As a trainer or presenter you know what to do – you’ve probably been doing it for years. You know how to engage your audience, you know the body language to watch for, you know how to make eye contact and to include your audience in a wide sweep so that everyone feels involved in your presentation.
You know how to stand, what slides to use, when not to use slides, you know that the tenor of your voice can be used to emphasise points and that you can question your audience to develop a point. You are confident in your subject and you know exactly what is expected of you.
So, why are you sweating? Why are you looking at your slides and wondering if it will work and whether what you are going to say is actually going to make a difference? Because they changed the goal posts! Whether you like it or not, presenting and training is taking on a new dimension – that of the cyber world.
The rules and the practices that work so well live are all of a sudden ‘old hat’. You will be in front of your audience, but instead of standing there in your smart suit or your jeans and tee shirt, or (for the more extrovert) in your Hawaiian shirt and hula skirt – all your delegates could potentially see is your face. And up close and personal too! Every twitch, every flick of the hair or scratch of the ear that is so easy to use as a pause in speech when you are standing live in front of your audience is suddenly brought into sharp focus. Your facial expressions are watched closely by your audience – which could number hundreds – and you give everything away.
Yes, it’s a different world. The use of cyber-training with technology such as WebexTM, and GoToMeeting®, (to name but two of the many systems out there) means that you can deliver ‘live’ training to a remote audience. And not just remote from you – they could be remote from each other in both geographical and time-zone terms. So your methods of engaging the audience have to change. You can’t rely on the internet communicating your natural charisma, unfortunately.
But good performance is good performance, and the key to ensuring success through new technology is the same as it was for live performance – practice. But there are other elements that need to change. Whereas live you may need few or even no slides, when you are presenting your ideas on the web, it is quite likely that you will need a really engaging slide show to keep the audience watching. After all – they are probably sitting at their computer, and a little note may pop up saying they have a new email from a client – and they will be highly tempted to go and take a quick peek...
The screen of their computer suddenly becomes your training room. They can stand up and ‘walk out’ on you with no embarrassment whatsoever! They can see you, but you won’t be able to see them and nor will the other delegates. So their exit, should they chose to make it, is relatively painless.
You may need far more slides than for a live presentation, you will probably need less words but far more pictures, far more interactive elements and opportunities for delegates to contribute their thoughts and comments using the technology. Your delivery can still be interactive and you can have break-out sessions, shared virtual white-boards and many other dandy little widgets that your chosen web conferencing provider can entice you with – but you must practice. Don’t just practice your presentation - understand the technology and not only what you want to happen, but what could go wrong. Prepare alternative scenarios or additional material just in case that break-out function is overloaded, or that the server in Spain refuses to play. Above all, make sure the delegates know in advance what is expected of them – and that goes as much for live training as for training over the web.
Back to your performance: the tone of your voice is still important, but it will be distanced by the fact you are being heard over a phone line or VOIP. Your body language will still be important, but it will be concentrated around your face or head and shoulders. Think about your colour scheme in relation not just to your surroundings (background to the camera) but to the slides you are showing. Is your bright orange ‘confidence’ suit going to clash with the red corporate banner on the presentation?
And how will your audience react? Will they gain as much benefit from this kind of presentation as they would if they were in the room with you? Having already noted that their ability to ‘opt out’ is far easier on line, just as with live training you will engage people on different levels according to their preferred learning styles. There will be some who are delighted that they don’t have to leave their desk to complete that mandatory CPD module, and others who begrudge the fact that they don’t get their day out of the office and the nice hotel lunch.
Engaging your audience – and keeping them engaged – comes right back down to three key elements: content, presentation and performance. For live training I would perhaps reverse the order, but making sure that what you are saying (content) is relevant and of interest to your audience is crucial for their engagement. Make sure that the presentation method (avoiding infamous ‘death by PowerPointTM – live or on-line) is appropriate. And finally, your performance must be convincing. You have to know your subject and be ready to respond to questions, you have to be able to improvise and to understand the differences in the media you are using to present and, therefore, how your audience will relate to you.
You could argue that cyber-training will never replace live training completely and I would agree; but I would also caution that as the technology develops and the ease of use improves, it is going to be a highly cost effective method for organisations to address remote audiences. Be prepared, and ready to take on board the way technology is changing how we present and train.
About Carolyn Sheppard
Carolyn Sheppard is the MD of The Complete Trainer – an innovative company dedicated to providing excellent service to trainers and learning and development specialists. She is an experienced marketer and publisher with several years experience in learning and development and works with some of the best trainers in the UK. Carolyn is also a performer, musician and author.