainment comes into this.
You’re referencing a sound bite culture. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, whatever media you are connected to, Facebook, we are now in a sound bite culture. You have to figure out how to grab people. Have a headline, catchphrase, a teaser. How will you do this in a compelling way that they will click and stay with you for the next 30-40 minutes? The sound bite culture is not made for a long, dried out dissertation. It’s got to be bang. How do you grab them? “How to rock the Virtual Stage for Nonprofits.” What are you going to say or do to get that hashtag thing and get the short capture and pull them in? We have to learn these skills.
Hugh: What’s evident here, but we haven’t said it yet, is it’s a two-way engagement street. It’s not just us pushing stuff out. There is a receiving side. It’s the fundamental of communication. There is a sending and a receiving. There is an understanding and an accepting. There are a lot of pieces to how we relate to people. I guess breaking that barrier with the glass is beginning to create a relationship with your audience. Let me go back to the engagement piece a minute. We have to engage them for them to be entertained. If we’re boring, they won’t be engaged. Speak a minute about scripts and lecterns.
Rich: Oh yeah. One of my favorites.
Hugh: We’re in an age where the media criticizes everybody for their word choices. They themselves use bad words. A podium, a conductor stands on a podium. You don’t stand on a lectern, but they call a lectern a podium. That is a barrier in itself. In church, it’s the pulpit. In a lecture hall, it’s the lectern. That’s a barrier in itself, isn’t it?
Rich: Great point. In my church ministry days, 99.9% of the time, I pushed the lectern or podium off. Even if I was visiting a church as a guest speaker, I would tell them in advance, “I am going to open up the stage.” I want to take all the barriers between me and them and clean it away. That’s why I’m standing up during virtual events. I am doing a full presentation. I am going to clean all the things off. The desk we sit at, even though we are virtual, it’s a new barrier. People know you are sitting in an office space. This is expansive and open. The more open you are, the better it will be. Even though we are doing virtual church, life groups, Bible studies, I encourage you to open it up. Maybe sit on a couch with nothing in front of you. Stand up and work the whole stage. Learn how to have a camera following you. It is a different form of engagement.
Remove those obstacles. Remove anything that acts as a barrier. You could have a distracting plant behind you or a dog behind you. How many people have we seen with their laundry or wardrobe in the background during a big event? That’s distracting. Or too many books on your shelf. People are not listening to you. They want to figure out what you’re reading. You can have that, but if you overdo it, the engagement shifts from you to that other thing. You want that engagement to be here. What can you do to take that lectern or whatever that barrier is, move it out of the way, and keep the engagement right here?
Hugh: I had a journey my first public speaking. There is a fear factor. What is next on my script? I was having a conversation yesterday with a family member who is clergy. Their church in Charlotte is really doing some innovative things virtually with people. He is one of many of the clergy staff. He said he’s gone away from scripting. First he read a script. Now he memorized a script. People still know you’re reading it off your eyelids. You’ll laugh at this. When I first did keynotes, I would lean on the slides. There was a monitor in front of me so I could see my own slides. I hate it when I’m in a group and someone presents with all these wordy slides, and they turn around and read them with their back to you.
Hugh: We’re guilty of that on Zoom. We’re covering up ourselves with slides with too many words. My thought is, They’re reading the slide. Why don’t they just send the slides? We don’t need you. We can read the slides ourselves.
I’ve had the journey of depending on the slides. Then I would cut regular sheets of paper in half and put big words on them and put them on the floor in front of me so that I could see what my cues were. Once I got rid of the crutch, let me tell you when it was. I had to follow Les Brown twice on stage.
Rich: Oh wow.
Hugh: I wore my tails as a conductor talking about leadership. I was tying my bow tie and looking in the mirror because I was nervous as all hell because he had the crowd roaring. I said to myself, “You’re going to be Hugh Ballou.” I claimed then I had no script. I knew where I was going. I had some slides that were enhancements. My clergy family member said he doesn’t read the script. People tell him they can feel the difference.
Rich: That’s exactly it.
Hugh: What is your secret?
Rich: Feeling the difference is a big thing. I did away with all of that. I have gone through the gamut of hard script, no script. I went with keywords. I would use limited PowerPoints. If you are doing virtual, do it with PowerPoints.
