That's probably one of the stranger headlines the Wall Street Journal has run. Dana Mattioli has an article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal where she lists some of the ways people get in trouble on webcasts and webinars. I'm one of the people she contacted for anecdotes and tips, and it's certainly nice to see "Ken Molay, president of Webinar Success" in the pages of such a prestigious publication. But I can't keep from grinning at the inevitable way a long interview gets boiled down to a pithy quote or two by the time it gets to press.
I thought it might be a nice idea to expand on the tidbits in the article for the benefit of interested readers. Dana spent a lot of time talking about the ways in which the camera can make you look foolish in a webcast, and it's all true. If you really want to present a polished and professional image to your audience, you need some specialized training and a fair amount of practice in camera techniques. These are quite different from stage presentation tips. How many times per minute should you blink? How do you keep yourself properly framed in the shot? What do you do with your hands? How do you work with a script or notes when speaking to the audience? What types of clothing work for the camera and which ones give you problems (hint... narrow stripes are a no-no!).
Having a checklist of camera tricks isn't enough either. Just as with any other kind of learned skill, it takes practice to get comfortable. At first you will find it difficult to concentrate on all the technical pointers and on your content (which still takes priority, in case you thought I was dismissing it in favor of technique). It's like learning to drive a stick shift... You can spend so much time worrying about balancing the clutch and gas that you forget where you are trying to get to.
But as Dana illustrates in her examples, video is not your only potential source of embarrassment. You can run into trouble by not thinking through what your audience may be able to see or hear during your web conference. Even though you know that you should turn off the sound on your computer, it's easy to overlook in the last minute rush to get everything ready for the start of your session. I use a checklist to make sure I'm not overlooking simple and obvious things. In the same way that a pilot manually checks off the same items he has gone through on thousands of previous flights, I check that my second phone line is disconnected, that my instant messenger is disabled, that my cell phone is turned off, that my email is shut down, and so on. I also make sure I know exactly which steps I need to do in order to get my audio and web recording going. Is my audio line set up to mute the audience and allow all the speakers to be heard?
One of my favorite embarrassing things to see on a web conference is when the presenter shares his or her desktop to show off a software demo and the display background is set to a silly or personal picture. Or there are icons all over the desktop for computer games. You can be blind to the way your computer screen looks because you see it every day. But think about the impression it gives to your business audience. Clean up those spare icons... You can move them to a folder and then pull them back to the desktop after your presentation.
This is going to get way too long, so I'll just summarize my main tips by saying that you should take nothing for granted, think about what the audience will see and hear, practice and test everything ahead of time, and make a checklist to ensure you don't overlook anything.
Oh... And don't forget the value in getting professional assistance if you need it!