So what’s it like to present a tech comm webinar?

Presenting a webinar isn’t much different from other “public” presentations, but the format has a few quirky effects and demands of its own.

On 29 February, I had the chance to present my first webinar. As with many first-time experiences, the newness of it all felt a little weird, there were some glitches, but altogether, it went alright. I think. I hope. Because I have had virtually no feedback.

Missing feedback

And that is already the most important difference to other presentations: You have next to no idea how you’re coming across. I never knew how vital even subtle cues are for presentations before a live audience. Does the audience follow along or do I need to be faster? Or slower? Frowns can signal that a point or a  joke didn’t get across. Genernal “antsiness” means I can pick up the pace a bit. Attentive smiles or chuckles indicate that I’m connecting. A webinar offers none of that.

The best I’ve seen other, better webinar presenters do is to ask at the beginning whether attendees can hear the audio and can see the slides changing. But after that, as a presenter, you’re on your own. It feels like talking into a tin-can telephone – without knowing whether the string is still taut.

Tin can phone

Tin can phone, from http://www.wikihow.com

Fortunately, my webinar heroine Sarah O’Keefe had alerted me to this lack of immediate feedback. So I could identify it – but that didn’t make coping with it any less bewildering.

I think I forged ahead too fast and with too much urgency in the beginning, as if constantly groping for attention. Then I reminded myself to take a long, deep breath between my major sections.

The curse of convenient isolation

I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that even a live webinar catches everyone in a different time, place and context. What makes webinars so easy and convenient to attend, turns out to be a bit of a curse. I was presenting at 7 p.m. in Germany from my kitchen. Attendees in the US caught the webinar in the late morning or around noon, at the (home) office, I’m guessing.

This means you have less of a common context on which to build a dramatic arc or a feeling of community. In this regard, a webinar feels rather like broadcasting live television.

By contrast, some of the best live presentations I’ve witnessed gathered all attendees together, took them on a transformative trip and dropped them off at a different mental place. These were communal experiences which impart knowledge and change your perspective and rouse a group to action. I don’t think I’ve ever had that feeling in a webinar. And after my own experience, I don’t think it can be done, unless participants know each other better and have some way to interact with each other.

My webinar about getting ahead as a lone writer relies mainly on information sharing, but both times when I presented it at conferences, I was delighted to know that some attendees walked away with a feeling of “I’m not alone; I can do something about this, because others could, too.” Whether my webinar was successful along these lines, I don’t know.

Your turn

If you’ve considered presenting a webinar or have done so already, I’d love to hear your expectations and experiences. Feel free to leave a comment.