I spent the last week attending webinars. The topics were compelling enough that I carved out an hour at a time to attend. Each webinar used different technology solutions for delivery, and they were all “interactive” via emailed or IM’ed questions. And every single one of them was awful.
What made these webinars — most of which were put on by very big and reputable companies — so very bad?
- The sales-y delivery. One session had a presenter who could have stepped right out of a used car lot commercial. Maybe it’s just me, but that overly solicitous boisterousness just doesn’t translate well to a webinar setting.
- The “ummer.” I don’t know about you, but I am more forgiving of a speaker who says “ummm” and “ahhh” when they are in person. But when I hear “ums” and “uhs” on in a webinar, I suddenly cannot hear anything else. I would much rather hear silence or natural pauses than empty filler.
- The comedian. Humor is a great quality for a speaker. But during a webinar, when you don’t have a live audience to feed off of, some presenters come across awkwardly when they don’t get that laughter. They end up seeming flustered because they’re going for the laughs, and all they get is crickets. Of course you’re getting crickets — it’s a webinar, not a comedy club!
- The verbose. I’m not often put off by someone who talks a lot. However, a webinar is not the time to ramble. Worse yet are the webinars with slideshows where the slides are vying to be wordier than the speaker. Too many words doesn’t mean you are offering a lot of great content. It often means you’re too lazy to focus on the good stuff.
So what should you do if you are looking to produce webinars that not only provide great value for the participants but leave them empowered, impressed and interested in more? Here are some tips of my own, combined with a few from some great webinar presenters:
- Hone your message. You need to know exactly what you are trying to communicate to your audience before you start your presentation. And while you’re at it, keep your main takeaways — those memorable points — to a handful or less. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink for good measure.
- Polish your delivery. Not everyone is a great off-the-cuff speaker and when you have limited time, you want to make sure you can deliver your message clearly, succinctly and smoothly. Don’t over-rehearse to the point of sounding mechanical. And please don’t read your slides.
- Clean up your slides. How cluttered are your slides? How many words are there to read? Having to read your wordy slides will distract me from listening to what you are saying. Images do speak much louder than words, and better accompany a disembodied voice than a lot of words on a screen.
- Think beginning, middle, end. “A webinar, lecture, seminar, class… they are all part of the storytelling discipline,” explains Michael Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build. “A great storyteller understands this and engages the audience whenever possible, creates a rhythm, and knows how to raise the engagement and excitement over the course of the story.”
- Understand pacing. “Many people don’t harness (the) live energy (of webinars),” says Laura Roeder, a social media marketing expert. “Although it’s a bit harder to gauge the room online, it can be done by noticing the questions that come in and when people are dropping off from the webinar.” Roeder actually monitors when people are leaving the webinar. She then raises the energy, or switches gears.
- Be willing to be flexible. “Be prepared to go off-script and off-presentation,” says Leah Jones, founder of Natiiv Arts & Media, who is also good at switching gears midstream. “While I make the presentations available before the webinar and provide a recording after, I think it is my ability and willingness to go off-script during the ongoing Q&A that makes the webinars really work.” Leah cites that during a recent Twitter lesson, participants let her know that her presentation was too basic. She moved her presentation from slides to the Web and answered “bigger picture” questions.
- Give action items. “We are all sick of theory,” says Keith Burtis, Director of Client Strategy at New Marketing Labs, LLC. “If you can give people action items and homework, they will be more excited than having you preach theory. Life is experiential. Impact is felt when the words you say become something that changes someone’s life or business.”
What are your best practices — or pet peeves — for webinars?
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise