Thoughts on Webinar Presenting

Apr 27, 2020

(7 min read)

‘Tell me and I’ll forget:
Show me and I may remember;
Involve me and I’ll understand.’

Chinese Proverb

The current business environment brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an exponential growth in online meetings and webinars; a way of working that looks set to be here to stay long after the current crisis is over.

Over the last few weeks many people will now have attended not just one but possibly a number of online meetings and events. Understandably people are reporting of ‘online fatigue’ with the outcome that the competition to capture and maintain attendee’s minds is intense.

Attention spans vary from person to person but as a simple rule we should look for no online session to last for any longer than an hour.

Bearing that in mind and particularly for a webinar, having something informative to say it is no longer good enough; people don’t want to sit in front of a screen and watch a PowerPoint presentation, however good or as pretty as it may look. Nor do they want to listen to a monologue from a presenter hidden behind their slides; people are now looking for much more and presenters need to bear this mind.

In looking to run an online event it is important to recognise that as humans we are by nature a social animal feeling safe and at ease when we can see the face of another: online webinars should allow for this.

Involving people has always been the key to not just stimulating a person’s interest but also to engaging them. Research over the years has also confirmed that adults learn more when they are actively involved.

It is of course an easier task in a face-to-face event for the presenter to involve as well as gauge audience engagement; there is ongoing feedback. Attendees in face-to-face events are also less likely to ‘walk’, for this behaviour it is a big statement potentially observable by everyone attending whereas at an online webinar a person can ‘bail out’ at the flick of a switch without others awareness!

This means that in the planning of an online webinar the presenter should start thinking from the outset of gaining involvement with this guiding the approach and content from taking the perspective of an attendee – what they would want and how they would like to be involved.

By all means use PowerPoint or other visual information but keep it limited and ‘unbusy’. If you are looking to run the one-hour event think of your presentation and visuals accounting for no more that 20%-25% of the time – some 12 to 15 minutes – with the remaining 45-48 minutes being about questions and the development of discussions: adults retain some 80% of what they learn through what they discuss with other adults.

Attempt to involve people before the event begins through asking attendees to join early, say 10 minutes before in a ‘waiting room’and to use the ‘chat’ function to share with others who they are, where they are from, and what they are looking to get from the event.

Additionally, use a Poll to gain data from the attendees that will help you to understand the audience, what their level of knowledge is, and encourage people from the outset by bringing some of them on-screen from the outset by asking them what they want. This latter action may take up some 5 minutes of the time but it could really build participation from the very outset.

The most important part of any adult webinar learning event is the Q&A session and this is why this should constitute at least half of the overall time. As a presenter come prepared with a list of questions, ideally ‘open’ questions, and consider using a host for your webinar to start this session off. Even consider ‘priming’ a couple of attendees you know to ask from the ‘floor’. Do bear in mind that humans do not like being seen to ask something stupid notwithstanding they are probably asking what others would have liked to have asked!

Hiding at an online webinar is very easy so you may have to work far harder. Recognising this and ‘breaking through’ the psychological ‘online barrier’ will give the event not only the life and energy that will bring others in but will make it memorable as well as a webinar through which people will learn.

However, as enthusiastic as you may be for your webinar do be realistic and recognise that attendee involvement even in a face-to-face event may not exceed 50% of the audience as there are always people who remain quiet; to try involve these people in an online webinar use simple questions to gain interaction by using the ‘show of hands’ capability.

The rule of ‘KISS’ (keep it simple stupid) is a good general rule by trying not to put over too much in the time. Some 5-6 key learning points that you can summarise as you go along is powerful. You could also use a host to do this for you through their using the ‘chat’ facility to send this to all attendees. Also remember to finish with a summary of these at the close.

You may like to consider ‘chunking down’ your presentation into 5-6 sections that are fully interactive by taking questions and thus with ongoing involvement from the very outset. You could also consider dispensing with a presentation so keeping your face on the screen at all times.

However you choose to present, do not forget to record the webinar.  Attendees may like listen to it again and others who may have missed may like to do so but importantly, listen to it again yourself so you can identify what you can learn and improve for the next webinar you give.

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