Why trainers hate webinars and how to get over it

“Webinars are sucking the life out of the speaking business.” “Webinars are boring.” “I’m not comfortable presenting via webinar (when the technology works at all).” “They’re not interactive or effective and everyone hates them, participants and speakers alike.”

If you hang out with speakers long enough, you’re likely to hear any or all of these statements. Before you buy into the whining, replace the word “webinar” with “PowerPoint,” and you may recall these same conversations 15 years ago.

Speakers have made peace with PowerPoint® and some even use it very effectively today. It is part of the way people do business. Now, online presentations— webinars, online training and demos—also are part of the business environment in 2011. If speakers can make peace with technology and put their egos aside, they can use webinars to their advantage and maybe even have fun with them.

A Methodical Approach to New Technology

Being a speaker is low tech: You stand in front of an audience, open your mouth, and brilliance pours out. You don’t even have to think about it, and that’s the point. Speakers are what psychologists call “unconsciously competent.” When you add another dimension, like technology, speakers become overly conscious of what they’re doing, and it feels very uncomfortable.

Speakers thrive on interaction. Truth be told, webinars can be very interactive and engaging. It just takes knowledge of the platform you’re using, understanding what features replicate your usual presenting environment, and using them thoughtfully and carefully, not in panic mode.

You can overcome your technology concerns by following some useful guidelines.

Practice and become consciously competent.

The single best thing you can do is to become comfortable with the platform you use. That requires practice—a lot of practice. According to industry studies, 90 percent of people who present online the first time do so with innocent victims on the other end. It’s like learning to drive by taking your parents to the airport. It’s do-able but it’s not fun and no one’s in a hurry to do it again.

Understand the features of your new tool.

Many webinars are simply PowerPoint presentations pushed at the audience. The good news is that most tools have multiple ways to interact and engage the audience, including chat, written questions, annotation tools like highlighters and white boards for brainstorming, and webcams to create a more human connection. Rookie presenters tend to limit the amount of interaction because of their own discomfort. By understanding and knowing how to use some of these nifty tools, you can elevate your presentation from mere survival to real communication.

Don’t stress about different platforms.

There are about 127 different web presentation platforms out there, and they do about 90 percent of the same things. Compare platforms to a rental car: At first, you don’t know how to turn on the headlights or adjust the AC, but you soon realize it’s just a car and you know what you’re doing. If you can use WebEx, you can use GoToMeeting or iLinc or any of the others with a little practice.

Start with your message, and then apply technology.

Start with your message and decide how it should be conveyed. Then, make technology work for you; for example, if you would typically use a flip chart or a white board in a presentation, try using your tool’s white board feature. If you would ask for a show of hands, use the “raise hand” feature. Being interactive makes your presentation more interesting for you and the audience.

Get Over Yourself … and Shine

When it comes to using technology, speakers are their own greatest obstacle. They relish attention, interaction and getting their energy from the audience. When they present online, they don’t receive the same benefits of being in the same room and in front of the audience. Without seeing and hearing the audience, it’s difficult to pace the presentation for success. They can’t see smiles of encouragement, puzzled expressions that signal it’s time to slow down, or hear the applause and laughter that energizes them. Follow these tips for showcasing yourself online:

Understand the limitations of online presenting.

People have limited attention spans, and it’s worse online. You can’t glare at attendees when they reach for their Blackberries. In general, onlinepresentations need to be shorter— 45 to 60 minutes is good, or 90 minutes maximum. Get to the point faster and with more visual support than in an inperson presentation. The amount of interaction drops with the number of people, so if your training or session needs audience input, you should consider smaller sessions. For example, there were over 400 people online for our marketing webinar on behalf of GoToWebinar. But when we do our training at GreatWebMeetings.com, we limit class size to 10 people. We want open phone lines and maximum participation from each participant. Form follows function.

Plan for audience interaction and engagement.

Experienced speakers and facilitators unconsciously scan the room for reactions, and pause to ask questions when someone looks befuddled. You will not get those cues online, so you must build them into your presentation outline and use interactive features to ask the audience’s opinion, keep them awake and gain reaction. If the phone lines are open, allow attendees to participate or answer a planned question. Do not hold questions until the end, especially in small groups with fewer than 50 participants.

Use an outline or script.

Time and attention are in short supply, so it is important to stay on track and not ramble during an online presentation. You can outline your presentation with a printout of your PowerPoint visuals and write notes to yourself, either in “handout” mode or in “Notes” pages. Use bullet points and lots of white space to make it easy on yourself and avoid falling into reading your content word for word.

Slow down!

The single biggest presentation error experienced presenters make is speaking too quickly. Here are two simple tricks for slowing down:

Imagine your rate of speed as a speedometer, and speak five miles an hour slower than you normally would. Build pauses into your presentation. When you change visuals, stop talking and give your audience time to process your information. You also can slow down by taking questions, scanning the chat conversation throughout your presentation, and using a co-presenter. The interview format works exceptionally well in webinars. Webinars are an important part of the speaking business. Speakers who appear confident and familiar with webinars have a great advantage. We already know our subjects, we care about our audiences, and so technology is just a hurdle to overcome. So get over it and get on with sharing your message to the world.

About Wayne Turmel Wayne Turmel is an ex comedian turned writer, speaker and consultant. He is the president of Greatwebmeetings.com and host the business podcast - The Cranky Middle Manager Show. He is fanatical about helping people communicate online. He is the president of and teaches people to present, train, sell and run meetings using virtual presentation tools. Turmel is the author of 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar:10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentation. He also writes The Connected Manager Blog and hosts the Cranky Middle Manager Show podcast.

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