Although conferences and seminars remain the primary way to get across major, key messages, there is a growing usage of the internet, and intranets, to disseminate information to a mass audience. Usually the topics are more focussed, and the time involved much shorter – an hour or so, but they can be highly effective.
In particular, several suppliers to organisations, in the public and private sectors, now use webinars as a marketing tool to combine industry discussion with promotion, and, unless done with too much sales bias, these can be entertaining, informative, and most useful for clients and prospects.
In a typical webinar, a mix of PowerPoint slides, interactive screens and voice are combined to get across a message, and this is then opened up for debate. There is usually a chairman who coordinates proceedings, plus an industry expert (or two with differing viewpoints perhaps), and a representative of the sponsor, or organiser, who can refer to their products or services.
These are still early days, and the process is evolving, but already it is clear that some different skills are required from those involved than those needed for giving great presentations in public. I would even say that it can be more difficult with this medium than in person, so be prepared, and warned.
At the moment the vast majority of webinars are done with no visuals of the speakers involved: just the slides and interactive words, perhaps with online surveys and the like. This means that the speaker(s) must be skilful enough to get their message across just by voice. It is a well-known fact that, in conversation and presentation, the physical gestures etc of the speaker play an enormous part in getting the message across. One therefore has to be able to succeed means of intonation, clear enunciation, and non-visual gestures. For many this is not easy. However, whatever the temptation, I would counsel anyone doing this to try hard not to use a script. Reading out the message always sounds false – just think of agents in contact centres covering legal clause requirements. The slides must be the prompts, and the delivery crisp and fresh.
Careful use of slides
Therefore, this is a time when speakers must know their subject perfectly, AND know around their subject, especially for the Q & A afterwards. Slides should be chosen carefully to illustrate the points being made, and should be uncluttered, with clear bullet points. At this stage of development, I recommend simplicity – no sexy graphics that worked five minutes ago and now get stuck, and no videos that go on forever to make a dubious point. When planning a webinar, timings are set to the nearest ten seconds, to ensure all fits together, and the beginning and end are set. As a result, not only does it throw out the planning for the whole session if a speaker overruns, but it is just plain rude to the others involved.
Try to get all speakers in one location
The next point to make is that, although modern technology allows people to participate in webinars pretty much anywhere there is a telephone, there are significant benefits in getting the whole group together in one studio. This is not to say that rehearsals and preparations can’t be done remotely, but there are many good reasons to be together for the “live” show. Firstly the technology will be better, and coordinated, including sound levels, microphones etc, and this will also give benefits for such things as cueing. Secondly, the participants can see each other, and therefore respond rapidly in case things go wrong, but more importantly for interaction, and impromptu repartee. Thirdly, for a good Q & A session with the audience it is best to chose the best, most interesting questions, and these can be shown ahead of use to the participants to select from. Finally, I have noticed a significant benefit is having an immediate review after the show on how it all went, to help continuously improving the process.
Before I close, I’d also like to cover some of the other developments that are out there. There are systems, for example, that do also incorporate visuals of the presenters. Recently I did a presentation using the Kulu Valley system, for a large legal firm, so that all employees could see the presentation on their intranet that I had done to their senior staff a few weeks earlier. This worked out very well indeed and the organisation was delighted, and plans to do more as part of its training and induction programme. Also, don’t let’s forget that existing filming of interviews and presentations work well on the internet, and again I have done several of these over the last months. They add a strong visual message to websites, and can be used in conjunction with product promotion and development to demonstrate points more clearly.
The whole area of webinars for the internet, and similar systems that can work on intranet systems, is still in its infancy. However, it is developing fast, and the benefits of low cost, easy production and potentially efficient use of time and resource suggest that they have a rapidly growing future. They aren’t for all, but if you are a regular presenter/speaker who wants to develop a name in your chosen field, I strongly recommend you get yourself invited to participate, or organise one for yourself. Do practice a lot beforehand, as the techniques to be really good are somewhat different. However, not only can they be rewarding, but remember, as an organiser or a speaker, once made, they can be used/run more than once, so one hours effort and investment might well mean several hours worth of usage and repeat business.
Paul Cooper was a Director at Customer Plus