Giving Presentations on a Web Conferencing Platform
Organizations often use webinars to train their teams, brief clients, and engage with customers. But there's a lot that you should consider before you run one.
A great webinar interests its audience, delivers information, stimulates debate, and promotes action. It should also be a source of valuable feedback.
In this article, we'll look at what you need to do to organize, prepare and deliver an informative, interesting and successful webinar.
What Is a Webinar?
Webinars, also known as online or web conferences, are online learning events that happen in real time. Presenters stream information to participants using videos, images, text, and commentary.
What sets webinars apart from many virtual meetings or online presentations is the range of interactive elements that you can use. Participants can communicate with one another or the presenters, and work together in online groups during the event.
This means that a well-run webinar will likely be more engaging, and its content more memorable, than a standard presentation.
Webinars have many features that encourage people to interact and engage in the activities, including slideshows, video streaming, text chat, and interactive whiteboards. You can share your desktop or screen, and record the session.
Webinars can also include:
- Live testing: presenters can use polls and multiple-choice questions to gauge how much people are learning during the event.
- Analytics: some webinar platforms also use "engagement dashboards." These allow presenters to see how many people have chatted or answered questions.
When Should I Use a Webinar?
Webinars can require a lot of preparation. So, you need to be sure that you're using them for the right purpose.
You can and should use webinars for events that require interaction with remote users, and for real-time feedback.
However, webinars tend to be less effective for teaching hands-on skills, especially as it's hard to monitor individual students' performance and provide them with thorough feedback.
The Advantages of Webinars
Webinars eliminate the need for long-distance travel, which saves time, money and resources. They can even reduce the length of training, because they are so time-efficient.
The interactive nature of webinars can turn learning into a highly creative and fun experience. The platform is flexible, which means that users can attend from anywhere – including work, home or a coffee shop – and use a variety of devices to do so.
For further insights into webinar presentation techniques, see this recording of a webinar given by expert presenter and learning researcher Dr Will Thalheimer, and hosted by Emerald Works.
The Disadvantages of Webinars
Despite the video- and audio-streaming elements, webinar participants may miss important body language cues, and this can cause miscommunication and disengagement.
Webinars demand a lot of your audience, particularly if they include breakout discussions or exercises. The absence of direct human contact can make them mentally tiring, and people may miss the social aspect of face-to-face sessions.
Technical difficulties such as slow internet speeds, incompatible devices, and corporate firewalls might prevent users from accessing some tools or functions.
Presenters also have no influence over the suitability of the participants' environment. So, it's easy for attendees to multitask, not fully concentrate, or get distracted by colleagues or family.
Preparing a Great Webinar
If you want to deliver a great webinar, make sure that you spend plenty of time preparing for it. Let's look at four key ways to do that.
1. Understand the Platform
Familiarize yourself with the webinar platform, so that you use it to its full potential on the day. This will help to reduce presentation nerves, ensure that your webinar is informative and smooth, and give users a great experience.
2. Get the Setup Right
Make sure that you have a high-quality microphone. It's also important to have a means of highlighting information on the screen.
If you're going to appear on screen yourself, check that you're not in shadow, or too brightly lit. Your background should be appropriate to your business, and have no visual distractions.
3. Know Who Your Webinar Is For
Think about your audience. Who do you want to attend, and why? How much do they know about this topic? What do they want to take away from the event? Communicate your objectives early on, so that your participants know what to expect.
Think about numbers, too. A large audience can become difficult to manage if you want to use group work or play games.
Where should you promote your webinar? How do you want people to register? And what will you do with their data? These are important points to consider, particularly if the target audience for your webinar is people outside of your organization. Also have a strategy for how you'll keep the discussion going after the event.
4. Prepare Great Content
Webinars are highly visual, and your presentation needs to be clear, appropriate and succinct. So you may want to use more slides than you would in a face-to-face meeting.
Your presentation should tell a story. The best webinars don't simply load their audiences with facts. They persuade people to engage, learn and act.
Keep your presentation slides clear and clean, with plenty of white space around your key points to help them to stand out for the reader. You can use animated graphics to bring key information and data to life. For example, a standard presentation might put up a bar chart, showing growth in revenue over three years. But in your webinar, an animation would let you introduce the revenue bar for each year, in turn, with a commentary.
When you click on each slide, it may appear at a slightly different time for each participant. So don't go through the slides too quickly, or rely on slide timing to get your points across.
As a presenter, consider working with an assistant – someone who handles the logistics off-screen. This means that you only have to focus on the presentation, rather than on any technical problems that may arise.
When you're running a large session, always do a practice run with a few people beforehand. That way you can troubleshoot any technical difficulties, and get feedback to help you improve ahead of the event.
A well-delivered webinar should be memorable and stimulate action.
You can't see your participants, which can be disconcerting. So it's important to invite their engagement with questions, quick voting polls, and breakout groups.
If your audience is unfamiliar with the features of the webinar platform, spend a few minutes explaining how it works, as this will encourage participation.
It may sound unnatural if you read from a script, so write notes or prompts on the bottom of your slides to help you to keep your place during the presentation. If you're appearing on screen, remember to look into the webcam. Even if you're not actually making eye contact, it will look as though you are.
Go slowly, but evenly, especially when you present complex topics. Make any pauses brief, so participants don't think their audio has stopped.
Remember, people might ask you questions at any time by video, audio or chat, so check all of your feeds regularly or have someone do this for you. Many webinar platforms have a feature that enables users to virtually "raise their hands" in response to questions. You can use this tool to get people to refocus, to gauge their participation, or to analyze their level of knowledge. You can also call on participants by name to answer questions.
Encourage interaction by sparking off group discussions. You can use polling to start a conversation. For example, instead of presenting a fact or statistic, conduct a mini multiple-choice poll and ask audience members to guess the answer.
You can also have a group discussion using the chat option. To keep the conversation moving, read responses regularly, offer your opinion, and ask follow-up questions. Use people's names as much as possible to keep them focused and engaged. And always thank the audience members who get involved!
Webinar Evaluation and Follow-Up
It's important to get audience feedback when the webinar finishes. This is the best way to learn what worked, what didn't work, and how to improve for next time.
If your webinar platform has an audience feedback tool, ask participants to use it at the end of the session. If it doesn't, ask people to email their comments, or send them an online survey to complete.
Check your webinar recording, and then share it with the intended audience, by email or on social media. It's unlikely they'll all have taken part in the webinar, and even those who did will likely want to refresh what they learned. Finally, make sure that you act on any feedback to improve your performance next time.
Webinar Platform Options
There are many specialized webinar programs to choose from, including Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx, GoTo Meeting, and Fuze.
Be sure to choose one that meets your organization's security requirements.
Most platforms charge a monthly or yearly fee. But many let you try before you buy. If you don't want to pay a subscription fee, try Skype group calls or Google Hangouts instead.
Webinars are real-time, online meeting and learning experiences, allowing people to attend from different locations. You can use them for group training, sales presentations, and marketing purposes.
A great webinar engages its audience, delivers information, stimulates debate, and promotes action and feedback.
To run a successful webinar, give yourself plenty of time to research and choose the right platform for your needs. Think about what you want to achieve, and incorporate variety into your presentation, so that you engage people and make the event memorable.
When delivering your presentation, go slowly. Keep your audience interested by looking directly into your webcam, and ask questions to encourage participation. Always seek feedback after the event, so that you can improve your performance next time.
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