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The 2 Reasons Good Presenters Struggle With Webinars

"I'm a good presenter live, I just struggle presenting online!". Does that sound like you? If so, you're not alone and it's a big problem. Millions of dollars in training and change initiatives have stalled because organizations and their people have underestimated the challenges in moving meetings, training and sales presentations to "webinars" or webmeetings.

It turns out that people who are good, intuitive, engaging presenters at the front of a room or in a traditional presentation environment often struggle mightily to be as effective online. In working with our clients, what we have discovered is that it's not that you can't present effectively this way, you just can't do it yet.

Here's what I mean:

Presenting via webinar or webmeeting has a different set of dynamics than presenting at the front of the room. People respond differently to the online environment than they do to real people in the real world. Just a common example: answering and sending email during a presentation. In a live presentation it's just rude and we avoid doing it out of politeness, or at least try to be subtle about it (we see you with your Blackberry under the table). After all, the presenter can see us and our mothers raised us better than that.

With a webinar, though, the presenter is a disembodied voice, and you can still hear them so what's the harm in multi-tasking?

Why do good presenters struggle? Here are some of the reasons:

  • "We can't see our audience". This matters because good communicators pick up cues from their audiences. Nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language tell us "slow down", "I have a question"and "I agree with you, keep going". Without those cues, presenters tend to just keep talking; picking up speed til they speak too quickly with no idea of how their audience is receiving the message or if they're even receiving it at all. At best it's frustrating and at worst you're negatively impacting your audience because you don't know if you're effective until the very end. The result is that we often doubt how effective we are and this erodes our confidence. The exceptions to this rule are morning show DJs, who aren't nearly as funny as they think they are but without feedback to the contrary act as if they're hilarious The solution is to use interactive tools like chat and polling to engage the audience and take their pulse. The main solution, though, is good old fashioned facilitation skills. Do you remember to ask questions, pause and check in or do you just keep going hopefully the pain will stop for both you and your audience? Write those reminders to yourself in your script or outline so you don't forget in the chaos of presenting.
  • "There's too much going on". Presenting is difficult. Delivering webinars adds another level of complexity. To put it bluntly, it's like trying to give a speech while programming your DVR. Remembering which buttons to push, how to do certain functions, reading the chat while trying to speak coherently can all be overwhelming. The fancy scientific term is "attention"- you can only focus on one thing at a time and if that focus is on the technology it won't be on the content or your audience. The good news is there's a simple solution- get comfortable with the tools. With just a little practice and coaching almost any presenter can get comfortable enough with their platform that their brain can refocus on the purpose of their presentation. What's amazing is how few people receive this coaching and practice, so the first time you present online is with high stakes and a disappointed audience which becomes a reinforcing cycle of stress for everyone.
When I say you're not good at presenting online yet, it's because good presentation skills will usually win out. If you as a presenter understand the possibilities and limitations of presenting online and become practiced with the tools your energy, passion and talent will emerge. If you don't get that practice and training, you'll continue to be stressed out and pass the drama on to your audiences.

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Photo by flickr user bandita CC 2.0