A few days ago, I provided a training to the staff of a new client on how to be an effective and successful webinar presenter. My standard presentation for this type of training is jam-packed with all sorts of tips and tricks relating to developing a webinar presentation, creating slides, delivering a presentation, and engaging with a webinar audience. It wouldn't be practical to include every one of those best practices in a single blog post, but I've hand-picked five that are particularly important. Apply these five best practices to your next webinar and your presentation will be more compelling, persuasive, and professional:
1. Don't Script Your Presentation. Surely, you've attended webinars like this: The presenter drones on and on in a monotone as they read their entire presentation word-for-word from a piece of paper. Fun, right? A webinar is one of the most engaging ways to communicate with people online. But one of the least engaging ways to give a presentation is with a script.
The best presentations have an improvised-sounding, conversational tone. Your audience doesn't need you to read to them. If that's your plan, you might as well just send them your presentation script and save them the trouble of attending a webinar. Besides, you don't need a script; you're the expert here. You probably have informal conversations about your subject matter every day with your colleagues. And that's how you should think of your webinar presentation: As a conversation with your audience.
Rather than writing out your webinar presentation word-for-word, draft an outline that includes topics and sub-topics and refer to that during your webinar. You can also use something less formal, like brief speaker notes that help you stay on track and remember your key points. Don't think you'll be articulate enough using anything less than a verbatim script? That's where the next best practice comes in...
2. Practice! I would guess that nine out of ten webinar presenters don't take the time to practice their presentations. At least not formally, with any co-presenters, and especially not if they've given their presentation before to an in-person audience. I've heard presenters say things like, I don't need to practice; I gave this presentation last month at the conference.
A webinar presentation is very different from an in-person presentation. You'll need to get familiar and comfortable with the webinar platform you'll be using, so make sure there's an opportunity to practice and rehearse your presentation using the webinar software that will be used for your webinar. You'll also need to acclimate yourself to giving a presentation to an audience you can't see. Unlike during an in-person presentation, when you can interpret the body language and facial expressions of the people in your audience to gauge how well you're engaging with them, you don't have that luxury during a webinar. Instead, you'll need to make sure that your presentation style and tone is as engaging as possible from the get-go. Use a practice session to work on this.
Since we've already established that reading to your audience is a bad idea, you'll also need to spend plenty of time developing a nice, smooth delivery of your content in the absence of a script. Even though you'll be using an outline or notes, you shouldn't just wing it. You should practice and rehearse your presentation until you feel as comfortable as possible with your content, your phrasing, and the entire webinar experience. You won't want to practice and rehearse until you sound stiff and stilted, but practicing is still a key step in the development of any webinar presentation.
3. Less Text Is Always Better Than More. For almost every webinar I manage, the presenters load up their presentation slides with huge amounts of text. Why do they do this? Some presenters design their slides to serve as their own personal teleprompters. Others know that their audience will request a copy of their slides after the webinar and they want to make sure that their slides contain every last detail of what they discussed during their live presentation.
Your slides should visually support what you're saying. They shouldn't mimic everything that comes out of your mouth. If the most important aspect of a webinar is what you're actually saying (and it is), your audience can't pay attention to your words if they feel obligated to read long blocks of text on their screens.
It may be helpful to think of your slides as highway billboards or road signs. A sign doesn't contain more information than what a driver can safely absorb without running off the road. In the same way, don't force your webinar attendees to divide their attention between what they're seeing and what they're hearing. If you make a point of using much less text on your slides, your content will be much more easily absorbed and you'll be a much more effective webinar presenter.
4. Use a Landline Desk Phone. Yes, I know. It's becoming increasing difficult to find landline phones anymore. But the unavoidable fact is that cell phones aren't reliable enough for a webinar broadcast and the inferior audio quality of a mobile device is not ideal for a professional-sounding webinar. If you have access to a landline phone for your webinars, regardless of whether it's a digital line or an old telephone company copper line, take advantage of it for as long as it's available.
You'll also want to avoid speaker or conference phones during your webinars, even if they're on a landline. The reverberant room noise you'll get with those devices is not pleasing to the ear and there will be a noticeably significant contrast with any speakers who aren't using a speakerphone (i.e., good audio vs. bad audio).
Why can't your webinar presenters just plug in a computer microphone instead of using a telephone? They certainly can. Almost every webinar platform offers this option and the audio quality can be very good. Keep in mind, though, that computer audio is totally dependent on each individual presenter's internet connection. If a presenter loses their internet while using a computer microphone, they're gone. On the other hand, telephone audio is fed into a webinar broadcast independently of a local internet connection. Even if an internet connection is lost in the middle of a webinar, a telephone presenter will still be on the air and able to continue with their presentation.
2022 UPDATE: This blog post was originally written in 2018. The fact that landline phones are now virtually nonexistent, combined with the reality that live video has now become a common component of most webinars, relegates the use of landline phones to the ash heap of history. Even if landlines were still commonly available, using one while simultaneously appearing on camera can cause audio/video synchronization issues and result in an audio tone that just doesn't sound right with live video. To ensure the best possible audio quality for your webinar attendees, the updated best practice is for webinar presenters to use a wired USB microphone.
5. Plan Some "Seed" Questions for Q&A. Most webinars feature some type of audience interaction, usually in the form of a live Q&A session at the end of the webinar. The audience types their questions over their computers and the webinar host or moderator vets the questions as they come in and verbally relays them to the presenters during the Q&A session.
If you have a large, engaged audience, you'll probably end up with enough question to fill a 15-minute Q&A session. But sometimes, a webinar audience has few or no questions for Q&A. Or, maybe, the attendees are just a little shy. Nobody wants to be the first one to ask a question. What to do?
Before a webinar, the host or moderator should prepare four or five "seed" questions to use if the audience fails to submit any of their own. These should be the ideal questions that you hope will be asked during the webinar. Even if the audience does have questions, they might not be ideal or even relevant to the topic, so you can still slip in a few of your own just in case. The moderator can come up with these planned questions on their own or they can ask the presenters for their most hoped-for questions beforehand. The audience will never know that the questions weren't actually asked and this strategy will save you from an embarrassing Q&A session filled with dead air.
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