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From Start to Finish: Preparing and Presenting Compelling Webinars

By Matt Abrahams, educator and coach

You most certainly have had the unfortunate opportunity to sit through a boring, unorganized webinar in which the speaker droned on seemingly aimlessly. The power and promise of virtual presenting is the ability to engage and educate people far and wide. But in order to realize this promise, presenters need to plan, prepare and practice in the right way to take advantage of webinars.

Here are 9 simple steps that will help you plan and present compelling, valuable webinars that your audience will follow with rapt attention.

Phase 1: Preparing

"Get your A.C.T.S. together"

1. Audience first

Every successful webinar must begin not with the topic to be first covered, but for whom the topic is being covered. Many speakers make the mistake of assuming that giving a presentation is about them as speakers. When you prepare a webinar from your perspective, no doubt you will deliver critical bits of information, but likely you will fail to pull your audience into the content. Some call this self-focused approach “the curse of knowledge.” Simply put, you often know too much about what you present.

A better, more thorough approach to your presentation is to begin by focusing on the audience. Effective webinar presenters never ask themselves, “What do I want to say?” Instead, they ask, "What does my audience need to hear or learn?” These two questions might sound similar, but they are very different. By embracing an audience-focused approach, you not only engage your audience more—since you’re giving them what they need—but you will present content that scaffolds their knowledge, helping them understand your message in a way that sets them up to truly appreciate and understand your message.

The audience-centric approach does require some extra work. You have to truly know your audience. Ask yourself the following three questions to help you better determine your audience’s needs:

  • What past experience(s) has my audience had with my topic?
  • What attitudes and emotions will my audience likely have toward my topic?
  • What areas of resistance will my audience likely have toward my topic?

The answers to these questions help you to develop and deliver a webinar that fulfills the needs of your audience, while making your message more compelling and memorable.

2. Context is key

Beyond understanding your audience’s needs, you must also consider the context in which your webinar is taking place. Context entails many external factors that influence your presentation and thus the audience’s reception of it. The two most important of these contextual influences are timing and expectations.

Your audience’s involvement and their retention of your material is directly impacted by the length of your presentation and the time of day when you deliver it. Prior to drafting your presentation, determine the minimal amount of time it will take to convey your information. Concision is key since longer presentations challenge your audience’s attention, especially in webinars, where your audience’s physical distance invites mental wandering. While it is impossible to provide an all-encompassing guideline for webinar length, research suggests that presentations that proceed for 10-12 minutes without some kind of variation lose value quickly. Variation can include asking questions, switching presenters, taking a poll, etc.

Timing also plays a role with regard to when in the day your audience is participating in your webinar. You must consider the time zone of your participants. Just because you are energized early in the morning while delivering your webinar does not mean your participants in faraway time zones will share or appreciate your coffee-infused enthusiasm. Be mindful of what is likely happening in the lives of your audience members when you are presenting. For example, are they in need of lunch? Is their day drawing to an end? Or, are they listening even earlier in the morning?

The other critical contextual variable to consider are the expectations your audience brings to your webinar. Chances are that your audience has participated in a presentation similar to yours either in type, topic, or both. Perhaps your audience has not heard your pitch for your company’s offering, but they certainly have heard pitches before. Thus, they have expectations for what an effective webinar like yours should entail. You must consider their expectations, and whether deviating from them will help you more effectively gain—and keep—their attention. While you probably should stick to your core message, you can deviate in structure. For example, audiences expect some type of agenda information at the beginning of a webinar that most often appears as a bulleted list of items to be addressed. You could conform to this expectation to keep them grounded, or try deviating slightly to grab attention by providing a visual map of your webinar’s content.

Additionally, how your content fits into your audience’s understanding of the bigger picture is key. While you see your webinar as a discrete presentation covering your specific content, your audience experiences it as part of a larger whole. So while you have worked long and hard to deliver engaging, memorable content for your assigned sixty minutes, your audience participates in your webinar as part of the flow of their day, or a mere blip in their ongoing knowledge of the topic. By reflecting on your audience’s expectations for how your particular presentation connects to and comports with the other communication activities they have had or will have, you can better help them synthesize your material. The best thing you can do is link what you are representing to your audience's other experiences. Something as simple as commenting on how “Bob’s earlier presentation suggested…” can help your audience.

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