From being a tool used by only a very few, webinars have moved centre stage in recent years. Webinars are uniquely cost- and time-effective in bringing people together from a distance to share information or receive training. But are they used effectively, and what do people value in a webinar? A recent survey found that respondents felt that the crucial success factors were:

  • The ease of joining the webinar;
  • The quality of the presenter’s speaking voice or delivery;
  • The clarity of the message and/or the call to action; and
  • An invitation or joining page that accurately described the webinar.

This suggests that, not surprisingly, participants value their time and want webinar presenters to do so too. They want to know that the webinar will be worth attending, will engage them, and will give them a clear and useful take-home message. And if you think about it, that makes sense. It’s what we all want from any meeting or seminar, but perhaps harder to achieve in a webinar. So what can you do to improve your presentations at webinars?

Seven deadly sins

Roger Courvill, principal of 1080 Group, an independent training and consultancy provider specialising in online presentations, suggests that there are seven deadly sins of webinars that presenters need to avoid, and some simple ways of doing so. They are:

  1. Not putting enough time into preparation – Most people spent more time preparing for presentations in person than online, but also believed that they were least prepared to engage online. You can avoid this problem by using some of the time that you have saved in travelling on your preparation instead. Presenting online is quite different, and you need to take a bit of time to think about how your message translates in this new medium.
  2. Not being clear what motivates your audience – Respondents were clear that what matters to them is knowing what they’re going to get in advance, and then having clear messages to take away. You need to know what your audience wants to get out of the webinar, and then provide it.
  3. Failing to ensure that your presentation is focused – We all have a tendency to provide non-essential information. Don’t. Keep your focus tightly on the key messages that motivate your audience. To ensure that you do, keep asking yourself ‘if the audience only remembers a few key points, what should they be?’, and ensure that you take out anything that does not help with those key points.
  4. Focusing on words, not images – Without a physical presenter to watch, the content of your presentation is even more important online. Use plenty of images and graphics that really drive home your key points, to ensure that they have an emotional impact, and so will be remembered. The most important thing? Show, don’t tell.
  5. Producing just an online slideshow without interaction – Just as you’d want a physical audience to interact with you as presenter, you want an online audience to do the same. Webinar software includes potential for polls, Q&A, surveys and attention indicators, and asking your audience to engage with you will keep them interested for longer.
  6. Not engaging with your audience – It’s easy to fall into the trap of reading from your slides, or from a prepared script, but your audience will be able to tell, and will disengage. Real human to human contact is crucial to us all, so talk to them, and engage with them. You can use the online tools to make sure they’re engaged.
  7. Forgetting your body language – It’s well known that between 60% and 90% of communication is non-verbal. But what happens when you’re not visible? Well, you have to work that much harder on tone of voice and language to convey your body language. Just as good telephone communication requires exaggeration of emotions in the voice, so does good webinar presentation if you are to engage with your audience.

Common sense?

As always, much of this may seem rather like common sense. But it’s surprising how many presenters forget about it. Next time you’re preparing for an online presentation, remember these three key points: be clear about what your audience wants and make sure that you’re delivering it, think visually and interactively to engage with your audience, and communicate with your audience, don’t just talk at them.


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