With major corporations such as Hewlett-Packard and Symantec switching to online meetings to increase attendance numbers, amongst other benefits, it is time for businesses of all sizes to embrace technology and take presentations online. However, some first-time online presenters may be concerned about the challenges of presenting online. On the other hand, experts who host dozens of online presentations every year will tell you that the key to success is the same when presenting in person – it’s all about knowing how to engage your audience. In this post, we share some insights from some of the most renowned marketing authorities, who have kindly taken the time to tell us how they make online presentations more engaging.
Top Challenges with Online Presentations
For many presenters, virtual presentations are new and it may present a learning curve. Regardless of your presenting experience, when you’re new to online presentations it’s common to feel unfamiliar with the following:
Visualizing a Virtual Audience – Being unable to see the audience face-to-face could put a presenter off, as he/she is unable to make eye-contact and know that they are listening.
Distractions & Multitasking – When engaging in a virtual presentation, it is easy to lose the attention of the audience members to email, social media, and any other distractions. (However, due to a constant state of “connectedness” nowadays, this is even a problem in face-to-face presentations.)
However just like any new task, nerves are quickly replaced with experience and skills. Learn how to engage your audience online, and the challenges will quickly become a thing of the past.
What Do The Experts Recommend?
I recently spoke with seven experienced webinar hosts who regularly hold online presentations – some who have presented to thousands of online attendees in just the last 12 months alone.
As a company who provides online presentation software, it was very interesting and insightful for me to speak with and learn from these online presentation pros.
As a user of online presentation software, you will no doubt feel the same and gain some valuable tips for how to best engage an online presentation audience.
Get Off on the Right Foot
As a presenter, it is important that you lead by example and set the tone for the presentation from the get-go.
1. Pre-Record Your Presentation
Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and author of Spin Sucks regularly hosts webinars targeted at PR and marketing professionals, but she admits that presenting to a virtual audience who you cannot see is not always easy. “You don’t know if they’re laughing at your jokes or rolling their eyes at you. You can’t tell if they’re bored. You don’t know if they’re multi-tasking,” Gini explains.
Her strategy, therefore, incorporates what she calls “engagement checks” that help you keep a finger on the pulse of your audience to see how you’re doing and whether you need to course correct.
As her first engagement check, Gini recommends pre-recording your presentation. ”There are several benefits to it, including having a back-up if technology fails you (we once lost live audio during a presentation), being able to tweak things you don’t like, and being available for questions while the recording is playing. The latter is the most important, because people have questions that pop up, need more detail, or sometimes they just want you to spell out something you just said. Running a pre-recorded video during the “live” portion of the webinar allows you to attend to all of that.”
(Read about Gini’s second and third engagement checks, “social media” and a “chat box”, below.)
2. Be Ready for Questions and Problems
Stef Miller, Marketing Manager at UserTesting is an experienced webinar host, and often shares her professional experience in user behavior and user experience (UX) to her online audiences. When I spoke with Stef about engaging with an online audience, she was strongly in favor of webinar hosts having a process for handling questions. When UserTesting and Stef host an online presentation, she usually has an additional team member who listens along. “When new questions are submitted through the platform they prioritize and add them to a previously-shared google doc with me so we can make the most out of our expertise and be responsive to attendees.”
Thue Madsen, Marketing Operations Manager at Kissmetrics, also commented on the importance of transparent webinar hosting. Thue, who has hosted over 50 webinars in the last year with more than 15,000 attendees, says that if you ever encounter technical difficulties you should acknowledge those issues. Of course, to avoid and minimize those problems it’s important that prior to any online presentation you test your internet connection and invest in a good microphone – something that Thue was quick to recommend.
3. Introduce yourself as an authority figure
Use the first slide to introduce yourself, and explain the structure and the objectives of your presentation. Speak with authority and confidence right from the start. Annemarie de Jong, an Optimization Consultant at Optimizely, is an expert in instructing marketing professionals via online presentations on how to create the optimal experience for website visitors. She believes that it is important for your audience to see you as an expert in the field and does so by emphasizing credentials and experience to create a strong start. “I start by highlighting that I am an Optimization Consultant who has helped numerous enterprise organizations in optimizing their web and mobile customer experience to increase conversions and revenue.” she explains.
4. Set expectations from the very start
Once Annemarie has introduced herself, she goes on to setting expectations for the session to ensure her audience make good use of their time. “For example, list the 3 goals of the presentation and also reemphasize the target audience (which was hopefully also done in the promotion of the webinar). This will ensure that people get their “money’s worth” and also likely increase their satisfaction with the session.”