I was on a coaching event back in Minnesota with a coach ministry group. We were preparing for it a month in advance. He had 130 slides. I said, “No, you don’t have 130 slides.” I told him he didn’t. He asked what I meant. I said, “You have half of 130 slides. You won’t use them.” He listened to my coaching of, “You are the star, not the slides.” I lived in Rochester, Minnesota, the home of IBM. IBM would click you to death with one slide after another. I said, “You’re not going to click your people to death. You need to be the star.” We were preparing for this event, and he still had way too many slides. The partner he was going to co-chair this event with said, “Trigger, help him out.” I said, “You need to cut them in half again.” He said, “No, you’re killing me.” We will not be using half those slides. He spent the night before the show cutting them down in half again and blowing up the fonts so they would be usable, better for shorter use. We got done. They said, “Thank you. You saved us. We would have been so focused on clicking and doing the right process. Missing a slide would have been a train wreck.”
My tip is either do keywords. I invest in Post-it notes. This is the best gift I can give you. Get a bunch of Post-It notes. Put them on the monitor in front of you. Put your keywords right in front. It will force you to look at the camera because you want to engage with the camera. Eye camera level is so important. Not to the side, down, or up. Put your Post-It notes right here. You will look at them. No one will ever see them.
Number the Post-Its. Every single one of us has had talking points, and we forget the order of them. There is nothing worse than having a train wreck when you don’t remember the order and it messes with you.
Now I am talking to you. I have the freedom to do different stories. In the church setting, let God or the spirit work through you and not be stuck to a script. I did this for years in the church I planted. I found more freedom by letting it go that direction. I had the same message, the same main scripture, the same outline. It would always flow much freer for me. People could tell when you’re reading, when you’re stuck, and when it’s oozing out of you. I always coach what I say saturation. I would prepare all week long so it saturates or oozes out of me. Come Sunday, it would naturally flow out of me. On the virtual stage, you can learn tricks like that so it oozes out of you. People will love it. They will feel it. They will want to stay to the end.
Hugh: People use a script because they are afraid of leaving something out. How do you handle that?
Rich: I tell them not to worry about it. It wasn’t that important. We overthink everything where we think everything is so darn important. I am a believer of in the moment, we’re going to know what the crowd really needs. You may sit on one point longer. We may sit on entertainment longer because we know the crowd here needs more entertainment. The next crowd may need more engagement or energy. We get a sense from the feedback of where we need to go. I tell people, “Don’t worry. If you missed it, part of the reason we do Q&As is to go back and pick those pieces up.”
Also, in your presentation, always leave them wanting more. Always leave them wanting to follow up with you. Dangle a cliffhanger. This is TV. Cliffhangers have worked in movies and TV for years and years. If you miss it, drop in, “There were two more points I could have gotten to today. If you want to learn more, reach out. I’d love to talk to you.” You now have another tool of engagement and a surprise at the end that grabs people, and they want to come back for more.
Hugh: Love it. We have energy, engagement, and entertainment. Drumroll, #4.
Rich: Environment. This is a big one. I do virtual environments. You can do the physical environment or the virtual one. I feel that I’m on stage by doing virtual. I feel that I actually am on a platform again, not in an office, in a makeshift studio. We’re all doing this from makeshift studios at home in our basements. We are converting bedrooms. Whatever it is we are doing, we are now creating a new space for doing this. The environment now tells me lights, camera, action. Now it brings that persona or that energy, the engagement. It helps me to feel on a different place.
I can see myself on camera. I can see myself, even though I am looking at the camera. Look at the camera. Be aware of what you are doing on camera. Your environment allows you to move in, move back. You also don’t want to have the silly halo that all the Zoom stuff gets. The digital screen of Zoom without a green screen will always give you the halo effect. You will always be a ghost. Don’t let the arm disappear. It loses everybody. It’s a real distraction.
A physical green screen allows me to have a deeper, richer environment. I am just confidently presenting without ghosting. If you do a physical set, I encourage you to do it in a corner of a room so you have depth to it. A flat surface feels one-dimensional. Things on the side, things behind, different angles also help your audio sound because instead of a flat surface bouncing things off of you, you don’t want the hard surface to bounce off the audio. The angles of the corner help cut and bounce, so it’s a richer sound. Your environment is so important.
Hugh: I noticed you had your hair done nicely for the show today.
Rich: Yes. When you have hair on those virtual things, your hair will have a mat look to it. It automatically squeezes in. I have seen very attractive, lovely ladies do their hair great for being on camera. It’s not a good thing. This environment thing is bigger than what you think.
