I acted as guest speaker at today’s “Ask The Expert” webinar hosted by ConferencePlus. It was a particularly interesting session for me, as my internet connection completely died shortly before the webinar. There I was with my primary and backup computer at my desk, both useless.
Because I always have a last-ditch fallback of my slides in hardcopy form, we did not have to cancel the webinar. I relied on my moderator to move the slides forward, display my poll and read off the results so I could comment on them, manage audience questions, and generally keep things running for the audience. I gave my presentation holding a standard desk phone handset next to my face (my headset was attached to an Internet-connected phone line).
There were some things that I obviously couldn’t do. I could not slip in references to attendee names and comments as I went along. I couldn’t ask for a lot of quick responses to little questions and challenges during my speech. I couldn’t even use my web conferencing annotation tools on a slide specifically talking about how to use them in live webinars!
Instead, I relied very heavily on visualizing my audience and making reference to them and their interests constantly. I posed my response challenges as mental exercises rather than requiring keyboard responses. I went over planning and content with my moderator during our pre-call so that he was comfortable with the tasks he would have to cover and how I planned to work them into my presentation. Consequently, it ran very smoothly.
I did not start my presentation with an apology or discussion of my technical problems. Instead I got straight into delivering the promised value points. Late in the presentation, I revealed the fact that I wasn’t even using the web conferencing platform because of the internet drop. By that point we could have fun with the fact and use it as a demonstration of proper backup planning and execution. It didn’t have to take focus away from my content.
We had quite a few questions from the audience, and while I answered most of them during the live session, there were a few that I couldn’t get to. I’m going to answer them here for everyone’s benefit, along with one or two that were interesting enough to share with my readers.
Linda: Is it acceptable to use more than one slide per minute?
Answer: Absolutely! I use “one minute per slide” as a rough starting point for planning how much content I will need. I know that some slides need more time and some less. But trying to stay somewhere near this average keeps me from clicking through slides more rapidly than the software can keep pace with and keeps me from losing audience focus by staying too long on a single slide.
Thomas: When using polling questions should I limit my answer choices?
Answer: Yes. If you present too many finely-differentiated choices it takes longer for people to read through them and decide on the best answer. You slow down your presentation flow, you frustrate attendees who are trying to do detailed reading and comprehension while you chatter in the background, and you will have a harder time interpreting and commenting on the results. I prefer five choices as a maximum in most cases. Of course the context matters. If you are doing technical training, testing, or a formal survey session where polling is expected to be a major component, you can afford to spend more time on complex polls. In a general interest context such as marketing, keep it simpler.
Stephen: I noticed that your slides have very different visuals and do not seem to have continuity. How do audiences seem to react to this?
Answer: This fascinated me, as it was the first time an audience member had brought up the question in this manner. I readily admit that I am not a graphic designer. I create many, many presentations all the time to cover a wide variety of webinar education topics. And as Stephen pointed out, the graphics I use come from different sources. Some have complete photographic backgrounds while others are starkly slapped onto a plain white slide background. I try to stay consistent with photographic images rather than a mix of photos and line drawings or clip art, but that’s about it.
Professional graphic designers aim for a consistent “feel” between slides. They might adjust color palettes to favor a certain hue. They will tend to keep human models at a consistent size and within a given social/professional segment. They might overlay a graphic element such as a geometric border on each slide picture to create a sense of continuity. A presentation design of this sort can look gorgeous. I’m often envious of that kind of work. If you have a very important presentation that is likely to affect revenues or career advancement it may well be worth the time and expense to have a professional work on it. If I gave the same talk over and over (like Al Gore’s famous climate change presentation), I wouldn’t hesitate to hire someone to redesign my slides.
But given my less formal, more scattershot approach (which probably matches the priorities and budget/time constraints of many workers) I asked the webinar audience to type in their comments about the graphic design of the slides. Were they bothered by it? Had they even noticed the issue that Stephen pointed out? Did it detract from the effectiveness of the presentation? The answers we received indicated that most people are not put off by the diversity in the design. Some said they hadn’t even thought about it. Others said they rather liked the surprise of not knowing what might pop up next.
So even though your audience might appreciate the beauty of a fully designed graphic show, don’t be deterred from using graphics if you can’t get to that level. It turns out that holding visual interest and using evocative imagery that supports your speech are more important than creating a work of art for the ages.
Many thanks to our attendees today for sharing their interests, questions, and valuable time. And a big thanks to ConferencePlus for making it possible.