Imagine switching on your HDTV eager to watch a show at 9. There you are, popcorn in hand, only to find a blank screen. Then a voice comes on and says they’re waiting for a few more people to tune in, “please stand by.” Meanwhile, they offer a static page with the name of the program and a tacky graphic. A few minutes later the voice is back saying they’re going to get started, but since folks are still tuning in, they’ll wait a few more minutes before diving into the actual program. More static screens pop up, this time asking you to answer a few questions using your remote control. Four questions later, it’s quarter past the hour, and you’re starting to wonder why you tuned in in the first place.
Does this sound familiar? If you’ve logged on to any webinars recently, it probably does. In fact, the scenario I described in the last paragraph, sans popcorn, was from a webinar about doing great webinars. Over the next 45 minutes, more slides trickled by; none were in any way engaging. In between slides, the screen went blank. The voice, full of false enthusiasm, chattered on about the need for great content, an engaging personality, etc. To be honest, he sounded more like one of those slick morning radio personalities–the same sing-song style–the same Red Bull-induced zeal. Fortunately, the audio dropped out twice, so that limited the exposure.
To be fair, I’d tuned into this particular webinar because I’d just done one myself and frankly, was embarrassed by the performance. Lot’s of technology glitches, awkward hand-offs between speakers, horrible audio, etc. It’s not like I hadn’t prepared. I probably spent 5 days preparing for it. It’s not like we were using some unproven technology, I don’t want to name names, but it was one of the big ones. It’s not like I’d never done one before, I had. And it’s not like I’m an inexperienced speaker, I’ve done hundreds of lectures and speeches.
“The least they’ll accept is the best they’ve ever seen,” my husband used to say in speeches about the future of technology. Largely, that’s been true. Once you’ve played World of Warcraft, you’re not going back to Donkey Kong. Once you’ve watched HD, you’re not going to settle for less. So what’s with webinars?
While I’ve seen dozens of inspirational or motivational speeches, I can honestly say I’ve never attended a webinar that was anything better than ho-hum. Heck, I’d even settle for one that made me feel like it was time well spent.
I’ve pondered the problem some and while I’ve come to no real conclusions, here are my thoughts:
- In spite of the big names in the business, the technology side of webinar delivery is clumsy at best. Uploading programs is pretty simple on most platforms, but voice inputs are clunky. Even prior testing doesn’t ensure the sound will be good. Some platforms don’t even give you the ability to talk to co-presenters “off camera,” before the program starts. If you’re in the habit of tuning into a webinar early, or staying late, you’ve no doubt heard speakers who didn’t realize or have forgotten this. Oopsie.
- With all of the unknowns, why aren’t more people pre-recording webinars to get them just right, and answering questions live?
- The voice and methods you use as a speaker, doesn’t work on a webinar. Pregnant pauses that create anticipation at live events, are dead air when the audience can’t see you. My reaction to the “radio voice” of the speaker I mentioned earlier notwithstanding, I wonder if some radio training would help webinar speakers. After all, engaging the unseen listener is what they do–some more effectively than others.
- Those of us who are used to public speaking, find it hard to be ‘on’ without the enthusiasm of a crowd. It’s like practicing a speech–very uncomfortable and stilted. How do you replicate the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd?
- Knowing your subject is only part of the battle. You also have to understand pacing, know how to engage, understand the technology, and if you’re going to use them, know how to design interesting polls. Most importantly, you need to be able to create engaging graphics; ones that complement what you have to say without confusing or boring the audience.
- Most people, myself included, multi-task while listening to a webinar. Imagine giving a speech where the whole audience is surfing the web on their laptops or talking on their phones. I think part of the reason for this is that the webinars aren’t engaging enough, but it may just be a function of a multitasking culture. Recognizing this, how do you deliver content that’s easy to follow while they’re doing other things?
- Part of the problem is obviously bandwidth. Once that increases, we’ll no doubt see better production, but that’s going to place an even greater emphasis on the artistic side of things. How will mere mortals cope?
Is it just me? Are there any ideas out there for how to give great webinars? Dare I ask, has anyone seen a really good one?
Photo by: Zelda Go Wild