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Unlike a live CPD seminar or workshop, where you have a (mostly) captive audience, it is easier for your participants in a webinar to get distracted when you are not physically in the same room. The key is to deliver content that your participants want to pay attention to. So, how do you make your webinar engaging and successful?
Practice your presentation using your webcam at home. Make a recording so you can review yourself and refine your presentation for optimal lighting, timing, content, animations etc. Have well-prepared written materials, with a structured outline that identifies the key items you intend to cover and make notes on how long you will allow for each item. Well known for his teachings on persuasive speaking, presenter Ben Richards (Aticus) offers a planning list here of questions to ask yourself when starting to prepare for a presentation (be it F2F or livestreamed).
Your host will invite you to log in to your webinar at least 15 minutes before the scheduled starting time (this may vary depending on the event – the Society will provide instructions accordingly) to ensure everything is working correctly, such as your mic, internet connection and webcam. This prep time is important. Ensure that you remain within your allocated time and don’t run over. However, if it becomes evident that you are going to go overtime, make sure you give your participants the heads up, in case they need to leave and want to ask a question before they go.
Your host (the Society) will contact you to run through a pre-webinar practice a few days before the main event. You’ll tour the zoom webinar environment and experience features such as recording, the Chat Box, slide or screen sharing and how to manage your presentation in an interactive way whilst your participants’ mics and cameras remain off throughout the session. Your host will also go through your session run sheet, format and any other logistics. This is particularly important if you are presenting with others.
To be ready to practice slide sharing have a set of your slides (or a draft) easily accessible, such as on your desktop.
On webinar day, your host will meet with you virtually before going live – this will be about 15 minutes before the marketed start time. This may vary depending on the event – the Society will provide instructions accordingly. When you log in, you’ll see and hear your host but your mic and camera may be off. The host will enable both for you and run through any last-minute logistics. When you’re ready, your host will take the webinar live.
Keep cool, calm and collected
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you lose your internet connection have a plan. Having a plan B ahead of your presentation will make any potential issues seem less stressful. Keep a printed or local version of your slides with you, so you can continue presenting if you experience problems with your connection. Have your phone handy (on low volume vibrate) to stay in touch with the host, who will ensure your webinar participants are kept informed about what’s happening.
Manage the aesthetics of your webcam view
Lighting should be bright and even, and come from in front of you – never behind you as this casts a shadow on your face. Your background should be interesting but not distracting or inadvertently showing information that is confidential. Consider what you’ll wear in front of the camera – avoid thin stripes, busy patterns and polka dots; keep it simple and stylish.
Your performance in front of the camera
Review a webcam recording of yourself before the day to be aware of subconscious movements like chair swivelling, webcam adjusting mid-presentation, pen tapping, paper shuffling, moving towards or away from your mic or camera during the presentation…and so on.
Online communication tips from Marsha Hunter
Marsha Hunter is an internationally acclaimed legal communication consultant/coach. Marsha is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is Founder & CEO of Johnson & Hunter and has recently worked with the Society in the delivery of an advocacy course. Amongst the many pearls of advocacy skills wisdom imparted by Marsha, she provided an online communication checklist (here).
Showcase your personality while presenting
Act naturally and speak in a conversational way. Your script should not be read. If, for any reason you must read sections, have your script ready in short, punchy dot points to avoid reading it like a story. To help increase participant engagement and prevent drop-offs, bring some energy to your webinar presentation. See Use the Chat Box to engage your participants below.
Remember your voice conveys your presence
If you’re going to be silent, such as to take a sip of water – let your participants know. Long dramatic pauses used for effect in a face to face presentation don’t work in a webinar context. Your participants might be concerned that they’ve lost sound! Use micro-pauses instead. See Chunk your words below.
Interact within the first few seconds
Participants make judgements about you and your message in the first minute, so it is important that you grab their attention in the first 60 seconds, and encourage engagement along the way to ensure they stick around. If you’re running a webinar for an hour, you need to make the most of every second to keep your participants engaged throughout.
A live webinar is a synchronous experience for you and your participants and should be treated like an in-person presentation. Drive engagement and interest in your topic by getting your participants to interact with you early and often.
Use the Chat Box to engage your participants
Ask your participants ice breaking questions straightaway using the Chat Box, and ideally show a little humour to help your participants jump in from the start and stay involved. This sets the stage right away for a highly interactive and engaging session. The more your participants can get involved in a webinar, the more connected they’ll be.
Keep your participants engaged by continuing to use Chat during and at the end of the session, so they can interact with you in real-time. This two-way interaction helps to break down the barriers between you and your participants, increases viewing time and improves participant satisfaction.
Be clear at the outset about Q&A opportunities
Call for questions often. If a participant comes in with their ‘One Big Question’ but they have to wait 45 minutes for a Q&A session at the end, they’re spending that time thinking about their question, rather than your content. If your participants know and expect you to be calling on them for questions throughout, they’re more likely to pay attention to what you’re saying.
How and What?
If you’ve ever been a participant in a webinar setting you’ll know that when a presenter asks ‘are there any questions?’ this can often be met with silence across the airwaves. So, as a presenter, rather than ask this closed question, we recommend the following open alternatives:
- What questions do you have for me?
- How else can I help you?
- What else can I cover today?
Chunk your words
Build in micro-pauses by chunking. Chunking is speaking in short bursts of words with silence in between. A chunk of words can be a phrase or a short sentence – usually of three to five words.
Your participants will prefer to spend an hour listening to you when you sound passionate about what you’re saying, rather than listening to material read in monotone straight from a script. Research shows that 30% of webinar participants say they feel the most engaged when the webinar presenter is passionate and energetic.
