5 Things You're Not Doing With Your Web Presentations But Should Be

Last Updated May 2, 2011 5:40 PM EDT

Do you ever wonder why webinars and webmeetings are such a drag to attend and run? Ask yourself this: how many times have you been on the receiving end of a good webinar or demo? Exactly. Since many of us have never seen these tools used well, how are we magically supposed to know how to make them less painful for your audience? We just inflict pain on our attendees because that's all we know.

Most bad web presentations stem from 2 problems:

1) Most of us aren't terribly comfortable with presenting in the first place. Technology simply adds a layer of complexity to something that we already hate doing and don't do particularly well, and

2) Once we get started we can't see our audience so we don't get feedback that tells us to speed up, slow down, skip that part or get to the point.

Imagine if you were to present something to your team in a conference room. But you have a few rules: no one is to speak or ask questions until you're done. There is to be no talking amongst each other, and I'm going to turn my face to the screen and talk to my PowerPoint slides and not acknowledge you until it's time to take questions. How would that fly?

As I point out in my book, "10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations", most of us just get told to use the tools and call tech support if we need anything, and the results look pretty much like I've just described. Here are 5 things that good web presenters do that many newbies just don't.

  1. Let the chat fly- Many inexperienced web presenters think of chat as a nuisance at best (it's one more thing to have to monitor) and a license to create chaos at worst ("what if they all start typing at once and I lose control?!"). But stop and think about your live presentations. When people talk to each other or speak out loud, most ofthe time it adds value. People explain things to each other, they add value through their comments and they get heard and appreciated, which keeps them involved and interested. Untie the knot in your shrots and try letting them chat virtually.
  2. Get them involved early and often- You can't expect people who don't want to be there, who worry this will be a waste of time, and have a lot on their minds to sit patiently for 40 minutes and then suddenly perk up and be active participants during Q and A. In your first few minutes you should explain how things will work, encourage them to interact with the technology and don't let them become too passive for too long. Chat, polling, asking direct questions (either in writing or allowing them to unmute their phones) all give people the crazy idea that you want them to do more than put you on mute and answer their email.
  3. Break questions into small chunks and take them as you go. Because you can't see their eyes glaze over when they've reached the saturation point (the cool psychology term is "Hrair Limit") you have to know that they're with you each step of the way. The simplest way to do this is to do a checkin with the audience to make sure they understood this part before moving on. Give them a pop quiz, ask questions in chat or take questions at the end of each module instead of racing on through and trying to cover everything at the end. You'll probably wind up repeating yourself less in the process.
  4. Let them hear each other- You already know how to run conference calls with numerous participants, this is no different. Be clear on when and how to mute (and unmute) your phone or audio input. Depending on the platform and how many participants you can have them chime in, raise their hand before speaking or let you know via chat they have something to say. Hearing other voices also keeps other participants involved and who knows, you might even learn something yourself.
  5. Give them something to look at- One big difference between presenting online and presenting live is that the people on the other end of the line are desperate for something to look at besides their email inbox. Visuals should change more frequently than in an in-person presentation. This can mean more slides, or use tools like annotation or animation to add a splash of color and re-engage the audience visually. If you're brainstorming, let them see the suggestions on a whiteboard or a Word document that you can share with the group.
The easiest thing for an online presenter to do is take the time to imagine the perfect presentation, then think about they platform they're using and use all the tools at their disposal to create that ideal presentation environment.

There is, of course, a sixth thing you can do that will make the other five much more natural. That's rehearse, practice and get feedback on your presentations. Crazy, huh?

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Picture by flickr user kaptain kobold CC 2.0