If you have a company, a church ministry, a nonprofit organization, having a good environment brings confidence to the people watching. People are shaking by COVID. They are freaked out. They have lost confidence. This gives non-verbal confidence of, “They are doing a great job. These people are trustworthy. They are put together.” It gives credibility to what you are doing virtually. Instead of saying this is lesser than, it makes it greater than again.
Hugh: That’s a great tip. I was also thinking about sometimes we want to be too fancy with too many colors or patterns. You have a solid color, and I am mostly solid. You don’t want too much distraction anywhere.
Rich: No, simple is better. You also need to be aware that you cannot wear green clothes with a green screen. You will disappear and have the floating head on camera. You cannot wear green with a green screen. You cannot wear blue with a blue screen. I have found that darker, richer colors help hide the illusion of the ghosting. If you do a lot of whites, those white, crisp, clear backdrops will always give you the outline, the dark cartoon line around you. I encourage dark blues, dark greens. Go with a dark, rich color. It adds to the depth. You’re back on stage again.
Lighting does matter. You want lighting to hit it, absorb it, so it blends in better. Those are some of the other things you need to think about with backgrounds. How are you lighting it so it looks authentic?
Hugh: I am traveling today so I don’t have my studio lights or diffusers. The angle of the light and the softness. Your face is soft. When I complimented Rich’s hair, it’s because there is no hair on the top of his head. It’s on the front of his face. He’s wearing a single color, and he has a background that is at an angle so it has some depth to it. You practice what you preach here. We can be distracting to our message in a number of ways. Appearance and lighting. I am not with my TV glasses today because I have glasses with an anti-glare. I noticed when I looked at myself, there is a glare. Looking at the camera. Many of us have separate cameras now. The camera is one place. The monitor is another. Some people I talk to, the monitor is on the side, so they are talking facing the side, and I am seeing the side of their head. Looking into the camera is key.
Rich: Yes, you have to talk eyeball to eyeball. The camera is the person. The camera is not technology. This is Hugh. In a group, it’s the audience. I talk to the camera. I play to the camera. That is why actors have learned how to fall in love with the camera. I was on a call with a guy earlier who has been on TV, and his whole family has been around TV production. We had a great conversation about the importance of playing to the camera. That means you need to have your technology in front. A separate monitor to the side needs to be moved in front of you. No one cares what’s on the other side of the camera. Pile it up. Make it work. Keep all attention here. If you move to the side and try talking to someone, you’ve lost them.
Or if you have that bad lighting, you have that two-faced look. People think you’re in the shadow. The glare things, Hollywood has worked on that glare technique for years. Glasses, camera angles, and lighting angles. If you do wear contacts or glasses, you need to run video on yourself so your environment doesn’t have that repulsive glare. You want it as clean as you get it.
Roll tape, practice. I also mark them on the floor. I know where my camera is going to be, where my tripod is going to be, and my lighting. Your studio becomes more of a fixed studio. It helps you create that full environment, which gives you full confidence.
Hugh: Even though you said 70% of our impact is the emotion, the presence, the energy of the room, 7% is the words. The words have to be important. We have energy, engagement, entertainment, and environment. #5?
Rich: Education. We are at the one people want to get to. They want to educate, teach. I want to transform people through the message of the gospel or your nonprofit organization. I really stress that you have to do the first four now. We don’t have a choice. That sounds strong and arrogant, but you can’t do this without the first four on the virtual stage. The virtual stage is here to stay. No matter what happens post-COVID, it’s operating and flourishing, and it will be expanding. We need to learn how to work with this and use it for the greater good of our messages.
Education is all of those things put together. Now give them something compelling. Salespeople are having a hard time selling because they aren’t doing those things. People have lost consumer confidence. These companies are trying to educate. They don’t know how to share clothes on camera or documents on the technology side. Education is what we need to figure out. How do you educate people? How do you do this in a way that will make people much more engaged and energized and passionate? Now your education can be much more free-flowing. I don’t encourage you to use PowerPoints. Use storytelling. Use testimonials.
Here is a great way to do education. If you are the main speaker, bring someone else in. Invite them on the Zoom somewhere in this. Interview them. Ask them to share a testimony. People love hearing a satisfied customer much more than the salesman. Whatever the product is, people want to hear from the real customer. “When we were packing shoeboxes for kids overseas, Susie, tell me all about it.” Susie lights up. She goes crazy. It’s energy, passion, testimony, education about here is what we did. Here is what we accomplished. Now you’re educating, and it supports everything you are trying to share as a message. And it was entertainment because Susie is like a commercial. You are educating people in a new, creative, fun way.