Break up the learning into digestible sections
It can be hard for even the most enthusiastic participant to follow along for an hour and retain all the information. So, it’s helpful to break up your webinar into sections—about 10 to 15 minutes each—and focus on one concept or topic at a time. In addition to making it easier to follow along, breaking up the session lets you take time for a Chat session in between. This gives your participants more opportunities to discuss your content and participate. And, in turn, this keeps them engaged.
Use presentation slides
There are two basic rules for a successful slide presentation. It must be visually engaging and it must be clear. But the key is to avoid the mistake of sacrificing one for the other.
Have compelling slides
There is a lot of information online on how to enhance your slide presentation. Sometimes, however, examples of what not to do can show you how to avoid mistakes.
You should use more slides in a webinar which seems counter intuitive when everyone has heard the saying, ‘death by PowerPoint’! This is understandable to anyone who has sat through presentations with wordy, dull and repetitive-looking slides. So, the key to success is in your slide design and how often you move through them.
Use slides as a visual cue
With a webinar, slides are important. While a set presentation template is good, avoid every slide looking the same. But equally, stick to a simple and elegant theme.
Your participants need a visual cue that slides are changing so they know to pay attention to the new information. This will help keep your participants engaged.
Increase the number of slides…yes, really!
For presenters accustomed to live presentations, the use of more slides can be a surprise when moving to a webinar. In a live seminar, your participants rely on your body language and activity to stay engaged, which lets you spend several minutes per slide. With a webinar it’s better to have more slides with less information on each.
You’ve seen it a million times as a webinar participant – the presenter shows slide after slide of dot-pointed text and basically reads them with a few additions. To avoid this, structure your slides to put less text on each, enhance with relevant imagery, and verbally elaborate on the slides’ text.
Switch slides often
When you switch from slide to slide, interest is created because our brains become alert when we see a change of view. Make your slides striking by being colourful and big! Make them powerful by using images with an emotional impact. Use photos with people’s faces to be persuasive. Use simple icons for clear messaging.
Ideally, show a new slide every 30-60 seconds, which averages out to about 30-40 slides for a 60-minute webinar that is split into a mix of 45/15 minutes learning/questions. This will feel like more slides than you think you should use, but with practice, this faster pace becomes natural and comfortable.
Use images to support your text, rather than distract from it
Colour brightens your slides as long as they remain readable on all displays (high contrast helps a lot). Use less text per slide, and think of your text as an image. Limit yourself to only one concept or point per slide. Be aware of your font sizing and clarity and keep a 10%-20% margin around your text. Choose your images smartly!
Visualise your content for engagement
Visualise your content to create a more lasting impression. Research tells us that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, so use rich media like images, GIFs and videos to improve engagement. If you are looking for great images for your presentation check out resources like Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels and Creative Commons for high-quality, royalty-free images.
Keep slides simple – lots of space and clear imagery
Too many images can be distracting especially if they overlap. When considering several images, ask yourself if one or two can represent many. This will draw your participants’ attention to the most important information, without distracting them. Keep plenty of unused space on your slides to improve the readability of your content.
Use consistent colours and themes
It can be easy to take the saying ‘less is more’ too far. Overloading with different colour palettes in one presentation can look unprofessional and eye-straining but, equally, an all-black and white presentation is also not engaging. PowerPoint’s blank templates are a good place to start as you can edit them to your taste and according to your own requirements. But they are not meant to be left like that for a serious presentation.
Blank presentations are boring and that can be as distracting as too many colours. Background colours are important depending on the venue lighting, so always enquire, as dark text on a white background is not as standout in a light room as light text on a dark background.
Avoid text-heavy slides
Chances are that, as soon as people see a text-heavy slide, they’re going to start reading it from start to finish. And in doing so, they’ll pay less (or no) attention to you. If you’re also just repeating what’s written on the slide you’ll be competing with your own presentation for your participants’ attention.
Text-heavy slides may seem meaningful and informative, but what they actually do is draw attention away from your verbal content. Approximately 6-7 lines of text per slide is ideal. Replace wall-of-text slides with a combination of images and single key terms or brief phrases that help you to drive your content home without distracting from your presentation.
Use fonts that can be seen from a distance
Avoid fonts that have too little space between the letters, that are over-stylised, italicised or that imitate handwriting. Stick to a maximum of 1-2 fonts types – too many can make your presentation look dated. With font size, generally never go below 20 pts. Avoid serif fonts like Times New Roman. Fonts like Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, Garamond and Tahoma are easiest to read.
Sobriety differs from simplistic
Even if you feel you’re taking the safe route when designing a presentation, it can backfire. Presenting in all-black and white can make you look uninspired about your topic. It can affect the way your participants perceive your presentation. Keep it simple, but elegant!
Think caveman-like speech
Avoid dumping complete paragraphs into your presentation, and it’s ok to use incomplete sentences. Focus on your keywords, and the most important concepts or ideas that you want your participants to take away with them.
Participants have a limited capacity for retention so sticking to key points will make your presentation easier to digest. To do this successfully it is good practice to use more slides, as long as you move through them more quickly.
Animation is for emphasis only
There is no correct amount of animation usage. By animation we are referring to PowerPoint’s transition features. Most presentations work well with none at all. The key to working with animations without overusing them is to give them an emphasis purpose. As with here, if this whole paragraph is in bold letters, it would be difficult to quickly pick out which is the most important idea behind it. But since it is just one word, “emphasis” becomes the idea that stands out. Think of the PowerPoint animation feature as the highlighter of your key points.
Take your participants on a journey
Lastly, use your slides to let your participants know where you’re at as you journey through your presentation. Participants are more likely to remain engaged if they can see a logical progression, and how each point fits with your introductory slide. Show a clear penultimate slide, and end with your last slide being an invitation to your Q&A segment, or that tells your participants where they can learn more about the topic, such as a list of resources or your contact details.