Sue York

If you are thinking of presenting in a webinar what do you need to know?

Having taken part in hundreds of webinars in the last few years I have learnt that compared to presenting face-to-face – some things are the same, some things are a bit different and some things are very different.

What’s the same?
You still need to plan, prepare and practice.

What are the basics?
The first things you need to do before you present via webinar are:

  •  Make sure you have a reliable and fast internet connection
  •  Get a headset with a microphone
  •  Find a quiet space to present from; open plan offices, coffee shops, noisy homes etc. don’t work
  •  Practice the technical aspects of using the webinar platform

The biggest differences between webinars and face-to-face presentations
For the new webinar presenter the most obvious difference is the audience. There are two aspects to this difference.

The first difference is how you experience the audience. The first time you present in a webinar you will feel like you are talking into a black hole, the only person you can hear is you, and you have no idea what is happening in the audience. Be prepared for your reaction; you will miss the audience feedback and you may be surprised by how confronting the absence of audience feedback is.

What will you miss? You’ll miss the smiles from the audience, the helpful nod from the person in the front row who is agreeing with everything you say and you will miss knowing whether people are paying attention to you. In face-to-face presentations you can use both positive and negative audience feedback to keep you on the right track and you can adjust your presentation accordingly. This lack of audience feedback can be quite startling when you first start presenting in webinars.

The second difference is that the audience is not necessarily focussed on you. People aren’t sitting in a quiet space, facing forwards waiting for you to enlighten them with your words of wisdom. They might be in an open plan office, or a coffee shop or checking in from a holiday break. Many of your audience will be multi-tasking while listening to you, with one eye on Twitter and one eye on LinkedIn.

What do you gain in the webinar environment?
It’s your production. Think of the stereotype of the newsreader who sits behind the desk wearing a smart shirt, jacket and tie on their top half and shorts on the bottom. In a webinar people can see you; the smart, prepared and enthusiastic webinar presenter. What they can’t see are the tools you use to get there.

You can use tools to help you present better. Think about what would help you present better in a webinar, for example, you may be able to put posters up on the wall to help you remember your key points or to remind you to smile and maintain your energy levels.

Having a script is not always a good idea, as it can make you sound like you are reading, but you can have notes or prompts written on the bottom on your slides. There are a lot of tools you can use to help you present better – which other people can’t see.

Take advantage of these options. You may not have your own production crew, but you can enlist human and prop-based assistance.

A useful by-product of presenting via a webinar platform is getting a recording of your presentation. You can use the recording for promotion and marketing, archiving and also for rehearsing and improving your presentation delivery.

Preparing a webinar presentation that respects the medium
One of the most important considerations when preparing a webinar presentation is the impact of time delays on your presentation. When you click to move forward the next slide will appear at different times for different people; some will see it before you see it and some will see it afterwards. There is no way of predicting the time it will take for slides to progress for any individual webinar attendee. It depends on a large number of variables and it may vary across sessions.

Design your presentation in a way that does not rely on timings.

In face-to-face presentations people have come to rely on animations and builds and very tightly scripted presentations that rely on your audience seeing particular slides or builds at the exact time the presenter says things. Try to keep your webinar presentation slides quite simple.

However, don’t be afraid to include builds if you feel they really add value to your presentation, but only use builds when they are necessary.

What next?
Why not dive in and volunteer to present in a webinar? If you are feeling apprehensive, see if you can co-present with a more experienced presenter.

Sue York is a market and social researcher working at the Institute for Social Science, at The University of Queensland, in Australia. She is the joint Editor and Curator of the ESOMAR book “Answers to Contemporary Market Research Questions”.

She co-founded NewMR, the co-created research hub that has been bringing the market research community presentations via webinar since 2010.

Sue tweets as @1sue3.