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16.2: Online Public Speaking

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    Traditionally, public speaking has been understood as a face-to-face exchange between a designated speaker and an audience. In fact, when you imagine a public speaker, you likely picture a person standing on a stage with a podium and speaking in front of a live audience.

    However, new media and digital technologies have begun expanding both our access to public speakers and our platforms to speak and reach new audiences. YouTube—a global video sharing service—has more than 1.8 billion monthly users (Gilbert, 2018), and these are just people who log-in! If you’re like us, you’ve likely watched hours of content published on YouTube, from instructional videos to political commentary. You may even access videos on Instagram Live or Facebook. With access to these platforms, speakers are now able to broadcast their insights and advocacies to a global audience.

    Businesses, too, have begun using online public speaking. Webinars, video conferences, and digital speakers have permeated professional industries, and it’s becoming increasingly important to consider best practices for creating speeches and being in the audience for online public speeches.

    The Covid-19 pandemic made even more people familiar with online tools for public speaking. When it was too dangerous to gather in person, people began using technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to host virtual classes, meetings, and gatherings. Even when it was possible to meet face to face again, many organizations and workplaces continue to use online platforms for meetings and presentations because its easier for people to join a Zoom call from their office or home than it is to physically meet in one location.

    Like any approach toward public speaking, online public speaking offers a variety of opportunities and constraints. Below, we outline what digital public speaking is and how to prepare to speak online.

    Online Public Speaking

    Online public speaking – also knowns as digital oratory—is a “thesis-driven, vocal, embodied public address that is housed within (online) new media platforms” (Lind, 2012, p. 164). Like all public speeches, an online speech should be well-prepared, organized, well-reasoned, and well-rehearsed. Purpose, synchronicity, and the audience all play key roles in online public speaking.


    Online speaking opportunities are not created equally, and each speech will have different general purpose—informing, persuading, or entertaining. Remember that just like other forms of public speaking, digital oratory requires a thesis statement, and the purpose of your speech will dictate how you craft the information that you’re going to present. With ready access to video technology that can be transmitted through our phones, it can be tempting to log-in and let our followers into our lives through a stream-of-consciousness vlog, but that’s not the type of digital oratory that constitutes prepared public speaking. Instead, prepare by considering your purpose for speaking and your thesis, then, organize your speech around the answer.

    For example, you might be participating—or leading—a live webinar via Zoom or recording an instructional video that explains how to use a new piece of technology and which you might upload to YouTube. Each speech will have a different purpose and, in turn, different expectations on what you should include. Once you’ve identified the goal, use earlier chapters to begin crafting content.


    Synchronicity describes whether your digital oratory will be delivered live or recorded for people to use later, if you’re presenting a speech live, you’re speaking synchronously, meaning your audience is experiencing it in real-time. Some online public speeches occur synchronously. For example, if you’re speaking to a non-profit organization about a local food pantry project through Zoom and the members of the organization are tuning in live to watch and hear your presentation, the speech is synchronous. In synchronous online speaking, many of the same face-to-face speaking principles apply. Live presentations are ephemeral, meaning they happen once. In synchronous online speaking – unless it’s being recorded – you have one chance to create a clear message, so it’s imperative that your content and information are crafted for clear understanding.

    Alternatively, you may speak asynchronously, meaning that the speech may be recorded and watched at a different time. YouTube, for example, houses many asynchronous videos, allowing audiences to tune in and watch when their schedule allows it. With an asynchronous video, speakers may have additional time to record, watch, and re-do if necessary. Similarly, audiences also have the ability to re-watch your presentation or pause the speech, if needed.

    Each option provides different opportunities and constraints.

    In synchronous speaking, you may be more comfortable in adopting and applying face-to-face public speaking strategies, including integrating live audience feedback. It’s common in synchronous online speaking for audiences to post questions or provide live feedback, allowing you to adjust your content and fill in gaps. If there is a technological mishap, however, you can’t correct it later. The mishap also happens in real time, and those barriers can influence your credibility as a speaker.

    In asynchronous speaking, you can control the content more easily because you can re-record the material to fix any technological errors. However, in asynchronous speaking, you cannot get live feedback from your audience, so you may be unaware if there’s a key question or issue they need answered.

    The Audience

    New media has expanded the audience pool for public speaking. In traditional public speaking, the audience is often limited to those individuals who show up for the event—the audience is explicit (the people who are physically present in the audience) or discrete (or targeted audience). In online speaking, you may have a discrete or dispersed audience (an audience whose members hear the speech in different times and locations). These different audience types, along with synchronicity, alter how audience engagement can occur.

