Around eight out of 10 people who use webmeeting tools or take part in webinars have either never been a participant in a well-run virtual presentation before being expected to present one themselves and / or they have never received any training or coaching in how to be effective.
Bearing that in mind, these are the most common things that surprise people when they're first starting to get to grips with presenting online – the things we hear about all the time when we teach online presentation classes.
It's amazing how much it throws off your timing when you can't see the audience. We get a lot of unconscious cues from our audience about when to slow down, speed up, and check to make sure they're following. Without those cues we tend to speak too quickly, and (worst of all for your audience and your objectives) just keep firing information until they are too overwhelmed to actually understand what you're saying, let alone participate. You need to build opportunities for check-ins and feedback throughout your presentation. By the time it's Q and A, it's really too late to engage them.
These presentations can be so much more interactive than you first think. Many people have never been involved in an interactive, well-run webinar or webmeeting that actually got people involved. It's almost impossible to use any technology well if you've never seen it used well in context. When we teach classes, one of the things we hear most often is, "I didn't know you could do all this stuff". Kind of sad at this stage of adoption, but true.
The tools actually work a lot better than they used to. If it's been more than two years since you ran a webinar, you'll be amazed how much easier it is than it used to be. There have been huge advances not only in the presentation tools, but in the audience's equipment. Bandwidth and lots of memory have made it much easier to avoid the delays, freezes and problems that used to ruin webinars. You still need to use it well, but it's astounding. If you haven't used them for a while, go in with an open mind.
We need to get to the point a lot faster. No matter how compelling (you think) your topic is, it is actually a physical hardship to maintain focus and engagement online for a long time. That's why whole-day virtual classes ought to be against the Geneva Convention. You need to get to the point and get their input while they still have the will to participate. The longer you take to get to the meat of your presentation, the more they'll go away hungry and unsatisfied.
The most surprising thing, though, should be no surprise at all. It's how - aside from the technology - there is very little difference between online presentations and the kind we're all familiar with.
Engaging your audience, using the tools at your disposal appropriately, and getting to the point are all concepts that are applicable to any communication you engage in. In fact, our attendees often mention how many of the concepts we teach in class are applicable in more conventional settings.
WebEx, Lync and the others are just part of an evolution in communication technology. They shouldn't get in the way of what you already know about communicating effectively. What's most different is that we actually have to stop and think about what we're doing instead of running on habit.
That's probably not a bad thing when you stop to think about it.