Thue Madsen seconds Annemarie’s viewpoint on setting expectations in an online presentation. “Inform your audience of the presentation format and whether the presentation will be recorded for later playback. And notify the early attendees, when the live presentation will begin.”
Create an Enriching Experience
Good content will keep your audience engaged, and therefore, it pays to invest time and money in creating a professional-looking, well thought-through presentation.
5. Include Plenty of Rich Visuals
It’s impossible to successfully prepare a killer presentation without considering the visuals. After all, you want to obtain and keep the attention of your audience for the entire duration of the presentation and your visuals play a key role here. Create visually-rich presentations and your viewers will want to stay on the screen.
“Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in your brain than text, while only 20% remember text.”
– Neo Mammalian Studios
Stef Miller had this to say about creating presentation visuals: “People who are willing to give us their time and attention deserve a great show! Never skimp on entertaining and beautiful presentations.” If you get this right, great visuals are not only a great benefit to your audience but can help you reach people even beyond your audience. Stef explains: “We find that slides that are designed to maximize sharing – designed with a ‘tweet’ in mind – perform really well.”
6. Be Interactive with a “Worksheet”
Find creative ways to collect feedback about your presentation, or to interact further. Our fifth presentation expert is Brandon Turner. As the VP of Growth at BiggerPockets.com, Brandon has personally hosted 50 webinars in the last 12 months on dozens of topics with more than 70,000 attendees.
“For engaging my audience, I like to create short one-page worksheets that I will email out before the event. This simple worksheet takes less than five minutes to create in Google Docs and is a simple “Fill in the blank” worksheet with 5-8 questions that can be easily answered by someone watching the presentation,” he explains.
“This worksheet accomplishes a few goals: first, it makes the listener pay close attention, as to not miss one of the questions. Next, it encourages the reader to stay all the way through the end of the presentation. Third, it enforces the key points I want them to walk away from, thus increasing their retention. Finally, it allows me to build up anticipation before the webinar begins, as the subscriber typically opens the worksheet to scan it when they receive it, thus making them curious about what the answers are.”
The team at Kissmetrics have an interesting and very effective way of getting their audience members to interact during an online presentation: “We really like contests where we hide little gems in the presentation for the audience to find,” adds Thue Madsen.
7. Address Questions on the Go
Another way to engage with your audience keep their attention on the web presentation material is to answer questions on the fly. Tim Paige is a believer in striking while the iron is hot. Tim is a Conversion Educator at LeadPages, an experienced webinar host, and an expert in online sales and conversion rate optimization. “One of the biggest game changers for me was to start answering questions in real-time, as the presentation goes on. Doing this, as opposed to only answering questions in a Q&A at the end, has worked wonders for keeping people around until the end of the webinar (average 97% stick rate from beginning to end), conversions to sales (200% bump on webinars where questions are asked throughout), and audience feedback. People feel like you’re addressing their individual issues, so they connect with you more… and it’s a handy way to prove that the webinar is *actually* live.”
Tim makes a very good point about the importance of maintaining a “live” feeling in your online presentations. When you ask questions, consider pausing while you wait for an answer. Likewise, when you make an important statement, pause for 3 seconds. This will remind your audience of the live nature of an online presentation and that they are expected to respond at times, rather than listening to a one-sided conversation.
8. Tell Stories
Anecdotes, legends and any other type of relevant stories can help engage your audience. A story can activate a response in the brain (neural coupling) whereby they personalize the story.
Creating a personal connection via stories to engage with the audience is a powerful tool for presenters such as Shaun Nestor. Speaker, entrepreneur, and Digital Marketing Mentor, Shaun consults 1000s of business owners about web marketing, in person and via webinars: “Even the most skeptical participants want a genuine connection with the presenter; don’t just share boring “about me” slides; share something about you! Tell a story that creates a human connection. If the audience knows you can relate to their current situation, not only will they remember you, but they’ll buy from you.”
In fact, by experiencing the same brain activity as the rest of the audience and the speaker, everyone reaches the same ‘wavelength’ – a handy tool for presenters. An emotionally-charged story can help the brain release dopamine, which will help the listener remember more accurately. “Be tangible in your examples and use real experiences from your life to prove points. This enhances buy-in and makes it easier for the audience to run with what they are learning on their own,” said Thue Madsen.
“When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63% remember the stories. Only 5% remember any individual statistic.”
– Chip & Dan Heath, Winning With Words
Be a Rockstar Presenter
9. Be Organized
When you feel in control of your topic and your technology, it shows you in a positive light. And the opposite applies if you’re not organized. If you step into any presentation unprepared, in person or online, it will show.
With dozens of online presentations to his name in just 2015 alone, Thue Madsen believes an online presenter needs to find a routine and stand by it in order to be at the top of their game: “Create a process and stick with it. This will make planning easier, the content better, and will boost your confidence. Most importantly, the deliverance will be much better received both by the audience but also by partners/co-presenters.”
