Presenting a webinar for the first time

Cathrine Wilhelmsen First WebinarPresenting online is a completely different experience than presenting in-person. When you present online you lose the interaction with the audience, you are unable to read body language or facial expressions to see if they are interested or bored out of their minds, and you get absolutely no feedback on whether or not they understand what you are trying to explain. You have to trust yourself, talk to a screen for an hour, and hope that the technology does not suddenly decide to throw a tantrum and stop working for no reason.

I recently presented my first ever webinar. It went quite well, but there are many things I want to do better next time. Writing down what I learned will help me improve my own presentation skills and slide decks, but I also hope it can help other new speakers prepare for their first webinar. Please feel free to share your own tips and tricks, I would love to learn from you! :)

Before the Webinar
Optimize your slide deck for presenting online
Your audience will not be able to see you. Make sure that everything you want to show and explain is included in your slide deck since you can’t talk with your hands or point at the screen. Will you talk about a specific thing on your slide? Use boxes, arrows or highlighters to help your audience focus on that specific thing. There will usually be a 1-3 second lag from when you do something on your screen to when your audience sees it, so trying to point with the cursor can be difficult. Because of the lag you should also avoid animations and slides that will only be on the screen for a couple of seconds.

Test the webinar software, screen and sound settings
Make sure you are familiar with the webinar software you will use so you don’t spend time during the presentation trying to figure out where to click or how to get something to work. (I wanted to use my remote presenter instead of a mouse to click through my slides, but I forgot to test it before I started my presentation. It didn’t work with the webinar software.) Ask the organizer, a friend or coworker to help you test the screen and sound settings, especially if you use multiple monitors – you don’t want to show the audience your notes instead of your slide deck.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Always rehearse your presentations. Rehearse at least once by actually using the webinar software so you are comfortable with your timings and the lag. (I actually attended my own webinar from a second laptop so I could see the same as everyone else. It was really useful because I could see when I had to wait for another second or two before I continued talking, and it helped me so I didn’t click through the slide deck too fast.)

Prepare your physical desktop
Find a quiet location, make sure you have everything you need within reach and that you sit comfortably. (I forgot to check the meeting room I booked at work for my first webinar: it didn’t have a monitor I could use as a second screen, it only had one power outlet for my two laptops, and it was right next to the coffee machine where people gathered and talked.) A clock and a printed copy of your slide deck is always useful, but especially useful when you plan to use a second monitor to view the time and notes – and that monitor turns out to be missing :) Remember that you will probably talk non-stop for an hour, so make sure you have enough water nearby.

Prepare your virtual desktop
This tip is not just for webinars, but it is important: Close all applications you don’t need, turn off notifications and clear all personal information from your screen.

During the Webinar
Present like you have an audience in the room
You wouldn’t stand up in front of a live audience and read from a manuscript for one hour, would you? Even if the audience can’t see you, they can hear the difference between you delivering a presentation and you reading a manuscript. You can’t see them, but pretend that they are in the room with you. Talk to them instead of reading to your screen.

Talk clearly and not too fast
The 1-3 second lag can also affect the sound, and you don’t want people to miss important bits of information because you talked too fast. Talk clearly – remember that the sound has to travel all the way through your microphone, across the interwebz and out through someone’s headphones or speakers :)

Focus on the presentation and manage your time
Ask the organizer to manage everything that is not directly related to your presentation (questions, chat, recording, polls, surveys) so you can focus on delivering your best presentation. Watch the time so you don’t finish too early or too late.

Explain what you are referring to on the screen
Even if you use boxes, arrows or highlighters, tell the audience what you are referring to on the screen. Something precise like “the arrow on the left shows you…” or “at the bottom of the chart you will see…” makes it easier to follow along.

Breaks and questions
Make sure you agree on how to handle questions before you start. It is probably easiest to save all the questions for the end, but opening up for questions during your presentation can give you a short break to breathe and drink some water. If you open up for questions during your presentation you may want to include a slide that says “questions?” so the audience knows why you stopped talking.

After the Webinar
Watch the recording and take notes about what you can improve
Yes, it is awkward. Yes, you sound funny. Yes, you made that horrible, obvious mistake and you didn’t notice it while presenting. Yes, you say “actually” too much. And yes, it will help you be even better the next time :)

Follow up
Did someone connect with you on LinkedIn? Did you get an e-mail asking for help? Were there questions you didn’t have time to answer? Make sure you follow up after your webinar. If you can’t answer all the questions, point them to resources that you found useful. If you want to spend time writing good replies, let them know that you are working on it. (Really, these people spent their valuable time watching your webinar and they are asking for your advice. Remember that time when you were the one stuck with a problem and someone helped you and you wanted to send them never-ending rainbows and unicorns? This is your turn to be that awesome, helpful person.)

Write about it!
Even if you don’t want to share it publicly, write about what you learned, how you can improve, set new goals for yourself or make a handy checklist for your next presentation. If you already have a blog or if you want to start blogging, use the opportunity to turn your webinar into a series of blog posts where you talk about your experiences, answer questions, dive deeper into something you talked about or just share resources. It will be useful for both yourself and others :)

Who is Cathrine Wilhelmsen?

Cathrine is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP, BimlHero, speaker, blogger and chronic volunteer. She currently works as a Community Evangelist for PASS and coordinates all SQLSaturdays around the world, but has previously worked as a SQL Server Data Warehouse architect and Business Intelligence developer. She loves sci-fi, chocolate, cat gifs and smilies :)

6 thoughts on “Presenting a webinar for the first time”

Great article, Catherine! I wish I’d had your recommendations when I started. I can’t tell you how many webinars I did were people got to see my latest Outlook notification of an email arrival or an upcoming meeting. :-P

One other tip I recommend is to “think visually”. Many speakers think in terms of the information they are presenting, not how it is visually perceived by the audience. Once I’d done a handful of webinars, I learned two thinks about thinking visually:

1) Move the mouse slowly and deliberately and briefly pause on an important click-point on the screen. Otherwise, it’s easily possible that the audience will lose track of a fast moving mouse and/or not see what you clicked on.

2) On slide pages with lots of words (which you should avoid anyway), do something to provide a visual stimulus every 5-10 seconds. Personally, I like to use the webinar visual tools for icons, highlighting and drawing to simply underline a word here or there, put an arrow next to the current bullet point, or highlight something on the screen that I’m currently talking about.

Those things can really help the audience follow along and keep them engaged.

Thanks, Kevin! Those are great things to keep in mind :)

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Great read, as always Cathrine, definitely this will come to great use for many of us speaker, as we progress into giving webinars as well. I enjoyed it.

Incredibly timely for me and useful. Thanks Catherine!

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