On Monday I watched a global webinar showcasing the launch of a new webinar technology. The technology is called Webinar JEO. I am not reviewing the software itself, as I haven't used it. Instead, I would like to use the experience of the launch webinar itself as a learning experience. Things did not go well for the presenter, Walt Bayliss - the founder and owner of Universal Media-Online. There were technical difficulties that were compounded with suboptimal presentation techniques, making the launch much less effective than it could have been.
Hopefully, this will come across as I intend it… a constructive case study analysis rather than an exercise in smug superiority and schadenfreude.
Problems started immediately at the announced start time for the webinar. Many people reported difficulties in accessing the conference. I was one of those people. Who knows what might have gone wrong? It happens. This was a major stress test for a new collaborative product. According to Mr. Bayliss, there were more than 630 attendees, and the public chat featured people giving their locations around the world. Kudos to Mr. Bayliss' promotion and marketing efforts, as that is a great turnout for a new product launch.
It took quite a while for the technical team at Webinar JEO to figure out what was happening and to get things working. Mr. Bayliss did a nice job under the circumstances. He was upbeat, kept smiling, and engaged the attendees who had managed to make it into the conference. He was trying to run a separate communications stream with his technical staff on a second computer, which is tricky at best! So I have no problems with any of that. When all was said and done, the formal presentation really got started about 30 or 40 minutes after the scheduled start time. I give all of that a pass… The team and the presenter did what they could. But once we were in the webinar proper, I became less tolerant of what I saw. This is where we can pick up technique tips.
1) There was no attempt to compensate for the time loss. Mr. Bayliss had a set of preparatory slides that he wanted to go through before getting to the demonstration of his new product. Quite honestly, they were a bad idea anyway… They concentrated on why webinars are useful, why GoToWebinar has deficiencies, how people make money with webinar marketing, and other background information. Those topics were not the reason people had signed up for this webinar. We were promised a look at exciting new webinar software. The people who would register for that would know what a webinar is and why it is useful. They want to see the product. Mr. Bayliss did not acknowledge or adapt to the significant delay in starting. He went through every introductory slide in excruciating detail, often reading bullet points to us, one by one. He could have easily jumped ahead to the slide that introduced Webinar JEO and gone straight into the product demo, instead of finally getting to it a full hour past the scheduled session start time.
Lesson: Quickly get to the reason people showed up. Deliver on the promises made in your promotional materials. Be prepared to skip ahead to "the good stuff" in a time crunch and follow up with additional materials later as a handout or a recording for people who want more information.
2) The presenter interrupted his own flow for asides to the chat stream. I am 100% in favor of interacting with your attendees and acknowledging their questions and contributions in the chat. But with an open, public chat stream and 600 people, the messages were flowing very quickly. Mr. Bayliss would sometimes spot something as it flew by and would stop himself in mid-sentence to answer it. Worse, he wouldn't repeat the question or comment. So his monologue would proceed something along these lines…
"The importance of a webinar is that it can - Oh, that's a good point, Carl. - It can be used to reach people - No, we haven't built that in yet, Dinah, but it's something we're working on - used to reach people internationally."
That kind of speech pattern is hard to follow, is less persuasive, and can make a presenter appear less organized and professional.
Lesson: Keep an eye on the chat stream, but choose your break points. Stay in control of your presentation at all times. Finish an entire concept, then stop to reference a comment or question. Never assume that the attendees have read it or know what you're answering; Repeat or paraphrase the message you are addressing. With large audiences, it is usually best to have a moderator help you by monitoring the chat. They can pick out some good questions and read them off to you when you stop for a break. They can even interrupt you when you pause (if you are comfortable with that and expecting it as a dynamic you have worked out ahead of time).
3) The presenter couldn't seem to end the session. Mr. Bayliss announced the end of the session, took another question, announced the end again, mentioned something else, and kept it up in a stream of ever-diminishing returns. Eventually it just sort of petered out rather indefinitely.
Lesson: Plan how you will end your webinar and stick to that plan. Know the final take-away point you want to leave the audience with and the single, explicit action item you want to point them to. Once you have delivered those… STOP!
4) The final couple of words were cut off. The last thing I heard was something like: "Okay, I think that's about it. I'm going to stop the reco - "
It had a tiny negative psychological impact, as the last thing I heard sounded like an error.
Lesson: Always include a few seconds of "dead air" before you begin speaking at the start of your webinar and after you finish your last words. Assume that your webcast stream or recording software or audio bridge takes a few seconds to spin up and wind down. Give it a chance to stabilize when you turn it on, and give it some grace room before you shut it off.
Sometimes a tangible example is the best learning device. I hope Mr. Bayliss won't be too upset with me for taking advantage of the stressful situation he had to deal with as my springboard for making some points. It's a great way to help make the improvement process more concrete for webinar presenters everywhere.