If you were to produce, host, and moderate as many webinars as I do, you would begin to see and hear some of the same things over and over again, year after year. As you can imagine, this can grate on ones nerves after a while.
After posting this, I may get accused of being a complainer, a perfectionist, a curmudgeon. But here's my disclaimer: I really don't mean for this blog post to be anything other than a lighthearted venting. It's not a serious diatribe. Think of it more as webinar satire. I hope it will put a smile on your face, despite the fact that you might recognize yourself in some of these ten items. After all, it's 2020. We all need a good laugh right now, even if it's at our own expense.
So, without further ado (wink, wink), in no particular order, here are my top 10 webinar gaffes, clichés, and pet peeves:
1. Housekeeping. Let's file this first one under pet peeves. How many times have you heard a webinar host start the event by announcing that they would "do a little housekeeping"? Ugh! I don't know what it is about the word "housekeeping." I just don't like it in the context of a formal webinar. I suppose it just doesn't have the ring of professionalism that my nuanced webinar producer ears want to hear. Maybe the term originated decades ago at in-person seminars and lectures. In any case, webinar hosts still use it to inform the audience that it's time to start the event with the obligatory repetition of banalities that nobody needs or cares to hear.
If you must start your webinar with a recitation of the entire 150-year success story of your company or by warning attendees that any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of the webinar without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited, can you at least come up with a new word for it?
2. Without Further Ado. This phrase must be the number one cliché in the history of public speaking. Invariably, after taking care of "housekeeping," a webinar host will signal the audience that, without further ado, it's time for the moment they've all been waiting for: the actual presentation itself!
There must be a less hackneyed phrase that can be used to make the transition from webinar introduction to webinar presentation. But I've got a better idea. Let's eliminate the need for a transition in the first place. If you need to reassure your audience that there's no need for any further ado, you've probably given them too much ado already.
3. The Late-Starters. As a webinar producer, I'm occasionally asked by a presenter in the moments before the start of a webinar, "What time are we starting?" What time are we starting? What time do you think we're starting? We're starting at the start time!
This question is asked because many people assume that a webinar should always start a few minutes late to accommodate latecomers. That's great for the latecomers. It's not great for the showed-up-on-time-comers. Do you really want to punish the people who made an effort to arrive on time for the sake of people who may or may not show up at all? The latecomers know they are late. Show your attendees—who are taking time out of their day to attend your webinar—some respect by starting your webinar at the time you told them it would start.
4. Free Advertising. "Welcome to today's Webex event!" "You'll notice at the top of the GoToWebinar control panel..." "Thanks for joining our Zoom webinar!" Why do webinar speakers do this? Don't the webinar platform vendors get enough free advertising? As it is, they already splash their name and logo all over your registration pages, reminder e-mails, and the webinar user interface itself.
This is your webinar, not Zoom's. Leave them out of it. In a perfect webinar world, the chosen webinar technology would appear unbranded and generic to attendees. Of course, the webinar vendors won't let this happen, despite the fact that you're already paying them for the use of their product. But there's no need for you to also sign on as an uncompensated member of their sales team.
5. I Hope You Can Hear Me. Apparently, many webinar presenters feel that the perfect way to start a presentation is with an expression of hope that their microphone is working. I suppose this is the webinar equivalent of tap, tap...is this thing on? If live webcam video is being used, you'll sometimes hear a similar hope that the audience can see the presenter. This regularly occurring phenomenon can usually be attributed to nerves, but it's not a very good way to make a first impression.
Trust me: If we can't hear you, you'll know about it. Your webinar producer or moderator will unmute you or one of your co-presenters will come on the air and tell you that you're talking to yourself. Oh, but what if you're conducting a webinar all by yourself, you ask? In that case, what's the point of telling the audience that you hope they can hear you if, in fact, they can't hear you!?
6. Audience Hand-Holding. Some webinar hosts spend way too much valuable time providing the audience with unnecessary instructions and guidance on how the webinar user interface works or what to expect during the webinar. I'll often hear the audience told that they'll be muted for the duration of the webinar or that their webcams have been disabled.
We all know the drill. We all know by now how webinars work. There's no reason to waste valuable time on such superfluous information. Today's webinar user interface is relatively intuitive. An attendee should be able to figure out for themselves that the "Q&A" window, believe it or not, can be used to submit questions for Q&A. If, for some reason, they confuse a formal webinar event with a casual web meeting and try to unmute themselves, they'll realize soon enough that they're talking into a vacuum.
7. Next Slide...Next Slide. This one never gets old, does it? It happens when a webinar presenter assigns the responsibility of advancing their slides to someone else. That someone else probably isn't going to know exactly when the presenter needs to move forward in the slide presentation. So, the presenter cues that person with the two most unoriginal words they can come up with: Next slide. Sometimes, a little creativity is applied and we get: Next slide, please.
This isn't too bad when a presentation consists of just a few widely-spaced slides. But it becomes quite the annoyance during a 75-slide marathon squeezed into a 20-minute time frame. To avoid this tedium, presenters should use more subtle cues, like pauses, or at least add some verbal variety into the mix: "Moving forward..." or "On the following slide..." or "Let's continue..." The extra effort will prevent much hair pulling and teeth gnashing in the audience.
8. Bells and Whistles. There's always that one person. They begin their presentation, everything is moving along just fine, and then their cell phone rings. Or an e-mail comes in. Or they get a text. Before every webinar, I remind the speakers to shut down Outlook and silence their mobile devices. Nobody listens.
Of course, this isn't the worst faux pas in the world. I've even heard it happen to the hosts of major cable news shows. But for something that's so simple to avoid, why wouldn't you? Once a webinar gets underway, you can live without texts and e-mails for an hour. Not only will turning those things off prevent you from distraction, it will ensure that your attendees can stay focused on what you're saying to them. Isn't that the whole point of the webinar?
9. Pulling Back the Curtain. I like to think that webinars should be no less polished and professional than a TV news broadcast or a radio talk show. There are usually too many uncontrollable variables involved for this to be practical, but we can still try. So, when a webinar speaker refers to some little behind-the-scenes aspect of a webinar, I can't help cringing.
If you can maintain the illusion that your webinar is a smooth-running, effortless production that somehow all came together like magic, why not? There's no reason to pull back the webinar curtain and mention the planning stages, support staff, or even the webinar platform itself (see #4 above). If you want to thank the webinar producer for an awesome job, thank me after the webinar is over.
10. The Last Word. This one doesn't occur often. But every once in a while, in the final moments of a webinar, after the webinar host has concluded the event with their final closing remarks, one of the presenters or panelists will jump back on and end the webinar on their terms with a "Thanks!" or a "Bye!" or maybe something more long-winded.
These people don't mean any harm. It's just a natural conversational instinct. But, sorry, the last word belongs to the webinar host or moderator—the person specifically assigned by the webinar organizer to open and close the webinar in an official capacity. Actually, now that I think about it, as a webinar producer, I always get the last word. And the last laugh. I always edit the final anticlimactic comments by those people right out of the webinar recording...
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