Hugh: We learn more that way. Talk about length. You talked about time between commercials earlier on, about being seven minutes. We don’t pay attention for very long at a time. Length of the total presentation, and then how do you segment it so it’s broken into palatable, executable sections?
Rich: I’ll use my “How to Rock the Virtual Stage” show as an example. Out of radio, we used to clock everything. You had traffic at the 40s and 20s, which was standard. I’ll do my introduction. I’ll tease the next big show. That’s a little teaser. I will talk about the new guest coming on. I will bring the guest on in. We are going. 10-12 after, I will launch a poll. I will have some pre-programmed polls. I will launch poll #1. I will share the questionnaire. I will go back to my guest. We will talk about other things. Then let’s go back to the results of our poll. I will share the results. That’s another commercial. We go again. Every 7-10 minutes, I intentionally change to something else. At the half hour, I do another poll. At that point, I have the guest answer a long question. I bring everyone in. Everyone moves from the webinar mode into panel mode. They can interact with a live studio audience. Now I’m saying, “If you have a question for Hugh, Hugh can answer it. Unmute yourself, introduce yourself, and ask a short question.” We have this transition between me speaking, them speaking, and Hugh speaking. The engagement and time zooms by. Then I do a wrap-up. Then we’re out.
I encourage people, if you’re going to do something like this, half-hour shows are great. Hour shows work well. Nothing more than an hour and a half. People cannot do three-hour or two-hour Zooms. Board meetings can’t be long anymore. I encourage you to think about TV episodes. Do a part one. Come back Tuesday night for part two. People will be more refreshed and energized. They will have time to think about ideas. Give them a homework assignment to do. Let’s knock it out for another hour.
When I was doing live presentations for my training of my leaders at my church, I can get jacked up. The longer the meeting goes, I get more excited. I made a promise that I would go an hour and a half, and just as they were getting tired, I would stop and say, “I could go further. We are going to stop because I promised you this much time. We’ll pick it up next week.” They thanked me for the self-awareness and for not driving them beyond where they could go. We have to be aware of where people are at and figure out what your goal is for the show, for the event, for the webinar. What is your goal? Then time these things out so the engagement and the length does not draw out too long.
Hugh: There are many applications for what you’re teaching us. I have online content. I have switched from hour modules to five-minute modules. It’s a five-minute with an action guide handout. Here is a concept. Here is what you can do about it. Some people want to gather data. To me, that’s not useful. Let’s learn it. Let’s digest it. Let’s apply it. We are better at taking the information. I don’t know about you, but I’d like people to use what I share with them.
Rich: The five-minute model is great. These five points I gave you today. You could have five different modules. I could have a handout or product. I could do the engagement. Same thing. I could have five different parts with an introduction and a closer. I could have seven modules for good content. People can learn at their own pace. Five minutes, seven minutes. Those are nuggets. Sound bite culture. How can we do it quick, informative, fun, engaging, and have them come back for more?
Hugh: I have three P’s for you behind these five E’s: Prepare, Practice, and Preview. How many times have people been up on stage, and they show slides with a glaring spelling error because they didn’t preview them? How many times do you know they’re winging it because they haven’t rehearsed it? They didn’t think through what they were saying, so the message is halfway there. Do you want to add anything?
Rich: Those are great. You do need to prepare. I talk about showrunning. I am now showrunning a show every Wednesday night. You are showrunning this show every Tuesday. You have to send out preview content. Here are the questions. Here is the outline. If you are new to this, which mostly everyone is, I encourage you to stand up, roll tape on yourself. The best way to learn about presentation is to roll and review. Edit, drop, review. In my earliest days of broadcasting, this goes way back to splicing tape. Remember that, Hugh?
Hugh: Oh yes.
Rich: I would listen to myself. The hardest thing for a speaker is to learn what your head voice sounds like to the real crowd. Our voice in our head is different than crowd voice. We have to listen back to our audio. It was painful. I was horrible. I had to get used to hearing my own voice. The more I did it, the more I learned about how to use the voice. It’s like learning an instrument. The more I heard myself, the better I got at it. I learned how to be a storyteller: the highs, the lows, the voice inflection, the stage mannerisms. We now have a way of doing that. We used to stand up in front of mirrors. Look at ourselves. Roll the tape. Turn on the microphone. Let it go. Delete it. No one will ever know how bad you once were unless you want to share it at a gag party someday. That’s preparation. This is all about how to do this better.
