Webinar presentations need more than 'minor adjustments'

Sep 05 2013 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

One of the biggest mistakes online presenters make is to assume they can deliver the same presentation online or as part of a webinar that they do in a classroom or conference setting: "I'll just tweak it a bit and make some minor adjustments and it'll be fine." No, it won't. The adjustments don't have to be big, but they aren't exactly "minor" either.

Why do we have to make changes at all? If a sales presentation has been working in a traditional setting, why do we have to adjust it? 'If it ain't broke', and all that?

The online presentation environment is different for both the presenter and audience. Here's why:

The virtual audience has less attention span. It doesn't make them bad people, it's just an objective fact. Unless the audience is actively engaged or so riveted by the content they can't pull their eyes away, they are going to be tempted to multi-task. This means an online presenter must engage the audience more quickly online or risk losing them. It also means the audience is focused on getting the most content in the least amount of time.

Old presenter habits don't always translate to a webinar or virtual environment. You know that killer story you always start with? It probably has tons of detail and lots of humor and takes several minutes to tell. Because the online audience can't see you (even with a webcam it's not the same) and you can't see them, it's easy to misjudge just how riveting you are to them. Remember you're competing with email and other distractions.

You need to take an inductive, vs. deductive approach. This sounds more abstract than it really is. Put simply a deductive approach builds up to its point by "building a case". The problem with this is that the audience is often asking, "where's this going? What's the point?"

So because it's so easy to tune out, you need to let them know immediately what the point is and then support it by presenting inductively. At least if they know why you're telling them something they can make a conscious decision to focus or not. (You know you really have no real control over that, right?)

Online presentations require more, or at least different, visuals. The rule of thumb for years in traditional presentations has been, "less PowerPoint", and I get it. The problem is that in a live presentation, you as the speaker are a critical visual. Online, people are getting less visual information to support your point.

Often the "webinar" version of a presentation contains more visuals. This is because you're reinforcing the information with more detail. You're also creating visual interest that helps people reengage with the presentation. More than three minutes on a single slide, if the audience is sitting there passively, can risk losing them or having them at least tune out until "something happens" onscreen.

So, basically, when adapting a webinar from existing source material, ask yourself:

  • How quickly can I engage my audience, and what tools (raised hands, chat, polling or voice) should I use?
  • How quickly can I get to the point, and am I making the connection between the context and my point explicit?
  • Have I set clear expectations about audience participation and outcomes?
  • Are there long periods of time when it's just you talking with no visual interest or active participation from the audience?
  • Does my material need more visual reinforcement? Sharing a live document online is often much more effective than simply showing a screen shot in a PowerPoint slide. Maybe those bulleted lists in the original slides need more detail?
  • Unlike live, traditional presentations, webinars are easily recorded and archived. At least if they tune out you can make it available for review later so there are no excuses for missing important information.

The tweaks and adjustments you make may be small, but they are far from "minor".

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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.