When presenting, whether hosting a webinar, delivering a keynote, facilitating a workshop, pitching to an investor, or presenting to a client, there are key ways to make presentations more accessible and inclusive. This guide provides 35 tips to help you along the way.
When preparing content, do your best to use language and terminology that is inclusive and accessible.
Because virtual presentations are, well, virtual, and delivered from a range of places, consider sharing a land acknowledgement about the land you reside on, while also sharing an Indigenous lesson or learning for your audience to engage with to further their learning. The Empathy Institute and Next Gen Men suggest amplifying the work of Indigenous creators in your land acknowledgement.
Jargon and acronyms can be exclusionary to people without specialized knowledge of a particular subject, so avoiding them may enhance communication. If you need to use specialized language, be sure to define them.
Use examples that most people can relate to. For example, in an icebreaker, ask them about their favourite breakfast item instead of asking how people like their pizza. When this isn’t easy, use more than one example to appeal to a wider audience. For example, if you refer to eating methods, refer to using utensils such as a fork and knife, as well as chopsticks and hands.
Because participants may come from all levels of learning and abilities, it is important to use language that is clear and accessible. Examples include using a two-syllable word over a three-syllable word, a familiar term over the latest technological term, and/or using several clear words instead of one complicated term. For example, instead of using the term "discourse," try "communication." Check out Crescendo's online written/spoken communication guides.
When speaking about experiences relating to disability or trauma, avoid phrases that suggest victimhood. For example, consider using “survivor” instead of "victim," or “they use a wheelchair,” instead of “they are confined to a wheelchair.”
Terms like “bipolar,” “OCD,” and “ADD” are descriptors of real psychiatric disabilities, so using them as a metaphor can undermine their impact on people. Also, consider replacing terms that stem from the context of mental health, such as “crazy,” “mad, or “psycho.”
When referring to a group of people a common tendency is to say, “you guys” or “those guys.”
The “universal male” assumes that the normal, default human being is male. Instead, try using terms such as people, folks, ya’ll, teammates - terms that do not imply gender. Using phrases and terms that invoke the gender binary (men/women) such as "opposite sex" or "both sexes" or "opposite gender" or "both genders" can exclude people who identify beyond the binary, such as gender non-binary or gender fluid people. Instead, try using “people of all genders” or "all genders." Consider terms such as “parenting” instead of “mothering” or “fathering."
Using the word “normal” when comparing groups can stigmatize marginalized people's experiences. Statements such as “we’ve all been there” might incorrectly assume the audience has the same abilities and experiences. Use “I” Statements when sharing to avoid generalizing about other people and groups.
Be specific when discussing communities of people. For example, it is important to speak in the plural when speaking about Indigenous communities. Including “Peoples” after “Indigenous” recognizes that there are more than one group of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities are a collective of many separate, sovereign, unique Nations. If possible, it's best practice to use Nation-specific terms, particularly for territory/land acknowledgments.
Refer to women as just that - "women,” instead of females. “Female” refers to biological sex, which is not the same as gender identity and can be exclusive of trans women.
When discussing trans people, use terms like “trans community” and “transgender community,” not “transgendered” or “transexual.”
Avoid using euphemisms or stereotypical terms when referring to racial groups, like “urban” or “inner city” when you mean “Black” or “African-Canadian/American.”
Some people put the person ahead of the characteristics when describing an individual, while others might do the opposite. For example, some people use the language of “a man who is blind” or “a woman on our engineering team,” while others might use “a blind man” or “a woman engineer.”
When addressing people, ask what works for them!
Survey people in advance of the presentation date to assess accessibility needs. When presenting content, check in with participants to determine if they are experiencing any tech related challenges or barriers. Designate a team member to work with participants directly to resolve emergent issues and address needs.
Presentation materials that complement content are not only important for aesthetics but are also important for accessibility.
Consider how much time your audience needs to take in and understand each slide. Use keywords and short phrases instead of whole sentences and paragraphs when possible.
Making text and visuals large can help people take in information. This includes “less important” information like graphs, image captions, footnotes, URLs, and references. 'Sans Serif' fonts such as Arial are great. Be generous with spacing (between letters, words, and lines). Use bold for emphasis - underlines and italics are less identifiable. Use mixed case, not all caps. Keep web links on your slide short.
Slide transitions can make members of the audience feel sick or distracted. Transitions and animations can trigger nausea, headaches, and dizziness for some, particularly those with vestibular (inner ear) disorders.
Videos: When playing a video, introduce or summarize the video to add context or explain what occurred.
Audio: If an audio clip doesn’t have a visual component, display equivalent text while the audio is playing.
Images: When using images, caption and describe the pictures. Avoid saying phrases such as “As you can see here…”
Colour contrast values help make text visible. There are specific resources to help determine sufficient contrast. Aim for a ratio of 4.5:1.
See example below.
If using a diversity of people to represent a brand or organization, make sure it's authentic.