    Consider our earlier example about presenting to a non-profit organization through Zoom. In this example, it’s likely that you’re aware of who the audience is, so you’re able to link your content to the discrete (or defined) audience. However, in other instances, your audience may be dispersed and more difficult to determine. If you become passionate about a local policy, for example, and decide to post a speech on YouTube, the audience is dispersed because it’s unclear who will click the link. With a dispersed audience, it can be difficult to make specific references or calls to action because geographic locations may alter what individuals are able to do.

    With a dispersed audience, there’s also an increased risk that audience members won’t view your digital speech. Digital communication has led to information overload – we’ve all experienced it. If you’re like us, you might scan through Instagram stories, clicking past images or videos that don’t catch your attention. If you’re posting a digital speech with a less-defined audience, the first few lines – the attention getter – become crucial to hook them into watching. Spend a little extra time crafting and rehearsing your attention getter.

    Being a Member of the Audience: you’ll likely be an audience member for many online public speeches – synchronous and asynchronous. Remember to take your position as an audience member seriously and avoid negative comments or trolling behavior. Even if you don’t know the speaker, how you contribute to the dialogue online (or how you communicate) still functions constitutively, so make sure the world-making that you’re participating in is ethical.

    As you can see, there are quite a few variations that define the context of a digital speech: an informative, asynchronous speech with a discrete audience; a persuasive synchronous speech with a dispersed audience. The more information you have about these variations, the more you can be prepared to digitally speak with confidence and clarity.

    Rehearsing to Speak Online

    Rehearsing to speak online can feel a bit odd, especially when video software enters the mix. You’ll be more effective in rehearsal if you’re aware of the speaking context, including the categories mentioned in the previous section: purpose, synchronicity, and audience. Knowing the context will and should inform how you rehearse for a digital speech because you should always rehearse under the conditions that you’ll speak.

    Pro-Tip: Rehearse under the conditions that you’ll speak.

    Integrate the presentation strategies for an on-line speech as you would for other speeches— including the purposeful development of verbal, nonverbal delivery, and presentation aids. There are a few additional variables for delivering a speech digitally that we’ll track below.

    Verbal Delivery

    Verbal delivery is key in a digital speech – particularly webinars or web conferencing where your vocals overlay a slideshow and your body isn’t visible to an audience. Verbal enunciation, punctuation, rate, and pauses become key to maintaining your audiences’ attention. “Energy” becomes a key word – an energetic voice has variety and interest to it.

    Audio-recording yourself during rehearsal on your smartphone or other device is a good first step, followed by thinking critically and honestly about whether your voice is listless, flat, or lacks energy. Since we tend to have a lower energy level when we sit, some experts suggest that web conference speakers stand to approximate the real speaking experience. As we have mentioned repeatedly through this book, preparing means practicing your speech orally and physically, many times.

    Sound and projection are two variables that can affect your verbal delivery in digital contexts. It’s important to rehearse with any technology – including a microphone – that will be present and in the physical context that you’ll record the formal speech. If you have a microphone, you will need to alter your projection level. If you don’t have a microphone, be aware of how the recording device will pick up sound – including your voice and other noise around you.

    At the beginning of the pandemic, when many of us were just learning how to use Zoom, we learned the hard way about what can be heard on camera if we weren’t careful when meetings were interrupted by barking dogs, passing traffic outside, the voices of others who were not on camera, or the sounds of toilets flushing or lawn crews working next door.

    Remember that extra noise is distracting: it can influence your credibility and the likelihood that an audience will continue listening.

    Nonverbal Delivery

    When rehearsing your nonverbal delivery, ask, “what’s visible in the video?”

    If your body is visible, you should rehearse with Chapter 9 in mind. As you rehearse, be conscious of where the camera will be. Will there be just one? Will there be multiple cameras? How far away is the camera? In some instances, audiences may have the ability to view your speech from multiple vantage points. Being aware of where those cameras are—one or multiple – is key to rehearsing your eye contact and facial expressions.

    Eye contact is still a key part of a digital speech. While you can avoid staring directly into the camera for an extended period of time, audiences still want some form of engagement, and eye contact allows you to make that connection. If you are recording the speech with or without a live audience, view the camera as your “audience substitute.”

    Background and Lighting

    Your background is also part of your video’s nonverbal aesthetics. Make sure that you consider how the background might translate to your audience. Is it messy? Distracting? Is it a white background? If so, you should avoid wearing white and disappearing into the walls. Are there windows behind you with bright light streaming through, making you almost invisible? If so, can you close the blinds or curtains or move? Can you set up a ring light to offset the light coming through outside sources and enhance your appearance? Does your videoconferencing software have filters that blur out imperfections that might otherwise be heightened by visual photography?

