How to host an outstanding web conference—Part 1

Online meetings are hot. Once largely restricted to generating sales leads, they are increasingly being used to educate target audiences and  establish thought leadership.

But there’s a catch. Your audience is far from captive. Typically they have invested little in travel time or in entry fees, and there’s no barrier whatsoever to their signing out of a boring presentation.

Effective web conferencing grabs and holds audience attention by properly utilizing the engaging, hands-on nature of this format. For knock-it-out-of-the-park-successful web conferencing, keep the following in mind:

1. Capture their attention in the beginning–then quietly dazzle them all the way through:

Plant a hook by establishing the benefit of attending your webinar. Old approach: explain what your audience will learn. New: explain what your audience will gain—what they will take away that will help them in their lives.

Establish your speaker as knowledgeable and a good communicator—but briefly. People came for the main event.

2. Manage your real-life surroundings:  First, get a quiet room with a door that you can close. Webcasting from an open-space environment carries too much risk of noise and distraction, which will ruin the professionalism of your presentation. Treat the space you use as if it were a studio. Set up the environment so that there are no visual distractions, such as personal photos, windows to public places. Warn everyone that you will be busy and post a sign so that there are no interruptions.

3. Don’t read or recite from a script– be mostly conversational during your webinar (*with one exception–see next point). Otherwise you will come across as dry, academic, out-of-touch. Instead, work from point-form notes, so that you are speaking directly to the audience. Your delivery will be more natural, energetic, engaging. Rehearse so that you feel comfortable speaking to the audience rather than reading to them.

4. Except at the beginning and end: Do script a brief introduction and the very end of your presentation. It bolsters your confidence to know exactly what you are going to say, and it is worthwhile giving thought to these critical areas.

5. Consider your length: The standard presentation consists of a 40 min presentation followed by 15 – 20 minutes of questions. A full hour is a major block of time for most people. Try offering a 20 min presentation followed by 10 minutes of questions. Educational or training webinars may run as long as 90 minutes. If so, schedule some short breaks so that people can stretch and take care of vital needs.

6. Choose a topic you can cover in the time allotted: Fairly narrow topics work best: “Using Images in Emails,” or “Simplifying forage yield estimation in grazing land.” Pick something that you can cover in an hour or less.

7. Don’t use a speakerphone: The only way to get the high audio quality necessary for professional web conferencing is to use a headset or a telephone handset. Although a good speakerphone can give you good audio reproduction if you are fairly close to it, they often pick up unwanted noises such as rustling papers, doors opening and closing. If you’re doing several presentations, a headset is a worthwhile investment. Never use a cellphone due to the danger of drop-off and loss of battery power, and to poor sound reproduction.

James Parker Doyle