Webinars provide companies with a way to both educate and sell their products without the need for a face-to-face visit. However, they only work when the content and the presentation match the needs of the customer.
An Introduction to Webinars
Webinars are informational presentations delivered over the Internet. Similar to the concept of a seminar, the presenter delivers content that the audience wishes to see and hear. Where webinars differ is in the method of delivery. Traditional seminars have the presenter in the same room with the audience. Webinars, as the name suggests, are presented over the web with the audience and the presenter in different locations using web browsers to connect. Several companies provide the services needed to deliver a webinar. WebEx, Citrix and Microsoft all allow companies to use their hosted solutions to connect to audiences over the Internet.
Delivering great webinars requires careful preparations to ensure the best possible experience for the audience. Bad content or poor presentations can ruin a company's ability to generate new leads and result in lost sales.
1. Focus the Content
Content creation is a major factor in delivering a great webinar. The scheduled length of the webinar may dicate how much content or how many ideas can be delivered. Tightly focus the content on the three or four key points you wish to impart to the audience. Having too many concepts or ideas can confuse the viewers or make the presentation appear to be scattered. If you need to deliver more information, consider breaking up the webinar into a series.
Delivering a webinar longer than 90 minutes runs the risk of losing the audience. Unlilke a seminar where you can observe audience reactions, a webinar running too long sees the audience beginning to multi-task: checking their email, instant messaging or other tasks.
2. Don't Overload the Slides
Text-heavy slides are a great way to lose an audience. Requiring them to read War and Peace in 90 seconds prevents them remembering the major ideas on the slide. Keep the bullet points to three or four. Have one graphic that helps illustrate the primary concept or idea for that slide. Avoid crazy builds where the text and graphics are flying and out of the slide and distracting the audience.
PowerPoint has many cool features, bells and whistles, but you do not need to use every single one of them.
3. Know the Content
Run through the slide decks or presentation materials multiple times. Know the order in which slides appear and how they build out. Knowing how the content appears allows the presenter to comfortably click through the slides. When the presenter sees slides they don't remember or when they appear out of order it causes the presentation to appear uneven. Watch for problems with the flow of the slide deck. Make sure each slide builds up to the next one and that the order makes sense.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice the presentation not only to know what is on each slide but also to deliver the content smoothly. Presenters who fail to practice have a lot of filler words or "umm" and "uhhh" in their delivery. Time yourself with each practice run. How long does it take you to deliver each slide? Have someone watch you deliver the presentation to watch for problems with flow and to ensure you are not speaking too fast or too slow. Presenting too fast leaves a large amount of time left at the end while presenting too slowly runs the risk of running out of time.
5. Vary Your Voice
A monotone voice or presentation style will have the audience checking their email faster than you can say "Bueller...Bueller..." While practicing the presentation change your pitch or volume to emphasize the major points on a particular slide. At the same time do not be afraid of silence or pauses to allow a point to sink in.
6. Test the Technology
Arrange to come to the studio or your delivery location at least 30 minutes in advance to prepare. Make sure the computer you are using is running properly and has all of the necessary software installed. Load your slide deck and do another quick run through to ensure that it appears on the screen as it should.
Have a backup plan. Have another copy of the presentation on a flash drive in case your computer fails. You can always upload it onto a loaner computer if necessary. Check your microphones and headphones to ensure that your voice can be heard and you can hear questions from the audience.
7. Introduce Yourself
Have a short bio prepared. The bio should emphasize the credentials that make you an authority on the topic you are speaking about. For example: "Hi! Thank you for joining us today. My name is Chris Orr. I am a Sales Engineer, and I have been delivering webinars and web demos over the last 12 years for X company."
8. Do Not Read the Slides
A mistake often seen in seminars and webinars is for the presenter to literally read the slide to the audience. It's even worse when delivered in monotone. You might as well have just emailed the slide deck to the audience for them to read themselves. Present the information or key points using your own words.
Another common presentation mistake is to announce each slide with "And on this slide..." or to use filler statements such as "I like this slide because..."
9. Pause for Questions
Do not just motor through the presentation to get to the end. Pause for questions. Ask the audience your own questions to check for understanding or to make sure that you are on track with what they wanted to hear. You do not need to do this for every slide. Proceed through two or three key points or at least 7 to 10 minutes of presentation and do a sanity check.
10. Wrap Things Up Neatly
Provide an opportunity for the audience to ask additional questions at the end. Have a wrap up slide to re-emphasize the key points you wanted them to learn. Provide additional resources for them to research. You may wish to provide contact information to allow them to ask for more information offline.
Riefstahl, Robert, Demonstrating to Win: The Indispensable Guide for Demonstrating Software, Xlibris Corporation, 2000
Care, John and Bohlig, Aron, Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer's Handbook, Artech House, Inc., 2002
Image Credit: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cohan, Peter E., Great Demo: How to Create and Execute Stunning Software Demonstrations, iUniverse, 2005