By Benjamin Haslem
Would you ever do a live TV interview from your bedroom? An unmade bed in the background, the camera peering up your nostrils, your face a near silhouette, eyes darting about the screen as you try to read a script in your shaking hands.
No media outlet would let you.
The TV camera crew should choose a quiet location with an un-busy background so as not to distract the viewers. The crew would tell you to stare down the barrel of the camera, a fixed gaze, your smiling face lit by a lamp so as to provide viewers with your best angle - and you certainly would not be holding a piece of paper, let alone be reading from it.
Yet, the scenario in the first paragraph is played out regularly in webinars presented by often well-resourced businesses and organisations that spend large sums on media and presentation training.
Instead of a professional television crew, the presenter is left to fend for him or herself. They have no knowledge of lighting (or even a light!), where to place the laptop or webcam, where to look, what their slides should look like, sound, messaging, their background and so on.
The result is often akin to a portrait of grandpa drawn by a three-year-old. Or worse, this classic from Professor Robert Kelly on the BBC in Korea a few years back (the lesson: make sure you can’t be interrupted!).
Source: BBC News
Webinars are one of the most effective, efficient and powerful means by which to communicate complex ideas with a large audience.
If there was any benefit from COVID it was that it opened up a whole new way to communicate as people became comfortable meeting with people via their computer screens.
Organisations have quickly learned that the webinar is a strategic, functional; and effective tool to get messages, knowledge and expertise across to a large audience that wants or needs to hear what they have to say and that also wants to talk back in real time. They are a powerful way to boost your authority.
But if done poorly, they are close to a waste of time. Unlike a conference, where people’s sense of manners, in most cases, stops them walking out, a webinar audience can simply hit mute and go back to watching cat videos - you, none the wiser.
To be effective and cut through, webinars need to be produced to a high standard, and that requires lots of practice and good preparation.
So, what are the key elements of a successful webinar?
Let's start with the presentation.
You can have the best messages in the world but if your body language says “I’m nervous and lack confidence, so why believe me?” your audience won’t process much of the information you impart.
The most important element of body language is the eyes.
They are capable of conveying more than words can, and are, therefore a powerful tool for nonverbal communication.
If you fail to look the audience in the eye (i.e. by not looking directly at the camera) you can create the perception that you are shifty or untrustworthy.
But this is where webinars present a huge challenge. Humans have evolved to look at people’s faces when they speak. So during a webinar, you naturally look at the computer screen, even if the face is yours, and not at the camera.
The trick is to look at the tiny pinhole camera at the top of your PC. One tactic is to place a sticky note behind the camera - even draw Grandpa’s portrait on it. Or place a small photo of your beloved and stare into their eyes.
Make sure the camera is in line with your eyes - you don’t want to be looking up or down at the viewers (nice nostrils!). If necessary, place the laptop on some books or a laptop stand. Or sit on a cushion to raise your eye line.
Aim for a simple, uncluttered background.
No messy desks, distracting artworks - I for one don’t like bookshelves in the background, as I tend to read the book spines to judge the presenter (Fifty Shades of Grey!?).
Try to sit in front of a plain light wall and avoid sunlight on your face or bright backlighting. Avoid swivel chairs. Invest in a webinar lamp, which - thanks to the influencer craze - can be purchased from retail chain department stores for less than $100.
Audience participation is also a great way to keep your audience engaged.
Run live Q&As and polls throughout the presentation to create anticipation.
Use informative and engaging visuals. Audiences can get bored and switch off if all they see are boring, uninteresting slides. Spice them up by using striking colours, stunning visuals, and interesting graphs.
Keep the text on the slides to the bare minimum and present the detail in your spoken presentation.
Follow these tips and tricks, and you will present an engaging, informative and high-standard webinar that will leave your audience more knowledgeable and you a more authoritative and credible communicator.