Note: I originally wrote this in 2013 but I’m updating this during the Coronavirus pandemic because more people are presenting online now.
Webinars are a powerful way to communicate from afar. They have opened up many possibilities for marketing, meetings, and training. But only if you do webinars right.
If you simply show slides with the text that you’re reading, this is what happens:
- Your audience scans the text quickly
- They then turn their attention to you speaking, but you’re saying the same thing they’ve just read (because people can read the slide much faster than you can speak it out)
- So they start multi-tasking — checking their email, checking out other web pages, doing other work, etc.
Well, isn’t that what you do when you watch a webinar like that?
But you can do better. Here are the 8 deadly sins that kill the effectiveness of your webinars and how to avoid them.
1. Reading the slides
You’ve seen this a million times as a webinar attendee. The speaker shows slide after slide of bulleted text and basically reads it with a few additions. Here’s an example of a webinar recording that I started watching.
There are lots of things wrong with the design of this slide, but this post isn’t about slide design. To give this marketer credit, he spoke well and passionately and said more than what was on the slide. But when there is this much text on a slide, the audience assumes that the text is all that’s important.
Instead, put less on each slide. Be sure to elaborate on the text that’s on each slide and use a relevant image.
2. Staying on the same slide for more than 2 minutes
I’m being very generous. Two minutes is a long time for your audience to watch the same slide when they can’t see you. Yes, they can hear you, but vision trumps hearing — that’s just how the brain works. (See my comment later about the webcam.) The more lively your voice and the more compelling your message, the longer you can keep up a slide.
Use more slides than you would for a live presentation. The above slide could easily have been turned into 3-4 slides. I recommend changing slides every 30-60 seconds.
3. Using animation improperly — too much or too little
When you switch from slide to slide, interest is created because our brains become alert when we see a change. That might lead you to assume that you should use lots of animation. Why not make the text fly in? But animated text is annoying; your audience will hate it. Moreover, many webinar services are not high-definition and the animation will be somewhat blurry. Finally, there’s often a short lag between what you do and when the audience sees it. If you use a lot of animation, what you’re saying and what your audience is seeing will become out of sync; this confuses them.
On the other hand, a simple animation that actually makes a point clearer, such as an animated diagram showing a process step-by-step, can help keep your audience interested. The Appear animation will always look crisp as long as you don’t use many such animations too quickly one after the other.
4. Not using interactive features
Almost all webinar services have interactive features and you should use them as much as possible. Invite attendee contributions by asking them questions. If you have more than 10 people on the line, you might not want to allow them to speak, but you can ask them to use the chat feature. If the service doesn’t let attendees see each others’ comments, read them out loud just as you repeat a question in a live presentation when an audience member asks a question not everyone can hear. Attendees love to hear the answers of others in their group.
Use the poll feature. I try to engage the audience in some way within the first 5 minutes of the webinar and then several times throughout.
Many webinar services also have a whiteboard that lets you scribble on the screen. This can give a feel of immediacy and interactivity, but try not to make your slides look like your 2-year old scribbled over it.
4. Using PowerPoint like a word processor
The above slide is simply a word-processing document with a blue background — a distracting one, I might add. In a webinar, you need to use striking, powerful, persuasive, meaningful images.
- Striking: Make them colorful and big!
- Powerful: Use images with an emotional impact
- Persuasive: Use photos rather than line art and include people in them — but icons can help people understand the content
- Meaningful: Use images that relate to your point. Don’t use images because the slides look boring. An image should help your audience understand and remember what you said.
This point applies to presentations in general, not just webinars.
Keep your background and overall design very simple so your audience can focus on your message.
6. Talking in a monotone and hiding behind the slides
Because people can’t see you — unless you also show your webcam — your voice needs to be more lively than usual. Standing as you speak is a helpful technique. Some webinar presenters put photos of friends around the computer screen so they can imagine that they’re talking to real people.
If you have a script — and you should — be careful not to sound as if you’re reading it. You accomplish this by practicing. Record your practice and you’ll know right away if you need to work on how your voice sounds.
I recommend using the webcam. Just as seeing you isn’t distracting when you presenting in front of a live audience, it isn’t distracting during a webinar. Dress appropriately and pay attention to your background and the lighting. However, if your Internet connection starts stuttering, turn it off because that will reduce the bandwidth you need.
In fact, I prefer starting the webinar with full-screen video of you so people engage with you at the beginning and then sharing your screen. Practice making the switch to screen sharing smooth so your audience doesn’t see your computer desktop or PowerPoint in Normal editing view.
7. Not knowing the webinar software and related technology!
This one gets me SO annoyed. How often have you seen a webinar in which it was clear that the presenter didn’t know the webinar software, didn’t practice, and didn’t have someone to provide backup support when things went wrong?
Learn the software, practice, and have an assistant to help you if the need arises. An assistant is also helpful for monitoring attendee questions and comments.
Having a second monitor will help you display the chat without covering up your slides.
Especially if you’re using the webcam, always connect to the Internet via an Ethernet cable. It’s more reliable than wi-fi in most cases.
8. Not providing follow-up
Attendees are generally alone when they attend your webinar — at home, in their office, at their desk. Their attention tends to wander because they can’t see you. They need follow-up to connect further with you and to cement their understanding of your content.
Here are some techniques you can use:
- Offer a handout with your script. Near the end, show a slide to a location where they can download the handout.
- Send a follow-up email asking for questions and comments, with a link to further resources
- Ask for feedback. Some webinar software includes a feedback form; you could also ask people to go to an online survey that you create.
Tip: The more you follow up, the better your results will be.
What webinar techniques have been effective for you? Leave a comment!