Larry Kilbourne just posted the second part of his trilogy on “Why Webinars Fail.” I mentioned part one last week.
This week’s installment is a long and detailed look at what Larry calls “format failures” – in essence, the tactical way the presentation is structured and delivered. I agree wholeheartedly with most of his assertions and heartily recommend taking the time to read through the full article.
But Larry invited me to mention any places I take issue with what he said, and I think there are a few items that could stand some additional caveats. It’s not so much a matter of him saying something wrong, but for space considerations a blogger can’t add every possible detail and exception case in a post and my comments might give you a few extra things to think about.
Larry mentions that many presenters stay on a slide for way too long, and I agree without reservation. But he says that “a good PowerPoint deck for a 60 minute broadcast (which means 45-50 minutes of actual presentation) can easily exceed 100 slides.” I think such a deck would be an overreaction and damaging in the opposite direction from the original problem.
First of all, in a typical 60 minute webinar, your slide content is more likely to take up about 40 minutes of clock time. Figure 10 minutes for Q&A; 5 minutes for delays, waiting for latecomers, and introductions; 5 minutes of general interactivity with the audience (polls, asking for comments during the presentation, etc). And if you plan to conduct post-content polling and feedback, you’ll have even less time for your presentation content.
Secondly, you have to plan for lag time in receiving slide content. In an in-room presentation, you can flick through slides as fast as you can talk. But when you show slides over the internet, there is a finite amount of time between you flipping to the next slide and all audience members seeing it. Audience members with slow connections, network congestion, or overloaded machines may not see the slide for anywhere up to 10 seconds (this is highly variable depending on the web conferencing technology you use and data communications factors beyond your control). If you use Larry’s suggestion to accomplish bullet point builds by flipping slides, you may be talking to a point that the audience can’t see. As the difference between the visual and audio portions of the content persists or accumulates, the audience gets more and more frustrated and has a harder time concentrating.
I had a client who built a slide deck including a succession of slides that simply filled the entire screen with a color. Their script said something like: “Available colors include pink, yellow, green, red, and orange.” But while they were talking about orange, the audience was still looking at yellow. Very disconcerting. I prefer a rule of thumb for web conferences where my time on a slide averages roughly one minute. Larry’s recommendation of 30 seconds or less on average for every slide in the deck makes me a little nervous.
Larry spends a large amount of time talking about presenting using a monologue-driven versus conversational format. He recommends using a “Charlie Rose” approach that has the moderator acting as an interview host, asking a series of setup questions and letting the speaker address each one. This can work very well for reasons that Larry points out. But it can also suffer from its own set of drawbacks.
The skills of being a good moderator/interviewer are not inherent. They must be learned and practiced. I have done too many webinars in a tag-team format where my host set up topic points ambivalently, interjected with examples or personal opinions that took away from the flow of the messaging, disrupted my planned pacing, or brought down the energy level of the entire event. I have had feedback comments where people said “I wish that other guy would have just shut up and let you say your piece!”
That’s not a fatal flaw of the interview format, it’s an acknowledgment that training and experience pay off for everyone who opens their mouth in a webinar… not just the “primary” speaker. Go back and listen to the old Mel Brooks/Carl Reiner “2000 Year-Old Man” recordings. Brooks gets all the comedy lines and seems to carry the whole thing, but Reiner is indispensable in the way he sets things up, throws to Mel and then gets out of the way, steps in to keep the pacing going, and so on. Finding a great straight man is often the crux of a brilliant comedy team. You may not be doing comedy, but your webinar needs a great “straight man” as well (even though the phrase is fraught with alternate meanings these days!).
Thanks for the tips, Larry. I look forward to part three!