I’ve just completed my first large webinar as part of Ellen Finkelstein’s Outstanding Presentations Workshop Webinar Series. Before doing my own webinar I attended webinars by webinar experts Ken Molay and Roger Courville. In particular I wanted to get to grips with the difference between a face to face presentation and a webinar. Here are the tips and tricks I’ve learnt on how to conduct an engaging webinar:

1. Use more visuals

This is the major difference between a face to face presentation and a webinar. In a presentation, the audience can see you and if there’s no visual slide, their attention will be focused on you. But in a webinar, if there’s no visual or you have the same visual for an extended length of time, their visual attention will wander.

I used twice as many slides as I would for a face to face presentation – I had 85 slides for a 30 minute presentation, and most of these slides had some animation. Keep things moving visually.

2. Highlight what you want people to look at on the slides

In a face to face presentation, I physically point to the item on a slide that I want people to look at (laser pointers are for wimps!). Most webinar software does have drawing tools that you can use to draw attention to items on a slide, but I decided to keep things simple for myself by building highlights in my animation. I did this by creating a grey rectangle set to 40% transparency and having it cover everything on the slide. Then I selected the items I wanted to highlight and clicked “Send to Front”. Here’s an example:

Key Message higlighted

3. Avoid slides that you only want to show for a few seconds

I had some slides which I only needed up for a few seconds. Unfortunately because there was a slight time lag between me clicking on the slide and attendees seeing the slide, some attendees only saw it for a microsecond. Here it is, in case you missed it:

Stalin slide

In a similar vein, don’t build a sequence of slides that is reliant on exact synchronization between the slides and what you say.

4. Have a photo of yourself near the beginning

This allows people to visualise you talking to them during the webinar. Ellen’s title slide for the webinar had a photo of me, and then I also used a photo for the slide where I put my webinar into the context of the previous webinars in the series by Rick Altman and Nancy Duarte.

Me, Rick, Nancy slide

5. Show a slide while you’re taking questions

In a face to face presentation I never show an “Any questions” slide. But I realised that unless I had a special “questions” slide I would be stuck on the slide I was showing just before we paused for questions. And that slide might be irrelevant to the question I was answering. I created this slide to use during question time:

question slide

6. Have a printout of slides

This is good advice for face to face presentations too! I made a printout of my slides by doing a screenshot of 15 slides in the SlideSorter view. This is better than printing out your slides in the Handout option because the slide number is shown next to each slide. That means that you can jump between slides by keying the number of the slide and pressing “Enter” on your keyboard. This came in useful when an attendee asked me about a previous slide. I was able to quickly click to it, without clicking through multiple slides.


7. Use headphones

I’ve used skype for years because I have family in the UK and I’m in New Zealand. With skype you don’t need headphones. But it seems with webinar software you do. Otherwise your microphone picks up the sound coming out of the speakers and you get a very disconcerting echo.

8. Use a remote control

Although I was sitting at my computer to deliver the webinar and I could have clicked on my space bar or used the mouse to navigate between my slides, I decided to use a remote. It reminded me of the feeling of presenting to a face to face audience!

9. Turn off all your phones and dogs

OK, it’s hard to turn the dogs off, but I did shut the door so that if they did start barking at a rabbit on the lawn, they wouldn’t intrude too much. And you’re probably used to turning off your cellphone before delivering a presentation, but remember to turn off your landline as well.

10. Have a clock

I don’t have a clock in my office as I normally rely on my computer to tell me the time. And I wasn’t wearing my watch as I only put that on when I go out. So I had no way to tell how the time was going. Luckily I had rehearsed my presentation multiple times and knew exactly how long it would take. And Ellen was in in charge of managing the time I spent answering questions. But next time, I’ll have my own clock!

11. Rehearsal

An extra rehearsal is required for webinars compared to face to face presentations. There are two layers of technology involved: your slideware and the webinar software. So once you’ve got your basic presentation well-rehearsed, then rehearse using the webinar software.

12. Let people know when you’re going to be silent

In the webinar that I attended on giving engaging webinars, Ken Molay made the point that your voice conveys your presence. He recommends that if you’re going to be silent, for example, you’re going to take a sip of water, you let your audience know. That makes sense but I struggled with how to manage showing slides with quotes. In face to face presentations, I often introduce a slide, click onto it and then stay silent while the audience reads it. After some thought and getting some advice from Ellen, what I did in the webinar situation was introduce the slide by saying “I’ll let you read what Bill Clinton has to say about Kiva”:


13. Use micro-pauses

Ken Molay also made the point that the long dramatic pauses you might use for effect in a face to face presentation don’t work so well in a webinar context. Attendees might be concerned that they’ve lost the sound! Instead of long dramatic pauses use micro-pauses. You can build micro-pauses into your speaking by chunking. Chunking is speaking in short bursts of words with silence in between. A chunk of words can be a phrase or a short sentence. Chunking has three  additional benefits which you can read about in these posts:

How to look authoritative when you feel anything but

How to eliminate filler words

You don’t have to slow down to be an effective presenter

14. Break for questions

In face to face presentations I recommend taking questions throughout. In this situation, I couldn’t see the questions coming in, only Ellen could. So we arranged that I would stop at the end of each section of my talk and she would ask me the questions that attendees had asked. This worked effectively. Attendees could type in their question at the time that it occurred to them, and they didn’t have to wait too long to get the question answered.

15. Have someone else ask you questions

As I couldn’t see the questions, I had to have Ellen ask me them. However, I think this is the best arrangement. As I’ve argued in relation to monitoring the Twitter backchannel, it’s very hard to present and monitor what the audience is audience is saying or asking via Twitter or other chat application. Ideally, giving a webinar should not be a solo affair.

16. Have a spotter

Ellen had wisely organized a colleague to act as a spotter. The spotter’s task was to let Ellen know (via the chat pane that only Ellen could see) if anything went wrong from an attendee’s point of view.

17. Have a Plan B

I had sent my PowerPoint slides to Ellen the night before, so that if something went wrong with my computer the slides could be shown from her computer. Luckily we didn’t have to use this. An alternative is to have another computer ready to go, should your primary computer crash.

18. The fundamentals stay the same

Planning your presentation  so that you provide value to your audience is just as important in a webinar context. For more guidance on this, download my guide “How to Make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation.”

Those are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up. As well as Ken Molay’s and Roger Courville’s websites, here are some other resources I found useful:

15 Tips for Webinars: How to Add Impact When You Present Online

Webinar Tips for Presenters and Attendees

I’d love it if you could add in the comments what you’ve learnt about giving webinars – whether it’s as a presenter or as an attendee.

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