Your first five minutes of presentation time are incredibly important in establishing the success or failure of your webinar. I see mistakes repeated again and again during this critical period in web seminars that I facilitate or attend.
I would like to give you a few tips that can help you get started on the right foot. Let’s begin by examining where typical problems stem from.
If you are like most human beings, you are a bit nervous as you get started. Some people feel it more than others, but even experienced speakers and actors get anxious before their entrance. It can be even worse in the unnatural environment of a webinar. You can’t see your audience. You have no friendly faces to concentrate on. You get no immediate feedback that people are listening to you and like what they hear.
The common response to these feelings is twofold:
1) You speak faster, letting your adrenaline make the words tumble out of your mouth in a stream. Your brain may not keep up with your mouth, leading to more filler sounds such as “ummm” and “uhhh” and “y’know”. So you need to consciously remind yourself to slow down a bit. Keep the energy in your voice. Use the adrenaline to your advantage… let it make you a little louder, a little more pronounced than your normal conversational voice. That’s good! It grabs the audience and makes them pay attention. Just slow the pace of your words. Give yourself permission to pause slightly between phrases.
2) You put in too much introductory information. The typical response to silence is an attempt to fill it. With no responses from your audience, you add more and more words, trying to produce some kind of confirmation that people hear you and understand. This may be an unconscious behavior, but it leads to the common audience complaint that “the presenter took too long to get to the point.” It also results in you running out of time as you get towards the end of the presentation. Speakers often tell me that they carefully practiced their presentation and it came in on time, but for some reason they found themselves over time in the live presentation. They don’t realize they spent way more time on their opening slides than they did in the practice. (To be honest, most speakers don’t practice the introduction… They start their rehearsal from the first serious content slide.)
There are practical techniques you can use to fight the timing problem:
Write out your introductory comments. Write every word, in complete sentences. This is one of the only places I recommend using a word-for-word script. Once you are finished, put it aside for at least three hours. Then come back and re-read it from the audience’s perspective. Start cutting things out. Edit, edit, edit. Drill down to only the introductory pieces that are critical to your message. Challenge yourself to see how fast you can get to your first delivery of value, your first piece of information that they actually came for.
Now practice saying the entire thing out loud. Do the introduction at least four times out loud. Settle in. Get comfortable with your phrasing, your cadence, your emphasis on key phrases. You want to get to the point where you aren’t sight reading the sentences, you are just using them as a guideline to help you remember what you said and how you said it last time.
You never want to sound like you are reading. You want to sound conversational right from the start. But because you know exactly what you are saying and how you are saying it, it will help you overcome the initial nervousness and the unconscious behaviors that go with that nervousness. You will sound confident and comfortable with your subject, quickly leading the audience to their desired takeaways.
And that’s a recipe for webinar success!