One of the biggest presentation disconnects you'll ever see is a personal delivery that's been turned into a conference call. Whether a change in plans puts a meeting in a different venue at the last minute or the presenter is just overly confident about the audience, attention deficit is going to set in if the presentation medium isn't taken into account.
Like the difference between riding a bicycle and riding a unicycle, many things don't translate from one meeting type to the other. If you're caught on short notice, it will be tempting to believe that an in-person, stand-up presentation can be shoehorned into a Web meeting. But like going from two wheels to one, simplifying things often adds some interesting new challenges. Here's a checklist of things to keep in mind when you take your meeting to the Web.
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1: Winning priority
Unlike with a physical event, attendance at a Web presentation is entirely up to you and your team. You don't have the luxury of being an alternative in a handful of speaker sessions. Your message is competing with all the normal (and ever-increasing) priorities of everyone's workday. Clicking on an invitation is a routine commitment for most people. Each reminder of the value you've promised to deliver is more important than the last, up to the final "one hour from now!" email.
2: Face time
The advantage of knowing where your listeners' eyes are and whether people are nodding or nodding off is lost with a virtual audience. So you should know more about who they are and what they're hoping to learn. The registration process is entirely in your control, which makes it easier to anticipate the expectations of your audience, whether they're your customers, prospects, or competitors.
3: The decision to mute
In a Web presentation, you control what your audience can do. Use that control wisely. You (and your team) need to decide when to open a line or mute it, allow text responses or delete them. If someone signs in as Barney Rubble, are you going to humor or block that person?
In addition to the broad controls above, you must decide how the immediate feedback is going to work. With most Web presentations, it's somewhere between anonymous and impersonal, and it needs more control than a stand-up talk. Ideally, a team member is available to screen responses, sort them out, and forward them to you discreetly. You can get a more candid, transparent effect with tools like the AutoTweet add-in on your slides (but can doesn't always equate to will). A great interactive feature offered by many Web hosts is the ability to show an immediate up or down vote response, along with who's paying attention.
5: Effective scheduling
A big factor in the attendance and attention you get in a Web presentation is scheduling it conveniently. You decide the best time for most of the people in your audience. In general, early in the week and early in the day gets the best response, but before you set the time, do a straw poll with three options among your top attendance prospects.
If you're speaking at a conference, there's usually a generic form that gives you feedback and includes general questions about the lighting and the room temperature. You may get the results a week later. Many are legible. Make your own form different. Keep the questions specific and pertinent, make it very, very short, and respond immediately to continue the dialog (which was the whole point of your presentation).
7: Clockwork agenda
With an in-person presentation, sticking to the outline and timetable is important — and a crisp agenda is the cornerstone of a great webinar. Debut early and often (do practice runs until the timing works) and punctuate the mile markers both in your slides and your delivery.
Apart from last year's TED Talks, podium presentations are a lot less likely to be downloaded. On the other hand, you may double your numbers for an online meeting with an access code and a specific audience — say, the "End-to-End Service Providers International Group." Providing a replay link for people with schedule conflicts, as well as for live attendees to forward to their colleagues or to review a key point, will win you both goodwill and an extended audience. Keep track of the distribution link and follow up with an e-mail summary and other materials to your secondary audience as you do for the primary one.
9: Cue cards
You can script an online presentation more easily than one you deliver in person. This is both a strength and a potential weakness. You can keep yourself on track with the agenda (#7), make notes on pronunciations or other details, and credit your sources. But you may also be tempted to follow the script too closely and might sound artificial, as if you were using a teleprompter. The best idea is to have a script and use it excessively in your practice runs, but get rid of it for the real performance (or at least bury it under a pile of other papers nearby).
The mistake that often happens is to forget that the dialog is just as important for an online presentation as for those delivered in person. The conversation isn't over when the disconnect pings start to come over the line. It should be just getting started.
Jeff Cerny has written interviews with top technology leaders for TechRepublic since 2008. He is also the author of Ten Breakable Habits to Creating a Remarkable Presentation.