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Webinars: For less bore, engage more

Dave Roberts - UNC Kenan-FlaglerWhy are most webinars so bad? They don’t have to be if you follow these tips from marketing professor Dave Roberts.

Webinar rules

Webinars are not the same as face-to-face presentations, and delivering a successful webinar calls for different skills and techniques.

Delivering a webinar is similar to presenting to the largest audience you have ever seen – in the largest and darkest hotel ballroom – and with neither sight nor the sound of even the front row.

This all changes the dynamics for the presenter – and for the audience.

Lost to the audience are:

  • A view of the presenter’s face – even with video, many subtleties are lost
  • A view of the presenter’s body and any non-verbal cues
  • Overt and covert feedback: there is no “peer pressure,” good or bad
  • Focus: It is so easy to attempt to participate in a webinar while working on other tasks.
  • A chance to provide immediate feedback or questions to the presenter

Lost to the presenter are:

  • Immediate (uninvited) verbal and non-verbal feedback from the audience
  • Immediate (invited) verbal and non-verbal feedback from the audience
  • Vocal volume feedback about how loudly or softly the presenter’s voice actually sounds to the audience

All presentations should, at the very least, communicate information. Great presentations should also:

  • Inspire to action
  • Involve the participants
  • Impact to make a difference

So how do you achieve all four – inform, inspire, involve and impact – with a webinar?

  • Focus on what you can control: What you say, how you say it and what the audience can see while you speak (your materials).
  • Remember that people perceive the world in different ways and design the webinar to include all types:
    • “Audios” listen to your verbiage
    • “Visuals” need to see graphics that are synchronized with your words
    • “Kinesthetics” need to “feel your feelings”
  • DO NOT READ A SCRIPT. People can tell. If you must read, do it well, using a natural cadence.
  • Learn the technology. They are all similar but different.
    • Can you use slide builds? When used appropriately this can involve the audience and focus their attention. If so, use them.
    • Can you integrate a mini-survey, which drives interaction/involvement and creates feedback? If so, add one.
    • Can you move a pointer around on the screen (without it looking like the path of a drunken cat) or highlight words and picture? If so, do it.
  • Paint pictures with your words (analogies and examples) and with graphics that support your words.
  • Do not just read the slides. This is true for face-to-face presentations, but critical for webinars. If you are there to read the slides, then you are redundant. Instead, send the slides to the participants who can probably read faster in private and save a lot of time.
  • Do not talk unless you have something that supports what you are saying somewhere on the visual that is in front of the participant. There are very few people that can hold someone’s full attention while they talk without providing supportive visual material. Doing so must be the origin of the word “drone.”
  • Have the right number of slides – not too many, nor too few. A reasonable average is one slide for every two minutes of the presentation, with a few extra for the introduction and conclusion.
  • Vary the pace and volume of your voice. Make it interesting. Failing to do this is what is meant by “monotone” (which IS boring).
  • Stand up while you present – this changes your physiology and the sound of your voice – but don’t move too far away from the microphone.
  • Enjoy it! A webinar gives you the opportunity to get your message to people that would otherwise not hear from you.
  • And smile – people can tell when you do, even when they can only hear you.

By Dave Roberts, president of UNC Executive Development