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What You Say (and Don't) Can Make Webinars Less Painful For Everyone

The problem--okay one of the problems--with webinars is that they go on too long. It's not that you're not witty and charming. It's that people are physically unable to maintain focus for very long staring at a computer screen and straining to hear you. You need to keep your message short, focused and relevant to your audience or the only thing you'll accomplish is helping them catch up on their email.

When you tell a story or run a meeting at the front of a conference room, the audience tends to stay focused. First, because they can see and hear you, there's a tighter communication bond forged. Secondly, you're in the room, and if they fade out you're likely to bust them and everyone gets embarrassed.

Here are some tips for making your online presentations less painful for the audience. They're from the new book "10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations", but you can apply this to your live meetings and presentations as well. Your audiences will appreciate it.

  • Use Real Examples Relevant to That Audience. One of the cardinal sins of presenting (online or otherwise) is using the same presentation for any audience. People will give you all the time and attention in the world if you're giving them something they care about. Take the time to ensure that what you're telling each group is relevant to their real world. Don't believe me? Use anything other than a sales example with your salesteam and watch the eyes glaze over. On the other hand, if it's a project team made up of engineers, don't tell them how you dazzled the client. Get to the facts and give them the numbers they feast on.
  • Keep "war stories"short and sweet. You know that hilarious story you tell that "gets'em every time?" Embellishment and wacky faces don't help when no one can see you. Respect people's time and attention spans. A good example or success story contains three components: 1) What was the situation 2) What did you do to fix it, and 3) What was the result. I don't care how long you can spin that yarn in the pub, online it should only take a minute or two. And support it with visuals if you can.
  • Avoid repetitive language. Most of us have words that creep into our vocabulary when we don't know what to say. Often they are "fillers" that take the place of the more annoying "ummm"s and "errrrs". However, real words like "basically" and "so you can see" may sound perfectly fine but when the audience hears them over and over they are like fingernails on the chalkboard. Trust me, the audience notices and chat logs are full of smart-alecky comments about it. Get someone you trust to give you honest feedback and work to eliminate them.
  • Use participant names. We are essentially a narcissistic species. People perk up and re-engage when their names are used in conversation (just count the number of times that mattress salesman uses your name when working you over). Using the names of participants gives the audience the impression you actually know who's out there and that you're relating to them. It also helps if you use the participant list to ask questions of your audience. Haven't heard from Ravi for a while? Ask him a direct question. It will keep them on their toes, if only because they don't want to get caught doing something else.
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