Are you more compelling than Angry Birds? You’d better be. That’s your competition when you’re trying to hold the attention of a webinar audience.
After all, the audience members are invisible, so they can be up to anything, unencumbered by the guilt a regular viewer might feel for checking his or her email, catching up on reading, or exiting the room altogether.
While you can gauge attention by monitoring comments or noting when people log off, it’s not the same as being in the room with living, breathing humans. It’s a little like shouting down a dark well—only without the helpful feedback an echo provides.
You’ll need to work harder than ever to avoid the mistakes that plague conventional presentations and take your performance to a higher level. Here are 10 tips to help you grab your audience and keep them tuned in.
1. Focus and structure your content
Your online audience is easily distracted. Emails pop up, visitors pop in. This is no time for nuance or meandering. Tighten your structure, avoid tangents, and offer guideposts along the way that signal where you are. For example, “Here are 10 webinar tips” and “The second way to grab your audience is …”
2. Limit the word slides
Among Steve Jobs’ many legacies is a sleek and elegant presentation style that Guy Kawasaki recently praised: “The font is sixty points. There’s usually one big screenshot or graphic.”
Jobs is rightly hailed as a master showman, yet so many people still insist on dense, wordy, sleep-inducing slides, which spell death in a webinar environment. My deck of 72 slides has just 167 words—an average of about two per frame. Now that’s not always possible with a more technical, “how-to” presentation, but it’s something to which you should aspire.
3. Dump the templates and themes
A design team I know jokes that “Insert Text Here” is not a command. Don’t let PowerPoint be the boss of you! Everyone’s seen those templates and themes a thousand times.
“But I’m no designer,” you may protest. No problem. The smart people at Design Shack put together 10 simple tips that will help you break free of convention and create unique, eye-catching slides to keep your audience engaged.
4. Use striking visuals
Seth Godin argues in Really Bad PowerPoint that slides should “reinforce your words, not repeat them” by providing “emotional proof.” He says, “Talking about pollution in Houston? Instead of giving me four bullet points of EPA data, why not read me the stats but show me a photo of a bunch of dead birds, some smog and even a diseased lung?”
Powerful images make an impact and give your audience something nice to look at. Where to get these images? Don’t steal them off the Internet! Check out my handy guide to finding high quality pictures that are free and legal.
5. Mind your own image
If your webinar is webcam enabled, you’ll want to put your best foot (or face) forward. Test things out beforehand to make sure the camera angle is flattering. If you’re using a laptop, I guarantee you it is not.
Quick question: are you Angelina Jolie? No? Then do not, under any circumstance, allow yourself to be photographed from below. Among professionals, the technical term for this angle is “the uglymaker.”
Put your laptop on a stand or a stack of books so it’s at least level with your eye line. And while you’re at it, make sure there’s enough light on your face.
6. Do some set dressing
Get your background in order. Cluttered bookcases are distracting. Bare white walls offer all the ambience of a hostage video.
Check out the interviews movie stars do when they’re promoting a film. What do you see? A few simple, tasteful elements: a table, a vase, a movie poster. Think about branding your backdrop with your company’s name or logo. If you don’t have decent signage put an image up on an extra computer monitor or iPad.
Even if you’re a webinar veteran, rehearsal is essential, because every platform is a little different. Knowing ahead of time how to turn your microphone or camera on and advance your slides is critical. And there’s nothing like a full “dress rehearsal” to identify where things drag and which points need to be sharpened. Believe me, rehearsal is for everybody.
To make up for the lack of physical presence, you’re going to have to put a lot of energy and passion behind your performance. This is no time to phone it in (even though you’re literally phoning in it during a webinar). Keep the pace brisk and invest every word with meaning and intention.
9. Stay focused
If you’re easily distracted, beware of the chat window, where people not only comment and ask questions, but also point out technical problems they’re having. They can’t see the slides, they can’t hear the sound, they don’t care for the tuna salad they ordered for lunch. Let the moderator take care of those issues so you can focus on your performance.
10. Interact with your audience
As with any presentation, plenty of time should be reserved for Q&A. If you’re the type who can successfully manage multiple interactions without falling out of your chair, you can try answering them as you go along. (You can even drive the discussion by posing questions yourself.)
For most people it’s easier to save the Q&A until the end. Again, rely on your moderator. And keep in mind that it’s a little harder to clarify questions in this environment, so confirm that you’ve answered successfully before moving on.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll earn and keep your audience’s attention. And maybe even stop them from wandering over to the Gap’s online store, where I understand TODAY ONLY they’re offering FREE SHIPPING!
Rob Biesenbach is a Chicago-based communications consultant, actor and author of the book “ACT LIKE YOU MEAN BUSINESS: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen,” published by Brigantine Media.