I was talking to one of my mentors about the recent presentation I’d given on Remote Presentations That Rock. I told him that I actually prefer giving webinars over giving face-to-face presentations because I can connect with people better that way. This surprised him, because most speakers still treat webinars as a poor alternative to face-to-face presentations. So that prodded me to figure out why webinars work really well for me. I suspect there’s a good series of blog posts and maybe a presentation in here about virtual presentations and real intimacy, so let’s explore!
Here’s where people typically sit in an in-person presentation:
This is a tough room to speak to.
Gross overgeneralizations, of course. Steve Jobs probably never has to deal with this, but if you’re not a celebrity presenter, you might’ve seen something like in real life.
How do you deal with it?
Approach #1. Ask people to stand up and move to the front. You’ll get a few people to move, but most will shrug it off with “No, thanks” or “I’m fine where I am.” You can’t spend too much time on this either, because it gets really awkward, and you run the risk of making your audience hostile.
Approach #2. Remove seats or book a smaller room than you need. If you pack the front rows with people, the character of the room can change significantly. If you removed seats, you can always add seats as more people come in. This requires more effort and coordination, and the organizer really needs to take charge of this because you’re going to be doing a lot of prep work as a speaker already. Alternatively, book a smaller room if possible. Downside: you limit the number of people who can attend your talk.
Even in packed presentations (such as technical talks for hundreds of people in the audience), these challenges are still there to some degree. A stage separates you from people. Without a stage, however, it’s hard for a large audience to see you. The larger the audience is, the more challenging it becomes to connect. You need to use a microphone (wireless lapel mic, if at all possible), and you need to worry about microphone feedback and sound quality. And people will still experience your presentation differently depending on where they sit and whom they sit with.
Now think about webinars. If you use a decent webcam and a good teleconference system, you can put everyone in the best seats in the house. They can hear you well (none of this “Can you hear me in the back?”). They’re close enough to see your facial expressions. There are no gaps in seating and no divisions between front, middle, and back.
And best of all, social proof now works on your side, because the only visible interaction is the interaction from engaged, interested listeners. Other people might cross their arms, scowl, fall asleep, or close the session, but they no longer have as strong an influence as they would in a real-life presentation. Instead, your keeners can easily influence the rest of the participants. If you build interaction into your talk, such as full text chat (instead of moderator-only text chat), everyone sees the conversations that your keeners start, and that’s often enough to bring everyone else in. Even people who would normally sit in the back can see not only that people are engaged, but also what they find interesting. You can see and respond to questions that would’ve normally caused people to fall behind and disengage from the presentation. The conversation might turn hostile (and you’d better be watching it if it does!), but even that comes from interested and engaged people. If someone says “This is boring!”, at least that person cared enough to type it in instead of just leaving—and you can respond by changing your talk.
For really high-energy presentations that involve lots of collective audience interaction (such as asking people to chat with their seatmates or to sing along with you), being face-to-face still rocks. But for many, many presentations, sitting in the best seats in the house can transform people’s experiences. Try it out for your next presentation!
Next post in “How I learned to stop worrying and love the webinar” - Part 2: From Audience to Individuals
In a few hours, I’ll be talking about social media with hardware and home improvement dealers at the Hardlines Dealer Conference.
I’m excited! I’ve been looking forward to this
presentation conversation for months. It’s a different crowd. Most of my presentations and consulting engagements so far have been with people who are in front of computers all day, and it’s hard enough to address people’s concerns. What about people who are in stores or on the road all the time, particularly small businesses who might not have dedicated online marketers? I expect that some people in the audience will be very savvy when it comes to social media, and lots of people will be more hesitant. Instead of bombarding people with lots of tips or making mainstream people feel left out, I want to use that valuable face-to-face time to address concerns, show people that they’re not alone, and help them find small, concrete steps they can take that fit in well with their business goals. The Internet is changing so much that it makes no sense to give bleeding-edge one-size-fits-all tips; it’s better to make sure people have the confidence to take the next step and an idea of how everything might fit together.
We’re also going to test this idea of an enriched speaking engagement: not just a talk, but also slides, transcript, additional resources, answered questions, and maybe even sketchnotes of the two talks before me. Because I don’t like boring people with bullet points, my slides have very little text on them. I want people to be able to remember and share the key points afterwards, though. I’m going to record the talk, turn it into a mini e-book, and share it with people as a follow-up.
Here we go!
This Wednesday, I’m experimenting with two virtual ways to connect, and I hope you’ll join me in figuring things out!
From 3 PM EDT to 4 PM EDT on June 19 (Wed), I’m joining Augustin Soler and Chuck Frey to give a visual thinking webinar organized by Matt Tanguay. We’re each giving a 15-minute presentation with Q&A. Augustin will talk about Lean UX Process at Mural.ly, Chuck will talk about 5 Brainstorming Tasks You Can Manage with Mindmapping Software, and I’ll talk about How to Use Evernote to Improve Your Visual Thinking. There’s a nominal fee of $5, but you can register for free with the promotional code “sachachua”.
Spoiler alert! Here are my notes.
By the way, you can find my public Evernote notebook of sketchnotes at https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/sketchnotes .
I’ll do a quick demo of my Evernote setup and processes, and I hope people will pick up lots of timesavers and interesting ideas from the short talk. It builds on my previous blog post about how I use Evernote to support my sketchnoting. Since a lot of people don’t know that you can use Evernote to search image notes or publish notebooks of your sketches, it’s good to share these tips.
15 minutes each is not much time for demo/Q&A, but if people ask lots of questions in the webinar chat, I’d love to answer those questions in follow-up blog posts and conversations. I’ll be recording it on my side, and Matt will probably record it on his side as well. Looking forward to sharing the notes afterwards too!
In addition to the webinar, I’m also experimenting with an open Google Hangout about blogging from 8PM to 9PM EDT on Wednesday, June 19. I’ve been thinking about where we can take this blog and what I can do to make it better, and I’d love to hear from people. Google Hangout seems like an interesting way to connect. =) If I can get to know people through that – what are you here for? what would you like to learn more about? – and get lots of questions either over video or in the text chat, I think that would totally rock. Shall we give it a try?
To give you a sense of what it’ll be like, here’s a rough sketch that I’ll use at the start of the hangout:
I’m really interested in virtual meetups and communities because I don’t want good ideas to be limited to geographic locations. I want to help figure out ways that people can connect and share—visual thinking, sketchnoting, Quantified Self, Emacs, blogging… Although Toronto has a very active in-person meet-up scene, there are all sorts of interesting people around the world, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to bump into each other online. Can you help me experiment with these ways and figure out how to do even better?
If you’re interested, you can register for the visual thinking webinar (again, free with the promotional code sachachua, but paying for admission helps the organizer defray the cost of the online meeting service) or sign up for the Google Hangout (when it’s time for the event, just click on the “Hangouts” link to join the call!). I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions about the topics, and your meta-feedback about these ways to connect online!