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The art of the webinar… how to speak to an audience that you can’t see

Ginger Leadership Communications

Public speaking is no longer about physically being present to speak to your audience. Webinars have the potential to spread your public speaking influence far and wide, provided that you actually engage your webinar audience. Learn the art of the webinar!

Imagine sitting at your desk back at school. Your friend is helping you study for a calculus exam—except she is speaking from behind a podium, projecting into a microphone, looking past you, and talking to an imaginary crowd. This is the experience many people have while listening to webinars. We’re at our desks attempting to learn and the voice coming over the webinar platform isn’t even talking to you. Worse yet, you can’t even see their face, only slides showing information in a power point-ish way.

Snore. Snooze. Snort… wait whut? What did you say? Calculus? You lost me at hello. In our previous post How to be brilliant at public speaking on the web we discussed how to present yourself on the interweb. Here you’ll find how to engage with your audience through webinars… without putting them to sleep.

Webinar speaking tip 1: speak to real people, not to your machine

The reason we feel this way, snooze-ish, is because webinar speakers typically make the mistake of speaking to the computer, rather than to the people and personalities who are listening in on the other side. We get overly formal and forget what really connects to the people the other side of the webinar platform: humour, personality and fun.

Webinar speaking tip 2: have a conversation

It’s intimidating to think that your webinar is broadcasting to potentially tens or hundreds of blank faces across the internet. So remember that you’re talking to attendees who, for the most part, are listening alone at their desks. While a webinar may have 50-200 attendees listening, you’re really having 50-200 one-on-one conversations. Remember that and imagine you’re speaking to one close friend or colleague.

Webinar speaking tip 3: get creative to hold their attention.

An audience’s average attention span is about 10 minutes. Worse if you’re competing for their attention with the email inbox, nearby colleagues and ‘ooh I’ll just google this’ as most webinar speakers are. Just you talking generally won’t be enough to keep them focused on you, no matter how interesting you think you are.

To hold the attention of your webinar audience, it’s important that you keep them engaged through creative use of the webinar platform. In my webinars I use a combination of interactive questions, interactive polls, hand drawn Ginger images and mini tasks or challenges to keep my audience involved. And of course, you can also ask them to switch off their inbox and focus on you for the length of your webinar too.

Webinar speaking tip 4: webinar speaking is just like regular public speaking

Webinar strategy, philosophy, and bullet-point best practices may provide a professional looking webinar, but rarely inspire. Interactivity, stories and heart provide the juicy webinar material people remember. In fact, all things we’re mad about in the Ginger public speaking world also apply to webinar public speaking…The secret to engaging an audience  The Six Qualities of an Inspiring Speaker   A good speech is like telling a story.

Be yourself on webinar; let your audience into your life and your personality. Be authentic – and you’ll keep them hooked.

Webinar speaking tip 5: …and there are some webinar specific techniques

At the same time, there are some webinar specifics that will help you wow your audience:

  • Look in the webcam directly. This is the only way for you to make ‘eye contact’ for your audience. You won’t be getting non-verbal feedback from your audience so you might like to record yourself and give yourself feedback as to what works and what looks funny.
  • Talk through your slides when you share your screen. Be engaging and don’t drone on. Use your storytelling skills here.  Your webinar audience can read you know… bring them something new to trigger their noggins. If you ARE going to be silent… let the audience know. For example if you want your audience to read something for themselves say “I’ll let your read what Churchill had to say about Germany”. Even if you’re going to take a sip of water, let the audience know. Remember that your voice is the connection when you’re not on camera.
  • Use pauses… but make them short pauses. Long dramatic pauses don’t work for the online crowd as they may think that they’ve lost their sound. Think of your material as parcels or fragments, speaking in short bursts of words with silence in between. Get into a rhythm: short burst of words/break/short burst of words/break. This also has the added benefit of getting rid of the dreaded “UM”. Tony Blair speaks in this way and is just brilliant!
  • Yes I’m talking to YOU. Instead of putting I into your webinar, utilize the word You. For example instead of saying “Today I’m going to be sharing the different ways to improve a webinar,” say “In the next 45 minutes, you will learn: the six secrets of making your webinars magic; the three benefits to your clients from using webinars; and the two biggest mistakes your competitors make in webinars.” See the difference?  It’s all about “the personalization principle.” Learning is better when participants in eLearning feel they are engaged in a conversation.
  • Record record record! You have a fool proof way to see what’s working and what is not. You have the advantage of recording yourself as a form of practice, and then reviewing the footage to improve the experience for your audience. This is a powerful tool. Use it!

Webinar speaking tip 6: Give value, not waffle.

Remember that people want to learn something at your webinar. They want to leave with specific actions they can take to improve their performance. They want to click off their screen feeling excited and exuberant and ready to implement all that you’ve shared with them. Leave your audience with some very practical takeaways that reward them for their time spent with you – even if it’s a free webinar.

And don’t forget to give them an action point at the end, especially if you’re hoping to sell something from the webinar.

All in all, public speaking in person and online aren’t that awful different. It’s about presenting, perhaps in a bit more organized, structured way, but the message stays the same. Use these little tweaks and tips and you’ll soon be presenting webinars like the pro that you are… Ginger style!

Ginger Leadership Communications

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