When I first started presenting webinars, I naively believed that my real-life speaking experience was sufficient to conquer this virtual medium. I was wrong. I would go way over my word limit detailing the mistakes I’ve made, so instead, I looked for common elements among my gaffes to see if I could distill some tips for success. Here’s what I came up with.
Talking to Yourself: One of the most unexpected challenges I encountered when I started doing webinars was the lack of a ‘studio audience.’ Since I sometimes struggle with stage fright, the idea of a virtual audience was appealing. What I hadn’t considered is that a virtual audience creates a virtual feedback loop. When you’re talking in from of a room of people, they are giving you instantaneous feedback about how effective your presentation is. You can tell when your audience is engaged and also when they’re losing interest. During a webinar, you can’t tell when participants have tuned out. Most of the time, you are sitting in a room, talking into a phone and having a one-sided conversation. Be prepared for this to feel a little strange and realize you are going to have to work harder to keep the audience’s focus on you.
Scripts, the Double-Edged Sword: This isn’t to say that a virtual audience is without its merits…you can present a webinar from your bed while in sweatpants. I once had a student at a class I taught write in her evaluation about how she didn’t like my clothes, so believe me, I love this about webinars. In general, I encourage you to do whatever makes you more relaxed as you present. That being said, be cautious about relying heavily on a script (or wine). The audience can always tell when the presenter is reading. In my experience, participants are more engaged when a webinar is presented in a conversational manner. Putting together a script can be helpful IF you run through it enough that you don’t need it anymore. As an added bonus, you’ll get practice talking to yourself
Driven to Distraction: It’s not just the audience that can get distracted during a webinar. Nothing gets me flustered faster than losing my train of thought, so I create an environment that limits opportunities for distraction. Find a quiet location to use, close your inbox and silence your phone. Put a sign on the door to keep people from knocking or barging in. Also, most webinar platforms have Q&A and chat functions that run during the event. I cannot look at these while presenting without getting off track, so I usually stare at my notes or the phone to maintain focus. If you are able to multi-task, these functions can create real-time feedback, just be aware that answering questions mid-stream may quickly lead you off-track.
Avoiding Technical Glitches: I have used numerous webinar platforms and, while they have many of the same features, none are exactly the same. You don’t want any surprises during the webinar, especially if you are already nervous. Doing a dry run beforehand works out the kinks and uncovers technical issues. For example, you may need to install software to run the webinar. If your presentation includes animation, make sure the software supports them (this has happened to me more than once). Ask a colleague to dial in to your dress rehearsal to see if she can hear you clearly. Conference phones often pick up background noise, so don’t be surprised if she can hear you turning the pages of your script. Learn how to advance the slides, switch presenters, and use notation tools. Fortune favors the prepared!
Although I can’t predict everything that can go wrong in a webinar, I hope these tips will help you feel more confident the next time you present so that you can laugh off any glitches and continue on with style. Good luck!