When using stock photos there are numerous resources for accessing images that represent diverse experiences and people. Try some of these:
If possible, use a platform that has a closed captioning feature. Use video conferencing technology such as Zoom Rooms, or Microsoft Teams (offers closed captioning in multiple languages). Or present with Google Slides and turn on the captioning feature. If this feature is not built-in, consider using a captioning service, or having a person provide captions in real-time. Try turning the captions on and observe what the experience is like.
Closed captioning text may appear on the bottom third of PowerPoint slides or on the top or bottom with a Google product. To avoid cutting off captions, determine where captions will show up and place important content accordingly.
Sometimes our use of GIFs and certain slang terms can perpetuate stereotypes against marginalized groups. Think about how you can be inclusive with your emoji use, to ensure virtual chats remain fun but safer spaces for all.
To capture audience inputs or brainstorms, get creative with digital tools. Zoom has a built-in whiteboard and poll features. You can also try using Google Docs as a digital notebook, Miro for a digital whiteboard (example below), Poll Everywhere for a polling feature, or Airtable for a digital submission box.
Consider accessibility of digital tools through the lens of disability, budget, and Internet/web access.
When presenting content, the following are some inclusive guidelines to remember.
A conversational tone can help build rapport with the audience. Try connecting with emotions and senses instead of using situations or examples while presenting to help participants better connect with the material. If presenting verbally, the volume, tone, and rhythm of speech convey can help to bring the material alive.
Body Language: Facial expressions, gestures, and posture are body language tools. Smiling with open arms is a universal signal for inclusion.
Visibility: Set the camera at eye level while keeping the webcam far enough away to show as much of the body as comfortable.
Test sound levels and quality before a presentation. Try out headphones or a USB microphone if verbally speaking in the presentation.
Giving people time to process information allows time for responses and contributions, and also gives room for technology lags. When asking for questions, give people extra time to form their thoughts into words.
Have a dedicated “host” to support any issues that participants may be having. The host can also monitor and facilitate question and answer times. If a participant wants to ask a question anonymously, they may also be able to send a question to the host directly rather than the full group.
Whether you're pitching to investors or sharing and update with clients, the "show" starts the moment people enter the presentation. Help people to feel welcome and comfortable by playing music while they join the meeting or by repeating a dialogue about expectations for the presentation.
“Accessibility is not just a technical consideration, but an incredibly important human rights issue. Prioritizing accessibility in the design and delivery of presentations is an essential step in creating an organization in which all employees feel a meaningful sense of inclusion and belonging.” - Prasanna Ranganathan, Diversity & Belonging Lead, Shopify
Here are some tips for inclusive audience interaction.
Before the session, when checking in on accessibility needs, check in on people's access to reliable Internet connectivity and devices and select a platform that meets these needs.
Sending instructions or cheat sheets about the chosen platform/technology can also be helpful. Check out the Island Institute’s Zoom Video Conferencing Cheat Sheet.
Depending on the type of presentation, provide a downloadable "Key Takeaways" overview for the participants to support different learning styles, those who may need to pop in and out to manage caregiving responsibilities or other needs, or those who may need to leave before the presentation ends for whatever reason.
If sharing slides or other complementary materials, include links and mention this in the introduction.
If everyone on the screen provides consent, consider recording the session so people can watch and refer to it later.
It is best not to assume someone’s gender pronouns by the way they appear. Consider using people's names or they/them pronouns until you have more information. Try to avoid using attention grabbers such as “ladies” and “gentlemen.” Try “ya’ll” or “everyone” instead.
Repeat participant questions and comments so everyone can follow the conversation. During group activities or discussions, model inclusive behaviours and be ready to intervene in micro-inequities, such as someone getting interrupted. Avoid asking participants to represent their entire identity group.
Sharing pronouns can help alleviate potential misgendering and can help to normalize the sharing gender identities. Share pronouns when doing introductions, and depending on the format of the presentations, invite others to do the same if they are comfortable.
Try adding pronouns to screen names. Below is an example of how to do this on Zoom.
If you ask participants to contribute, listen with a spirit of inquiry, an intent to learn, and the openness to change a perspective.
Depending on the format, find ways to make space for quiet or spatially removed people. Encourage the use of a chat feature to answer or ask questions. Try out a "voting" poll for participation and to show that the opinions shared by the most interactive or vocal people aren’t necessarily shared by most of the group. Alternatively, turn on "gallery" view and ask for a wave to represent a vote.
Depending on the nature of the presentation, small groups can foster stronger bonds, increase comfort levels, and can foster collaboration among different groups of people.
In platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet, breakout rooms can be used to separate participants into small group discussions.
If your platform does not have this feature, consider providing links to other meeting spaces.
Videos help with nonverbal cues, such as when someone raises their hand, unmutes themselves, or attempts to speak, as well as having social benefits. Some will need video for connection or to read lips, while others may need a higher level of privacy for various reasons.
Discuss expectations for video calling in advance. Include discussions such as:
Suggest virtual backgrounds to help offset concerns of what people's working spaces look like and to add some fun and variety.
This resource was made in collaboration with Talent Bureau and Awaken. It reflects a particular moment in time, North America in 2020, and like most things in life, may eventually need updates. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, and languages. As such, this resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date.
Please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments.