Leading Web Meetings? Learn the Darned Program!

Last Updated Jan 28, 2011 2:25 PM EST

After years of teaching web presentation skills to people, I have stopped being surprised by how badly most web presentations and meetings are conducted. What does amaze me is the reason they're so awful: people are expected to run these meetings (which is a higher level skill than you'd think) while using technology they don't know and aren't comfortable with. It's impossible to think clearly when you're stressing about what button to push--and it's impossible for your audience to stay engaged when the presenter struggles.

The answer to this is simple but eludes many organizations. If you want people to run effective webmeetings or training or sales demos, they have to first be comfortable enough with the tools that they can then put their brain power into thinking about their presentation.

Comfort comes with exposure and practice. People have to see the potential in a tool and then actually practice using it without a critical audience putting additional pressure on them. Otherwise it's like learning to drive by taking your parents to the airport--you can do it but it won't be fun for anyone and you'll be in no hurry to do it again.

In the new book 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations I offer some common features of web presentations and meetings that everyone should learn and try:

• Before trying to learn the platform yourself, participate in as many webinars and online presentations as possible (there's no shortage of free presentations out there). See what good presenters do (which you'll want to emulate) and how poor presenters fumble (so you never perform the same way in front of any audience). Notice all the different tools and functions other presenters use, and imagine how they can help you in your presentations.
• Roughly speaking, 90 percent of the platforms perform 90 percent of the same functions. Don't freak out if it looks different than you're used to. It's like getting in an unfamiliar rental car; Once you figure out where the lights and horn are, it's just driving as usual.
• When demonstrating a computer application or training people in its use, one of the most powerful things you can do is let them use the tool themselves. To do this, you need to give an audience member "presenter" status. Many presentation platforms allow you to change the presenter at any given time. WebEx, for example, allows you to pass a little "ball" icon to a new presenter by simply right-clicking on a person's name and hitting the "make presenter" button. On other platforms like Adobe Connect you can right-click on a person's name and make him or her the presenter.
• Many platforms allow you to keep transcripts of the chat screen, so if people ask questions you can't answer during the presentation, you can get back to them later with an answer. Don't underestimate the power of chat to keep people from answering their email.
• Don't try to circle things with your mouse using the highlighter tool--it's too difficult. Most platforms have a circle tool (as well as a box tool) that will create perfect circles around what you're trying to highlight. With a little practice, you'll be able to place the tool perfectly and, with a drag and click of the mouse, draw a perfect circle (or rectangle).
• A great way to create human connections but not make yourself crazy is to use your webcam to introduce yourself to the audience and then turn it off when you begin the body of your presentation. This will save bandwidth (reducing the chance of something freezing up for you or your audience) and also free you from worrying about what you look like while presenting. In cyberspace, no one needs to see you scratch your nose.
Once you realize the potential of these tools and learn to use them, you can relax and concentrate on the real reason you have them in the first place: to get the best possible information to and from your audience.

Read more: