I have been teaching online presentation skills for a very long time. Since I led my very first WebEx Introduction class almost 12 years ago, a lot has changed. Technology is better—I can’t remember the last time someone joined a webinar on a dial-up modem, and it’s actually harder to find a computer that doesn’t have a webcam than one that does. Here’s what hasn’t changed: most online presentations still aren’t very effective.

The reason is that technology was only ever part of the problem. Like presenting in person, you can control your physical environment only so much. The vast majority of the success or failure of any talk lies within the control of the speaker.

Here are 5 very simple (I didn’t say easy!) things you can do to help yourself succeed and not get between your audience and your message:

Determine what features you’ll use as you’re planning your presentation, not as an afterthought.

80% of web presenters use only 20% of the tools available to them. This means you’re probably not doing something that could help drive your message home or engage your audience. The simplest way to think about this is: “What would I do in a regular presentation to make this really work, and how can I replicate that online?” 

If you are the kind of presenter who uses a white board or flip chart, are you planning to do the same thing online, or are you intimidated? If you’d ask for a show of hands to assess their knowledge, you can do that in plenty of ways (including having them use the “raise hand” button on some platforms, chat on the others). Form follows function. What would make a great presentation, and is there a way to do that online? The answer is probably yes if you take a deep breath and think about it during the planning stage.

Involve your webinar audience early and often.

The level of participant interaction will naturally depend on the size of your audience (the larger the audience, the less interaction as a rule). But here’s something to remember about human beings: the longer they are passive, the harder it is to stir them to action for Q&A or discussion. If you engage them early by using polls, chat, or even allowing them to post their questions as they think of them instead of waiting til the end, they are more likely to stay engaged.

Have everything set up and ready to go before you begin.

We know that people don’t like to speak in public. They really hate presenting using technology. So when you combine them, you get a fear of speaking on webinars. (The word Glossowebinaphobia actually appears in the Urban Dictionary) Make things easy on yourself by having all the tools set up so that you’re not trying to open a whiteboard, or change the color of your market, or trying to create a poll while trying to remember your content—or your own name.

It’s better to leave something for Q&A than to try to pack everything into your allotted time.

The most common challenge for people putting together webinar presentations is cramming too much information in. We are so afraid that we will leave something out, or that there is some obscure piece of data that one person might care about, that we put everything we can think of into our slides.

The problem is that online we actually have a smaller attention span online than we do in person, so presenters are doing the one thing guaranteed to overload: bore or otherwise torture your audience. You may be giving them too much information in a short time. If you find yourself saying, “Oh by the way…” or “Some of you might be wondering…” a lot, you’re probably putting information upfront that could be in Q&A rather than the body of your presentation.

Your audience’s eyes are where the camera is, not where their picture is on the screen.

We know that in a face to face presentation, eye contact is critical. If you’re using a webcam, you’re making an effort to replicate that experience. One of the things that undermines our credibility though (and it’s a hard habit to break and will take practice) is when the presenter is obviously looking somewhere other than at the audience.

Here’s the thing to remember: The light that tells you the camera is on is where your audience’s eye-line is. The picture of someone on the screen is not. Talk to the camera, not the little box in the corner of your meeting screen. That doesn’t mean you have to stare blankly into the camera the whole time (it looks unnatural and creepy). But when you want to make a point, or really connect with your audience, look them in the eye as you would in person.

There are plenty of other tips for good online presenting, but if all webinar presenters did these simple things webinars would be much less painful for all concerned.

If you want to dig deeper into this subject and become an expert at presenting online, check out our online course on delivering online presentations. We’ll even come to your organization and train your leadership staff. Imagine how that would revolutionize your team’s online meetings!


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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