You most certainly have had the unfortunate opportunity to sit through a boring, unorganised webinar in which the speaker droned on seemingly aimlessly.
The power and promise of virtual presenting is the ability to engage and educate people far and wide. But in order to realise this promise, presenters need to plan, prepare, and practice in the right way to take advantage of webinars.
Here are 5 simple steps that will help you present compelling, valuable webinars that your audience will follow with rapt attention.
- Plan to add structure
Beyond making sure that your speaking goal fulfills your audience’s needs, you must also craft your webinar content so that it is easy for your audience to understand.
I am not implying that you “dumb down” your content, but rather, you need to plan and structure your content so your audience can more easily follow you. Research shows that people retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information that is presented in an unstructured manner.
There are many presentation structures:
- Past-Present-Future — good for providing a history or stepping people through a process
- Comparison-Contrast — good for showing the relative advantages of your position
- Cause-Effect — good for helping people understand the underlying logic of your position
- Problem-Solution-Benefit — good for influencing people to support your ideas/plans
Select the structure that most easily allows you to make your point or tell your story.
- Lead like a tour guide
Your job as a presenter is to lead your audience through your content. In this regard, presenters are like tour guides. And in this role, presenters must follow the tour guide imperative: “Never lose the members of your tour group!”
All good tour guides set expectations for where they are taking their tour participants to make them feel comfortable and help prepare them to follow you. With webinars, you have two opportunities to set expectations:
- When sending out the invite to your webinar, you should not only include the date, time, topic and technical information (e.g., URL, access code, etc.), but you should also send out a blurb describing your speaking goal and the structure you intend to use to achieve it. You can even include questions you would like your audience to think about before listening to you.
- During the first few moments of your presentation, be sure to define what you intend to cover and how you will do so.
In addition to setting expectations early, you need to make sure your audience stays with you as you move from point to point. In other words, transitions are critical. Too often, presenters simply say “next” to move their audience along. This is a missed opportunity to tie your points together and keep your audience focused. Effective transitioning tools include:
- Internal summaries – Paraphrase your previous point before moving on
Example: “Now that we have seen how our competitors do this…”
- Questions – Ask a question that signals what is coming next
Example: “How can we achieve what our competitors do?”
- Agenda slide – Return to an agenda slide that indicates where you are in the presentation
Lead your audience throughout your presentation, and they are more likely to engage throughout your talk and remember it afterwards.
- Engage early and often
As a webinar presenter, you need to engage your audience and get them involved. If you fail to invite participation, inertia sets in and your audience will soon lapse into gazing out the window and checking e-mail.
To avoid this situation, I strongly recommend using engagement tools to get your audience to participate. These techniques demand involvement from your audience. They make audience members sit forward in their chairs and be in the moment with you.
- Ask your audience to do something. You can have them physically act by asking them to respond to a poll, submit a question, or provide a chat comment. These actions require focus and involvement, which reduces passivity. Or, you can have them mentally do something by asking them to “imagine,” “remember back,” or “picture this.” Since your audience is seeing something in their mind’s eye, rather than just listening to you describe it, they become more engaged and your point becomes more vivid and lasting for them.
- Do a Think-Pair-Share exercise. Ask your audience to take a moment to think of an answer to a question you pose or to come up with a potential alternative. Next, encourage them to discuss their response with someone else via chat or a wiki. After this brief discussion, solicit their input. Think-Pair-Share is a powerful participation tool because it not only bolsters the audience’s confidence in responding because they have collaborated on their response, but better ideas typically arise as a result of multiple brains working together.
- Focus on the relevance of your topic for your audience. This is possibly the most important audience connecting technique. Be sure to spend time detailing the specific links between your topic and your audience’s lives. For example, “This point about customer feedback is especially important for online retailers, because of your starred reviews.” Relevancy is the best antidote for apathy, and it brings with it a high level of participation.
When you use engagement techniques throughout your webinar, you get a more involved and participative audience who will likely remember more of your content.
- Aids are only tools
Keynote, Prezi, Slide Rocket, Powerpoint, YouTube clips—the greatest presentation helpers ever developed can also be the biggest roadblocks to effective presentations.
When used well, visual presentation aids facilitate understanding and let webinar audiences absorb information in wonderful ways. Unfortunately, these aids can also lead to poor presentations. Remember, your visual aids are not the presentation. Your content and delivery are the presentation. Visual aids are merely tools.
Far too often, presenters think they are writing a presentation when they are only drafting slides. These two acts are different. Acting as if they are the same is akin to a pastry chef spending hours icing a cake without regard for the quality of the cake itself. You must break this association, or you will fall prey to the classic pitfall: Creating your visual aids under the illusion that you are making progress in crafting your webinar. The result is that, after spending so much time creating slides with wipes, fades, and embedded videos, you fail to practice your presentation and you lose your focus on delivering the message that your audience needs to hear. This all-too-common practice leads presenters to read their slides rather than connect with their audience. Your slides are a tool meant to foster understanding and engagement, not a teleprompter.
When you do deem visual aids are necessary and useful, avoid creating slides that are “eye charts” full of lots of details in small fonts — these are particularly impenetrable in webinars, when audience members may be viewing on a small laptop screen. Instead, challenge yourself to think visually. Is there an image that could represent your point in a more meaningful way? Could you create a simple diagram or flow chart to help get your point across to your audience? Google Image search can be a useful tool to get your creative visual juices flowing. Type in the concept you are trying to convey and see what comes up.
The images you find might have copyright issues, so I don’t recommend using everything you find, but you will get an idea of the type of visual variety that is possible. And if you must portray complex information on a slide, consider using builds and reveals to help your audience focus by showing them only what you want them to attend to.
Visual aids are essential to successful webinars. But you must remember that you are evaluated more on your webinar’s content and its value, not on the slides you create. Only after you have something to say and are saying it well, should you create visual aids that are appropriate and enhance your presentation by engaging your audience and helping them to understand your content.
- Deliver in a varied manner
The single most important delivery element in a webinar is your voice. Even if you are using video to show your face, your voice reigns supreme.
Unfortunately, especially in webinars, audience attention can easily wander, and once it is gone, you will have a hard time getting it back. To counter these natural tendencies of your audience, you must employ variety in your voice. You have likely been the victim of a monotonous speaker who drones on in a flat vocal style much like Ben Stein’s character in the classic movie “Ferris Buller’s Day Off.” Adding variation in your volume and speaking rate serve to keep your audience’s attention and motivate them to listen.
By speaking expressively, your passion for your topic comes through. However, for many presenters, this type of speaking is not natural. I often instruct these less expressive speakers to infuse their presentations with emotive words, such as “excited,” “valuable,” “challenging,“ and to inflect their voice to reflect the meaning of these words. If you are speaking about a big opportunity, then speak “big” in a big way. Over time, you will feel more comfortable with this type of vocal variety.
Since most of us are not used to speaking for long periods of time, you also need to build vocal stamina and support your voice with proper breathing. The single best technique to improve your speaking endurance is to read out loud for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as you read aloud frequently starting at least a week prior to your webinar. Not only will this reading out loud help you to develop an appropriate speaking stamina, it also helps you find a natural cadence and breathing rhythm.
Through thoughtful preparation and practiced presenting, you can maximise the effectiveness of your webinars. The five steps covered here all distill down to the simple notion that as a webinar presenter you are in service of your audience’s needs and, therefore, must create an engaging, easy to understand, educational experience for them.