Let’s start at the beginning.
The essential point about online sessions is this: the audience’s only interaction is via their computer screen and speakers. Obvious? Yes, but precisely for that reason, it is easy to overlook how wide the implications are.
Because the audience members are separate from one other and from you, three lines of non-verbal communication are removed, lines that we take for granted during a physical presentation. The audience cannot communicate with you non-verbally, nor with each other, nor can you communicate non-verbally with them. The result is that online presentations require you to think very clearly about how you will build rapport with your audience, engage their interest and maintain it.
When presenting online, without recourse to non-verbal communication, your voice becomes a vital tool. It must be clear, varied and well-modulated. Using a set of wordy PowerPoint slides as a script for ad-libbing is a poor approach when you are physically in front of people. Online it is a disaster. To succeed at presenting online you need compelling, well-structured content that involves the audience.
There are three things here: compelling, well-structure and involving. Each of them is important, but the first is the most important. Your content needs to be compelling. And the most important part of being compelling? Your audience wants to listen, because the find the content meets a need they have.
And that’s it. THAT is the one crucial thing for any successful delivery of online content: be useful.
There is not a great deal that is new to learn, but any online presenter will have to remember not to use many of the habits, tricks and instincts built up over years of face-to-face delivery. The good news is that anyone can present online, and it enables you to do things you cannot easily do in the physical world.
Presenting online isn’t very hard: I estimate that it’s about as difficult as driving a car. If you can do that, you can present online. Of course, if you drive, you’ll also remember how impossible co-ordinating everything seemed at the beginning: looking at the mirror, controlling the clutch, watching your dashboard… You’ll also remember how you overcame all that to become the confident driver you are today: through practice.
What about keeping people engaged? Do we need to pull a rabbit out of some presenter’s hat every seven minutes? No, absolutely not – people can deal with distraction. They won’t put up with being given information they can’t use.
Our noisy, multi-stream information culture
From watching TV to interacting with friends, the way we live reflects our noisy, multi-stream information culture. People are increasingly habituated to using Twitter while they watch TV, or seeing multiple streams of information alongside the sport or business news. Whether it’s live voting on talent shows, or TV screens simultaneously showing the results of three different sports while discussing a fourth, information-rich culture is now mainstream and – consciously or not – your audience expects it.
This profoundly affects the way people attend webinars. Many participants are used to dealing with plenty of information at once. Some even feel cheated or under-stimulated without it. Unlike their counterparts 20 years ago, almost none of your attendees will feel comfortable sitting quietly and listening to a presentation for 40 minutes.
People have learned to deal with this information overload with short bursts of highly focused attention. We typically focus on something, and if we don’t find it worth our attention, shift focus to something else. When that attention shifts, it takes a lot to bring it back.
This does not mean that presenters should resort to snake oil, blarney and theatrics. On the contrary, it means that when the attendee is focusing on the event, she must find something useful in it. That could be what they hear the presenter’s saying, what’s on display, or the text the attendees are reading on screen or in the text chat area.
In other words, in this busy age, the secret to a successful webinar is simple: provide compelling value.
That is the one thing you need for a successful webinar, before anything else. To be useful.
This is an extract from Webinar Master, a free 44-page guide to great online delivery. Click to download it.