Archive for April, 2011

Fixing the World, One Webinar at a Time

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Back in 1998, on my first day as a public speaking instructor at the University of Maine, I was asked the question all new communication teachers dread. “I’m never going to have to give presentations, so why am I required to take this class anyway?”

The reality is that most people engage in public verbal communication daily and the skills developed in a course like that can have a life-long impact, but if I could travel back in time (get on that scientists) I’d tell my past self to give the following answer: “Because by 2011 every adult on planet earth will have to give an average of 3.5 webinars a week, and I don’t want you ruining my lunch again.”

These days I spend so much time giving and watching webinars that my last words will not be, “I wish I’d spent more time learning Webex and GoToMeeting.”

Honestly, why do most webinars get scheduled as a “lunch and learn?” I’m especially looking at you Atlantic people who plan “important” presentations for 1 PM EST. I don’t learn anything over lunch other than how delicious my Trader Joe’s microwave burrito is. Or worse, find my mind wandering off to how sad I’d be if there was a world-wide Cheetos shortage.

In 2009, I wrote about some basic suggestions for giving better presentations, but I think it might be time to revisit this since nearly every presentation I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through recently has been just a hair lacking in quality content. So, instead of rehashing that article, I’ll just touch on a few key examples from recent presentations.

Developing Credibility Is Important
Any public speaker will tell you that developing credibility (ethos for those scoring at home in Greek) is essential to convincing the audience your message is important. Providing context for your presentation is excellent, however unless your webinar is about Ancestory.com, I don’t think I need to know what your grandmother had for lunch. I’d follow you on Twitter or Facebook for that information. Keep your credibility statements brief, and your audience will thank you for it. Speaking of brief…

Keep on Topic
If your presentation is about leveraging LinkedIn for sales within a business-to-business context, your audience probably doesn’t need thirty minutes of the presentation to be about the technical underpinnings of the connect button. The reality is that it’s hard enough to keep an audience focused for thirty minutes, so it’s unlikely they are going to pay attention for much longer. If you really want to give a sixty minute presentation, you are better suited to doing two webinars on different days. Respect your audience’s time and they are more likely to listen to you. Bore them to tears and you’ve lost them forever.

Your Presentation Isn’t Pretty
Despite what you think, the fancy canned PowerPoint background and clip art doesn’t enhance your presentation. If the background and font look like they came straight out of a Google image search for “ugliest baseball uniforms,” then most likely your audience is going to remember your presentation for being funny, and not for the reason you hope. Keep the screen uncluttered with a lot of text and images and focus on your words with the PowerPoint acting as a roadmap or tour guide. It isn’t the show, you are.

Don’t Send Me the Slide Deck
I don’t normally want to call out an organization in the blog, but after working with IBM for seven years I can confidently say they violate this concept on an international scale. Simply put, if I can get your entire presentation from reading the slides you used in your presentation, then you’ve failed as a public speaker. Conceptually, a PowerPoint shouldn’t stand on its own. It enhances what you have to say, and if I can read the whole thing, then that’s what I’ll be doing when you present. If your message is that important, then have a different set of slides to send out to truant audience members, but don’t use that one for your presentation. This will also help your presentation skills, because you’ll be less likely to read to us, and nothing is more boring than being on a conference call when someone is simply reading.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to figure out a way to email a brown bag lunch to myself for the next webinar.

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