20 years of presenting online

Jan 27 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Near as anyone can tell, it's been 20 years since online presentations really began. So why do so many people do them so badly? You'd think we'd have learned something by now.

First a quick history lesson. The first mention of online presentations was in 1991 when Subrah Iyar and Zhu Min founded Future Labs, which built collaboration software. In 1996, Iyar went off with another partner to found WebEx, and in 1998, Intercall tried to copyright the word "webinar", but has never been able to defend their copyright, mainly because by then it was in common use and we could never find the actual human responsible for coining the term - lucky for them.

Since then usage has grown to where there are (a rough guess here, but based on competitive analysis) over 120 web presentation or collaboration platforms out there.

This means that every day there are millions of webmeetings, trainings, sales presentations and marketing webinars conducted around the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a dispiritingly high percentage of them aren't very good, and many are just plain awful. Why?

Here are three reasonable theories, keeping in mind there are as many excuses as there are human beings:

People don't like to present, they don't like new technology and they REALLY don't like presenting with new technology.For something that we've been doing since we left the womb, it's astounding how poorly people communicate with other people. Presenting online is like trying to present while programming your Tivo—it's an added level of complexity, and it sure doesn't come naturally to most people.

We learn best by practicing what we've seen modeled. How many of you have been on a well-run webmeeting that was expertly facilitated, used all the appropriate features to increase effectiveness and run by someone confident with the tools? If our only experience with these tools is the in-house presentations run by people just learning how to use the darned things themselves, are we surprised that our excitement about, and knowledge of, the tools is so limited?

The most frequent thing I hear when working with my clients is, "wow, I didn't know you could do all that stuff!". Not to denigrate the work we do at GreatWebMeetings.com, but isn't that a little sad at this point?

These tools are sold as the best answer to a bad situation, instead of envisioining the possibilities. How was webconferencing introduced to your team—as a cool tool that will allow you to enhance your productivity and shrink the distance between team members, or as a way to save money and reduce travel costs?

As long as people think of these as making the best of a bad situation ("they won't give us travel budget so I guess we have to do this") instead of the possibilities ("hey, we can get together and solve this problem right now instead of taking two weeks to get everyone together, and we can get back to work right away") they will be more reluctant to learn, use and experiment with, the tools.

These tools don't do everything well, and they have their limitations. Unfortunately, most of the limitations are what my IT friends refer to as "skinware" problems. It's not the tools, it's the users. What are you, your team and your company doing to help people use these tools effectively? Are you just leaving them to figure it out on their own? How's that working for you?

You can learn more about how people adopt technology (or not!) by downloading the white paper on Management-Issues.com,

"Beat the Hype Cycle-How to Get People to Use the Web Conferencing Tools You've Already Paid For".

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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.