However a webinar is not only about the time spent speaking to your audience. As part of this process, take into account what needs to be done before and after the online presentation. Thue explains, “You don’t want your audience to simply step in and out of your presentation, as a standalone event. You want to create an experience, and you can accomplish this with a clear plan for both pre and post tasks.” This might include sending out a presentation agenda, some materials to read up on, or a “worksheet” (as suggested above by Brandon Turner) to your audience in advance. Afterwards you can send a thank you note or an email with links to the presentation recording, for example.
10. Start Strong, Finish Stronger
One of Annemarie de Jong’s recommendations above was for presenters to introduce themselves as authority figures in order to create a strong start. Kicking off the web presentation with techniques to ensure a strong start is undoubtedly important to remember. It’s also key that you use techniques to finish strong.
“The start of your presentation will get your audience to engage with you and your material. But it’s the end that they will remember,” explains Thue Madsen.
If you start your presentation with the intention of covering three main topics or questions, wrap it up with a summary of the respective answers and learnings. Be even stronger by relating each answer to one another, where applicable. Finally leave a call-to-action: if you have further upcoming webinars, additional course material, etc. that you want your audience to move on to, be sure to make this clear and prominent at the end.
11. Use Social Media
One truly strong benefit of any webinar is its medium: the internet coupled with social media. The internet means you can present to just about anyone, while social media creates an interactive two-way communication channel. As her second “engagement check” for online presentations, Gini Dietrich uses social media to keep an eye on the level of engagement, live as it happens.
“Chris Penn always says a great way to test how you’re doing while you present is to put your phone on vibrate and wait for your pocket to move every time someone tweets something you said. Likewise, during a virtual presentation, you can watch the tweets, on a given hashtag, during your event,” explains Gini.
12. Ask for Feedback
Gini Dietrich is not alone when it comes to social engagement with audiences. Stef Miller says she is always looking to improve her technique and uses social media to gather feedback.
“Ask attendees to tweet their opinions at you, include your Twitter handle at the bottom of each slide so they don’t have to search for a way to contact you. Invite them to connect with you through email so you can answer their questions, or learn from their feedback.”
As her third “engagement check” and a way of collecting feedback, Gini recommends that presenters enable the chat box. Though this can be distracting to some webinar attendees, it’s very, very helpful to the majority. “It’s also really fun because it’s almost like you are livestreaming a Q&A session while your presentation is being watched and absorbed.”
13. Speak Clearly
If you’re screen sharing and your audience can’t see you, you may be tempted to slouch over the PC, but I want to encourage you to stand up when making an online presentation. There is a reason why presenters stand up when they are making live presentations, and this applies to presentations over the Web as well. Your body posture has a real influence over the way in which your voice projects.
Thue Madsen strongly urges online presenters to think about their speech: “Be sure to speak clearly and don’t talk to fast. This is the no. 1 complaint we hear – speakers get excited and run away.”
14. Drink Water and Coffee
It’s not easy to walk away from an online presentation to grab a glass of water. But you’ll need it if you get a dry mouth, which is a common effect of nervousness. Keep a glass of water at your side.
Drinking coffee prior to an online presentation can also be advantageous. Caffeine can help your presentation style come across as more enthusiastic, and studies have shown that enthusiastic speech will win out over a talk that sounds forced. Larry Kim listens to hip-hop music and drinks an energy drink before a presentation to boost his enthusiasm – and he’s not alone. Stef Miller always drinks a small cup of coffee 30 minutes before a presentation. “I’m not a caffeine fiend by any means, but the extra boost of caffeine helps my brain be sharp, and counteracts any nerves I feel leading up to an event. I typically go into my quiet room where I will give my presentation 10 minutes before the call and relax myself by perusing Instagram.”
15. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The well-known three P’s of marketing are product, price and place. If there are three P’s of online presentations, they would be practice, practice, and practice. During our discussions with the experts, Annemarie de Jong was a strong proponent of practicing your online presentation style:
“Most people spend a lot of time creating their presentation, only to stumble while presenting. I recommend practicing it in front of a mirror and doing a dry run with colleagues before the webinar. Not only is it important to practice for content, but also for timing, as you want to make sure to respect the audience and the time commitment they’ve made by not speaking longer than expected.”
Finally, as my last personal tip to online presenters before signing off: be yourself. Include some humor and sound like you’re having a good time, because that will entice your audience to also be pleasant, respond and engage with you during the presentation.
If you’re using these tips for your next online presentation, please be sure to let us know how it improved your audience engagement by leaving a comment below.