How to give a good presentation online

What does it take to give a great online presentation? That’s something I’ve spent many years thinking about, as I’ve hosted and delivered hundreds of webinars.

Although giving an online presentation or webinar might seem daunting, it’s no more complex than driving a car, and like driving a car, it just takes practice to do it well.

So, based on the experience of 7 years and hundreds of online events, here is one thing to remember and four things  to do when delivering a great webinar:

One thing to remember
Remember this: the audience’s only interaction is via their computer screen and speakers. This may be obvious, but precisely for that reason, it is easy to overlook how wide the implications are.

Because each audience member is separate from each 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.

Online, without your body and face to help you, your voice becomes an important 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 be a success presenting online you need compelling, well-structured content that involves the audience.

There is something else to remember: your audience is almost certainly at their desk, at work, in a busy, noisy environment. They are only a few seconds away from their e-mail. To keep them engaged, you will need to do four things.

Four things to do
1. What you say – decide on the point you want to make and stick to it.
2. Work with the audience – structure your presentation to allow you to build rapport, engage interest and maintain it
3. How you say it – use your voice well
4. Preparation – this is usually the difference between online success and failure

1. What you say
the key point of a successful online session is this: have a point and stick to it. By ‘stick to it’ I mean that every word of the presentation, every question, every analogy, metaphor and piece of information should lead to or reinforce that point. If it doesn’t, throw it out.

Some considerations on content:
• Be useful. Without this, nothing else matters.
• If in doubt, have too much content rather than too little
• The actionable, practical and real is always preferable to the theoretical
• Avoid hyperbole, spin or marketing
• Structure your work well, so that it is clear where you are at any point, and how what you are saying links with previous and past points.
• Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em

2. Work with the audience
There are three parts to any presentation, and it is no different online. You need to:
• Build rapport – your first few minutes are essential
• Engage the audience – ask questions. Ask your first, open, question early. Preferably on your second slide.
• Maintain interest – use a variety of questions and visual interest

3. How you say it
• Your words – don’t rely on ad libbing. Make notes to guide you on key points and transitions. Run over them until they are smooth and natural.
• Your voice – listen to talk radio. Find a star you like and emulate them.
• Deliver it your way – warm up, stand up, smile. Practice and try things out until you find what makes your voice work online

4. Preparation
When facilitating online, I always de-brief the presenter immediately afterwards, and am struck by how frequently they describe themselves as ‘exhausted’. This is a common reaction to having to deal with several new things simultaneously.

And delivering online is pretty much all new.

How many hours have you spent presenting to live audiences face-to-face? However many or few, it is almost certainly many more hours than you have spent presenting online. During those hours, you have built up a repertoire of methods for everything from dealing with nerves to understanding your audience and pacing delivery. You do not have to learn all these again from scratch when presenting online, but some of them will need to be adapted.

Until you’ve got some online presenting hours under your belt I strongly recommend:

• Several script-building rehearsals where you pace up and down repeating your words until you are happy with the flow of content. This is crucial and something I’d never abandon, no matter how experienced you become.
• A technical rehearsal – where you test the transitions between speakers, introductions, finish, sound and vision on the same equipment you will be using when you go live. Again, I always do one of these no matter how experienced a presenter.
• A dress rehearsal – a complete run through of your talk. Recommended for all events until you are fully confident with the medium.

This blog entry summarises my experiences over the past 7 years of hosting and delivering webinars and coaching on the skills they need. If you’d like to know more, get in touch.

12 responses to “How to give a good presentation online

  1. Look forward to reading it Donald!

  2. Valuable advice from someone I have heard put it into practice many times – next time it’s my turn I’ll run through these tips for sure.

  3. Excellent post. We at MagPointer are trying to help improve audience engagement in webinars with a PowerPoint add-on that allows real time manipulation of slide objects that keeps listeners focused. You are welcome to visit our website, and download a 60-days free full-featured version of our product. We would love to hear any feedback, good or bad.

  4. Sounds like a very useful aide – look forward to receiving it!

  5. Thanks for the kind words. It’s a pleasure to be able to share the lessons I’ve learned over time, and I hope they prove useful.

  6. Great advice, Donald. Been on the end of some shocking webinars – and to be fair probably done some too. This format is getting very common for both webinars and workshops within corporates and these skills are really important to develop for both consulants and trainers.

    • Thanks for the kind words. There’s an unfortunate tendency to regard webinars as the easy choice which doesn’t require any work, and it doesn’t matter if people are bored – rather like the 90 minute phone conference call used to be. I agree that it’s crucial that we stand up and say that there is an alternative – webinars can be interesting! It just takes a little work.

  7. Hi Donald, thanks for the advice for someone just returning to L&D where online presentations are more prolific than when I left. Looking forward to the information.

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  10. Thanks Don – this sounds like great advice. I especially like the quote about being useful above all else.

    The line about having too much content rather than too little has me puzzled though. Most presenters fill their slides with words, and often they rush to get through it all.

    Surely that’s a far more common problem than having too little content? So I’d expect the advice to be “have too little content rather than too much.”

  11. Pingback: How to rock at webinars! | Remote Possibilities

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