Have you ever heard someone (maybe even yourself) say something like, "when I first start my presentation I'm really nervous, but after the first couple of minutes I'm fine".
That's great, there's only one tiny problem. People make up their minds in the first two minutes whether they're going to pay attention and be engaged in your webinar. By the time you're relaxed and confident, they've already tuned out or decided this is going to be a long day and you've dug yourself a deep hole.
Right or wrong, human beings are used to making decisions very quickly. First impressions are lasting, and if we decide that someone is not credible, or doesn't seem like they'll hold our interest, we suddenly find more interesting things to do. That's why so much email gets answered during webinars when people should be paying attention.
So what can presenters do in that first couple of minutes to help get their audiences focused and positively motivated?
Make sure people know why they're there and why they should give a hoot. All of us have been involved in presentations where the primary question in your mind is "so what? What does this mean to me?" The longer they go without an answer, the more likely their brains are to wander off and never return.
To be fair, a lot of this happens before they even appear online. The agenda or invitation should be really explicit about what is going to happen, and what participants can expect. But don't believe that once they're online they are good to go. Be explicit about what the webinar will accomplish. If you're a trainer, you are familiar with learning objectives. The best thing you can do is complete this sentence and share it with the group: "when my presentation is over, you'll be able to……."
Be set up and ready to go. There is a lot of administration and setup to a good webinar. Just as with a traditional presentation, nobody wants to see you set up. Figure out what tools you're going to use in your web presentation, and have everything prepared in advance. Polls should be built and ready, white boards can be prepared in advance. This way you can greet participants by chat or voice as they join in, just like you'd greet them at the door of a traditional meeting or presentation. They would rather not see you flailing about, looking unprepared. That leads us to….
Know what you're going to say. EXACTLY what you're going to say. Nothing creates a bad impression quite like having the first words out of your mouth be, "Uhhhhhhhh so, um good morning everyone….". The first impression you create should be that your voice conveys confidence and they know they're in good hands.
While I loathe scripts, it is never a bad idea to write out your opening sentences. Take a deep breath, pause, and greet them as if you know what your'e doing. (they can't hear all the negative voices in your head, fake it if you have to!)
Get them involved early and often. The longer the audience sits passively, the more they're likely to stay that way. If you want people to be engaged, you have to get them to DO something. I often send chat greetings, to encourage them to use the chat function. Conducting a (relevant) survey, asking for a virtual show of hands or just greeting them by name and asking how they're doing are all simple ways of encouraging interaction and demonstrating that your calls for their attention are genuine.
Lay out the ground-rules and show you mean it. When you're ready to start your webinar, ask people to turn off other tools and distractions like email and instant messaging. Some of them will dutifully comply. If they don't, at least you've set the expectation. Check for understanding immediately by asking if they have done it. Some people will say yes, and the ones that didn't will be caught off guard and suspect that maybe you were actually serious.
If you're going to take questions throughout, make sure they know that you'll be taking questions as you go and actually answer the first one that comes in so you have credibility. Once the first question or comment comes in, they tend to come quickly after the ice is broken.
These are just a few simple techniques for having the first couple of minutes of your presentation set your audience's expectations and help you establish the credibility your content will confirm. Why make things harder on yourself than you have to.