Many speakers tell me that they don’t like webinars because they can’t read people’s body language. We rely so much on watching people’s body language when giving a presentation. Is the talk too slow? Too fast? Do people agree? Disagree? Doubt? Are people too warm or too cold? Where in the talk do people nod? Where do they tune out?
Body language gives important feedback, and you get that feedback even when people don’t consciously think of giving it. People who might not raise a hand and say that your talk is boring, but if they’re falling asleep, you can tell that you’ve got to work harder at engaging people. Likewise, you don’t have to stop and take a poll if you want to know if people are interested. Are they leaning forward? Are they taking notes? You’ve got your answer right there.
When you can’t read the room, you run the risk of going off track, of going too fast or too slow, of losing your audience without even knowing that you did. Feedback becomes a little more structured, a little less natural. If you need to take the temperature of the room, you have to stop and ask. You’ll only get responses from people who were already engaged, so even your feedback is skewed. It’s tough.
But remote presentations have a strong advantage that many speakers overlook. Why settle for reading people’s body language, when you can read their thoughts?
Enabling the text chat and encouraging people to use it allows you to keep an eye on what people are thinking about, what they have more questions about, and what engages them. Frequent polls give you feedback, too. Many sophisticated web conference systems even allow participants to indicate their status throughout the presentation: if they think it’s going too fast or too slow, if they’re happy, if they have a question… Although most attendees will still not be used to these practices, you can help them become familiar with the tools, and they may become part of the standard ways people interact with teleconferences.
The feedback you get in the official conference environment will probably be biased towards the positive, so you’ll need to make an effort if you want to know more. Make it safe for people to ask questions or indicate confusion, and never embarrass your attendees for asking. In fact, you might want to ask someone to keep an eye out for possible questions and ask them during your session. If he or she thinks of something to ask, other people in the audience probably have the same question, and they’d be relieved if someone stepped forward and asked it for them. That can also show people that you really do welcome questions and conversation.
If you have feedback channels that aren’t displayed—such as Twitter, perhaps with a hashtag you’ve suggested—you may be able to monitor that for more honest feedback (or at least it will be frank until people realize that you’re watching ;) ).
Being able to read what people are thinking instead of just guessing their thoughts is a great help when you’re giving a presentation. If it’s difficult for you to watch the chat or the interactions while giving a presentation, ask a buddy to do so, or take occasional breaks to review what’s being said.
Again, this might not work for all presentations and all audiences. If you anticipate a hostile audience, you probably want to be there so that you can make a personal connection and read the room. Some cultures seem to be more comfortable with the idea of chat and feedback than other cultures are. But if you’re probably going to have friendly, engaged participants who are willing to interact with you, make the most of the feedback that they’re happy to give.
I find that it’s much easier to adapt my talk to the responses from participants when I’m giving a virtual presentation compared to when I’m giving a face-to-face one. Even with all the current limitations of online feedback channels, reading people’s thoughts can beat reading people’s body language. Give it a try!
Every so often, I have these moments when I realize: This must be the future. It’s here!
On Wednesday, I received an urgent request for a Web 2.0 strategy and intranet design expert for a 5-week engagement in Europe. A $10M deal hinged on our ability to find such a person before the end of the week. The project team had already asked the usual groups, and everyone was fully booked.
I knew that we needed to cast a much wider net than just the people I knew. I summarized the request and posted it to our Web 2.0 for Business community inside IBM. I asked people to respond on the discussion thread, e-mail me, or contact the person who had sent us the request. The program manager for the deal found the discussion thread and posted some more details, and we asked people to send him their résumés.
The response was amazing. People stepped forward. They passed the opportunities along to their social networks, diversity groups, and communities. After a flurry of e-mails, Sametime instant messages, and discussion thread posts, we found a lot of strong candidates. The program manager contacted the top candidates and put together a package for the client. Along the way, I got to know lots of people with just the right skillset we were looking for. Suzanne Minassian-Livingston was right: IBM is like an amazing candy-store full of talent.
Problem solved, thanks to Lotus Connections Communities and strong social networks within IBM. I would never have found or thought of all of those people on my own, and it would have taken us too much time to work through the normal e-mail chains in networks. Not only did we solve the problem, we also created a powerful success story that showed the client the value of Web 2.0 on the intranet.
Hooray for IBM, Lotus Connections, and social networks!
I’ve been thinking of ways to get even better at communicating. Blogging and volunteering to do lots of presentations has helped me figure out what I want to talk about and how I want to talk about it, and I’m looking forward to exploring this further over the years. What could really help me take this to the next level, though, is working with a professional who can bring experience and a critical eye. An editor can help me distill my blog posts and presentations to the essential message, hold me accountable when I dither or when I skip over things that should be explained, and challenge me to express myself more clearly and vividly.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that kind of detailed writing or presentation feedback. Teachers are typically too busy to help each student figure out their core messages and refine them through successive drafts. At work, I’ve bounced ideas back and forth, wordsmithing with others, but nothing like what I hope to learn by working with editors.
I want to know:
I don’t just want feedback on typos or suggestions for individual word changes (unless those make spectacular differences), just as I don’t want my speaking evaluations to focus just on “ums”, “ahs” and vocal variety. ;) I want to get to that deeper level of value.
Considering the benefits of great communication skills, I think this is well worth using my opportunity fund—particularly if I can figure out how to create even more value with the results. (E-books? Articles? Awesome presentations?)
So, three weeks ago, I posted a quick job ad on oDesk:
I’m looking for an editor with an excellent command of English, a familiarity with blogging style (short, conversational, personal), a knack for presentation flow, and the ruthlessness to cut and rearrange words until a piece flows well and is no longer than it needs to be. I want someone to help me trim the occasional blog article and presentation until it’s clear.
You will not need to write content (or fake reviews, or astroturf comments, or do other icky things). Just edit to make sure that every word counts.
Turnaround doesn’t need to be immediate – you can fit this work around your other work.
When applying for this job, please submit before and after samples of your editing. The best applicants will have examples of both edited blog posts and edited presentations, and an innate hatred of business jargon such as “utilize”, “incentivize,” and “leverage” (when used as a verb).
If you would like to see my writing style to see if we’re compatible, check out http://sachachua.com for my blog posts and http://slideshare.net/sachac for my presentations. I write a lot of raw material which I occasionally refine into more useful articles, and I would like to take that writing to the next level. I also tend to obsess a bit about the logical flow and organization of presentations, and I would love to be able to bounce ideas off an editor who knows his or her work and who can provide fresh perspectives.
Looking at the list of candidates, I can’t help but want to hire them all. =)
It always amazes me that there are so many people in the world who can do things so much better than I can, and that with a little investment of time and money, I can tap their skills. Someday, I want to learn how to create even more opportunities to create value. I want to be able to bring people together to build even more complex things. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find and solve problems or make new things possible, working together with people who are doing what they love? The world is a candy-store of opportunities and talent, and I can’t wait to explore it further.
But first things first, of course. How can I work with editors so that I can learn what I want to learn, and how can I use this opportunity to practice creating value?
I’ve written a lot on my blog, and it would be interesting to review that archive, figure out what might have some kernel of value for others, and learn more about my thoughts and my voice. As I do that, I can pick the most promising posts, send them to this team of editors, and ask their feedback using the questions above. If their suggestions are enough to prod and inspire me, I might go and try to implement them. If I think there’s some more potential that I haven’t been able to reach, I can ask them to apply their editing magic to it, and I can learn from their example.
So that’s my plan. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from it! Have you thought of or done any similar experiments before? I’d love to read your thoughts!