I would guess that 95% of the webinars I attend use an “expert speaker.” The promotional materials promise that I will hear from “an expert on the subject.” Or a moderator starts the webinar with “We have two experts today, ready to share their insights and experience.”
Marketing departments often plan out their lead generation activities along these lines:
- We’ll deliver one lead-gen webinar per month.
- We’ll pull in some expert from an internal department or from a partner and have them talk to their topic area.
- We’ll give them a slide template and some basics about how to give a webinar.
The problem is that subject matter experts are often the least effective presenters for your webinar. Why is this?
- The acknowledged internal expert in a topic is usually in demand internally. They have a LOT of responsibilities. Your marketing webinar doesn’t rank high on their priority list. This means their goal is to dispense with the webinar distraction with the least amount of time and effort possible. That means the least amount of time to plan the talk, the least amount of time to create slides, and the least amount of time to rehearse. [Please note, I am not ascribing evil intent here. This is entirely proper and correct given their workload and what their job performance is based on. They would be fools to think differently and you are a fool if you think you can change their priorities in your favor!]
- Expertise in a professional subject does not equate to public speaking skills, comfort, or experience. The majority of the population does not like speaking in public and has never received training in how to do it well. This percentage does not magically change just because they know how to construct a box-girder bridge.
- Subject experts often have difficulty communicating to non-experts. When you work with a specialized topic for a long time, you tend to take certain things for granted in work conversations with others. You assume a level of background and familiarity with basic concepts. You use abbreviations and references without even remembering that they are artificial constructs within your specialized community. They won’t even realize that some of their slides or statements are confusing to a more general webinar audience.
My suggestion is to designate a webinar presentation expert in your company. Find that person who is outgoing and enjoys being the focus in meetings. The person who won’t shut up about the time they played a lead in a community theater production. The person who puts zany messages on their voicemail. Make webinar presentations part of their evaluated and rewarded job description. Give them the time necessary in their work week to create good presentation materials. Give them some training in remote presentation techniques. Then use them!
That person can be the “voice of the company” in the vast majority of general lead generation and marketing webinars. But you can (and should) still involve subject matter experts. Have them commit to answering technical questions during the webinar. Give them a short segment to present their deep expertise, wrapped with your presentation expert’s lead-in and lead-out. Have your presentation expert conduct the webinar in an interview format, where s/he can draw out the subject expert and keep things moving.
Unsure of how to broach this concept to management? Why should they approve a new job function at a time when companies are consolidating work functions and looking for cost savings? Have them read “Maybe Presenters Aren’t The Problem” (and especially the comments with ideas spurring this post).