Hugh: I have two questions to put together to let you address. “The virtual stage is an ever-expanding platform with limitless potential to impact the world.” That’s the first one. The second one is: “How do you see this virtual stage impacting all of us who are presenters after COVID is over?”
Rich: After COVID, the virtual stage is not going away. I have talked to event planners and speakers who realize that there are no hotels, no bad food, no TSA, no delays. I have been in Australia and Canada on the very same day. It’s impossible to do that in the physical world.
There are more platforms available now this way. It used to be the big arenas would only have the big speakers, if it’s a Christian convention, Tony Robbins, John Maxwell. The A-list people got the main stage. You got regulated to the kids’ table, the smaller event box. Now, everyone is coming from the same place. They may still have John come in live, but they will beam you in separately, and you will be just as strong and polished. You could do a breakout seminar with a virtual breakout. There are more platforms.
Small hotels have never been able to compete with the big auditoriums. Small hotels can now say, “We will do an event. We will have a local person come in live and do this. We will have three other people beam in.” You can have a four-person speaker event in a small hotel that seats 200 people. They finally get a chance to compete and be a part of it. More stages will come alive than ever before.
The other thing with this is there will be these TV shows. The evolution will get bigger. We are already seeing this with Netflix and HBO Max. The evolution of broadcast TV as we knew it is now fractured, and the outreach platforms are unbelievably rich and big. With churches, for example, you can now do- I can remember how horrible some of the debates and tragedies of televangelism. We now have a tool to beam into people and share with them in a powerful way. The shut-ins, those medically shut in after COVID, you have a ministry tool to talk to them in a way I have never before been able to.
This is endless. This is ever-expanding. I really believe it. I don’t think we’re going to ever shut this down. There will be a new evolution. There will be a new stream of virtual activity that is going to be great. It can be used for good or bad. We all know that. But I believe there is more good that can be done here. I encourage people to step up and rock it.
Hugh: We have two minutes here. It occurs to me, and I have always said this to leaders, that leaders are presenters. You can do the very same thing you’re talking about here for a crowd when you are presenting to one funder or potential board member. The same rules apply. What do you say to that?
Rich: Absolutely. I think they have to. I go back to Walt Disney. Walt Disney, The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night. He would come out behind his desk, do 15 minutes of talking about the maps, the toys, the innovations. He would vision cast and ooze out how cool this would be. He would say, “Now, here’s our feature presentation.” Walt was better most of the time in 15 minutes than most of his features were. He was so captivating. That is what drove Disney to grow. It was the vision, his way of communicating, and his coming alive. He was doing virtual stages before everyone else. That’s what we need today. We need to have new Walt Disneys.
Hugh: He was pushing the curve, wasn’t he? He made it interesting, and it was entertaining and engaging and energized. He had a very distinctive presentation style. But he rehearsed it. It was very well-prepared.
Rich, this is helpful. We talked a lot about faith-based ministry work, but it’s the same in the testimonies we give for our charitable organizations doing good work. We need to connect with people more than we are or have been. This is a good opportunity to connect with different audiences to talk about the charitable work we’re doing. There are so many charities doing really great things. There is a lot of people that don’t know about it. You have opened a new door to a new platform for lots of nonprofits.
Rich: I’ll tack on there. Do a shout-out. Do a Facebook Live. Show them in action here’s what we’re about. Do it in a big-stage, engaging way. You will pull people. They will come running at you.
Hugh: Don’t have too many points. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them. I add to that, challenge them to go do something.
*Sponsored by EZCard*
You pulled the trigger on a lot of things today. What challenge do you want people to leave with as we leave this really helpful interview? Do you have something you’d like to leave everyone with?
Rich: The biggest thing is that technology on the virtual stage is not your enemy. You have not lost anything. In fact, you have gained a new tool that will help enrich us in so many ways. But you do have to learn broadcast skills. Be a constant learner. Be someone who is taking, looking, absorbing, and practicing. There is nothing to fear. If you need help with this, reach out. This is what I do for a living now. I am having the time of my life helping people, agencies, churches present and up their game because this is here to stay. This is going to have a major impact, be a game-changer. I would love to help you achieve your dreams and goals. Go have fun with this. Go have fun.
Hugh: You can find Rich on RichBontrager.net. He has some videos and helpful resources on his site. Thank you for a helpful, wonderful interview today.
Rich: Great to be with you, Hugh. Thank you for letting me help you rock the stage.