Webinars: more than PowerPoint and noise

Sep 22 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Most of us think of webinars or web presentations as a voice on the phone or computer while we get shown a PowerPoint presentation. This might be true, but it hardly makes for riveting cinema. Truth is, most web presentations don't take advantage of the technology to be as effective as they could be.

Good presentations are a mix of the verbal (what you say) vocal (how you say it) and visual (what they see during the presentation). Many webinars rely too much on the vocal, and not enough on engaging the audience visually.

Most presenters simply push a PowerPoint slide deck to the audience and provide audio commentary when the possibilities are much more interesting. Here are some of the ways you can improve the visual component of your webinars.

Share actual documents instead of screen shots: If you're teaching people how to fill out a requisition form, many presenters will show a screen shot of a completed form (or more boring still, a blank one) and walk them through it.

By sharing the actual application (such as Word or Excel) you can bring up a document and fill it in as you go. Not only does the visual impact of seeing the document completed in front of their eyes engage them visually, but a good presenter can ask them for the information or even give someone the presenter power to fill it in themselves.

Use white boards: One of the most common tools of a "regular presentation" is the use of a whiteboard or flip chart. It allows you to capture or explain information dynamically, create content on the fly, and create a permanent record of ideas and thoughts.

Every web presentation tool worthy of consideration has a "whiteboard" feature. Use it for brainstorming, idea capture, and any way you'd use it in the real world. If the multitasking stresses you out, get a participant to serve as the scribe. It's a great way to involve your audience and co-opt the bored and attention starved.

Grab attention with animation and annotation: By their very nature, webinars demand that they be more visually stimulating than a live presentation. Even the most attentive person loses the ability to maintain focus when staring at the same boring bulleted list for minutes at a time. We recommend using animation (which I hate doing as a live presenter, but this is a different medium) like appearing and disappearing text, highlights and "builds".

If your platform doesn't work well with animation (and some don't, although they're getting better all the time) you can get the same effect by using annotation tools in the platform: highlighters, circlers, pointers and arrows add color and visual engagement to the presentation.

Have them raise hands and vote with their thumbs: Most platforms now allow multiple ways for participants to engage, participate and express their opinions. The "raise hand" button or the ability to communicate with emoticons or other symbols such as "thumbs up or down" add options for spontaneity.

Don't underestimate the value of asking questions that actually demand a response. In the classroom or a meeting you'd regularly ask for a show of hands ("how many of you haveÖ.?").

You can do the same thing easily online- and wait for a response. Most people have been on webinars where the questions were mostly rhetorical. If they're held accountable for responding early on, there's a better chance they'll stay engaged throughout so as not to be caught off-guard.

The platform you use, whether it's WebEx, LiveMeeting, GoToMeeting, or some other tool is irrelevant. They all have features that allow your presentation to be more than a static set of words on a slide and a disembodied voice.

Learn the possibilities. There are resources like our book 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations, and training classes like Web Presentation Basics. We have workshops every month, check out our calendar for options.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.