    Camera Positioning

    Because your facial expressions and body language are also visible in a digital speech, you will want to pay some attention to how the camera(s) is positioned. Don’t position the camera so closely that your head fills the frame, or so far away that you are a tiny object in the frame. To look your best, position the camera so that you are viewed from above from between 15° to 30° from eye level. Filming yourself at eye-level might make your facial features appear flat, while filming yourself from below eye level gives the impression that you are towering over your audience. If your camera is in your laptop computer, try balancing it on a small stack of books to achieve an optimal level.

    Wardrobe, Hair, and Makeup

    Wear appropriate clothing on all parts of your body. By now, everyone has heard at least one story of someone in a Zoom meeting who stood up to reveal that he was wearing pajamas or sweatpants below more formal clothing on top, or worse. Dress as if the audience might see your entire body to avoid such embarrassment. Also, make sure that your clothing looks good on camera in terms of color and lighting in your setting. Avoid noisy jewelry such as earrings or bangles that jingle if you move. Style your hair the way you would if you were meeting with this audience in person. Also, if you normally wear cosmetics when you meet with this type of audience in person, wear them on camera as well. Your goal is to look just as you would in the same setting if you were meeting face to face.

    For more detailed information, check out “Six Tips for Looking Great in a Zoom Meeting,” Jefferson Graham (2020).

    Dress Rehearsal

    Rehearse under these conditions and record your facial expressions to see how they are translating to others. Is your body language clear? Do some gestures or facial expressions look exaggerated? Can you adjust the camera position or lighting? Are your clothing and accessories distracting or do they make you fade into the background? Do you look professional? A videoed rehearsal will provide you with answer to these questions.

    Remember that effective rehearsal occurs under the conditions that you’ll speak. Your goal is to create an aesthetic experience that honors the purpose of your speech, so being accountable to all nonverbal factors will increase your ethos.

    Additional Preparation Tips:

    Make sure you will not be interrupted during the web conference.

    Have notes and anything else you need at hand. While you can use a computer to display them, be conscious of your audience’s ability to see you reading.

    If you can be seen, be seen—use the technology to your advantage so that you are not an entirely disembodied voice talking over slides.

    Presentation Aids

    In some cases, an online speech will include presentation aids. It’s important to determine a) if the presentation aid is necessary and b) if you’re able to provide that presentation aid in a different form.

    First, are you certain you need a presentation aid? It can be tempting to use a presentation aid for a digital speech to avoid being visible to the audience. After all, it’s common for digital presentation software to display either a visual aid or your body. Don’t use a visual aid to avoid being seen because the audience will be much more interested in your embodied presentation. Second, do you know how to share your visual aid via the digital platform you will be speaking through? As with all other aspects of on-line public speaking, you need to practice beforehand so that you know what your audience will see as well as how to quickly switch from your screen to the visual aid and back again.

    If you deem that a presentation aid is absolutely necessary (or required) also, ask: do I need to provide it live or in the recording? If you’re presenting to a discrete audience and want to provide a graph or some data, send the information in a report ahead of time. This will allow your audience to feel acquainted with the information and can spare you from having an additional technological component.

    Like any public speech, when speaking online, you are responsible for crafting an effective advocacy that is composed of well-reasoned arguments that are delivered with purposeful aesthetic choices. Rehearse under the conditions that you’ll speak. Be confident that you’re aware of

    • the technology you will need,
    • where it will be placed,
    • which technology that you are responsible for running, and
    • how your embodiment of information translates.

    Sharing Audiovisual Recordings

    If you are recording an asynchronous presentation to share with others, post it to a cloud first (such as SoundCloud or YouTube) and send your instructor the link. Audiovisual recording files are too large to be emailed easily.


    Digital public speaking is evolving. These tips and tactics should help not just avoid the major problems but also cross the finish line into an effective presentation.


    Gilbert, B. (2018). “YouTube now has over 1.8 billion users every month, within spitting distance of Facebook’s 2 billion.” Business Insider.

    Graham, J. (2020). “Six tips for looking great in a Zoom meeting.” USA Today.

    Lind, S. (2012). “Teaching digital oratory: Public speaking 2.0.” Communication Teacher, 26(3), 163-169.

    This page titled 16.2: Online Public Speaking is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sara Kim, Douglas Marshall, June Pulliam, Victoria VanNest, and James Yeargain (LOUIS: The Louisiana Library Network) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.