One of the most common questions that we receive in our public speaking classes is, "Do the things that you are teaching us about in-person presentations change when you are on a webinar?" The answer to that question is both "Yes" and "No". The way that we teach people to design presentations is based on (1) focusing an the audience and what the audience wants and needs to know, and (2) make your content concise and entertaining. So, in those respects, yes, webinar creation is pretty much the same as an in-person presentation. However, there are seven important things that you need to know about webinars that make them dramatically different from other presentations. If you understand these key things, you can create powerful webinars that leverage your time and your reach.
This is article and podcast is part one of a three-part series. Part two will be about how to customize your content for a webinar delivery, and part three is about the technical aspects of conducting a webinar. In part three, I'll show you the software that I use and why I use it.
7 Important Things that You Need to Know about Webinars
- Webinars are a Fast and Easy Way to Deliver Bite-Sized Pieces of Content to an Audience.
- Webinars Can Expand Your Reach Very Quickly.
- Webinars are Not Suitable to Every Type of Presentation.
- Webinars Have to be SHORT in Duration.
- Webinars are Much Harder to Deliver than In-Person Presentations.
- You Don't Get the Immediate Feedback that You Have Communicated Effectively.
- Once You Get Good at Webinars, You Will be Viewed as an Expert in Your Field.
"Bite-size training achieves quicker outcomes without blowing the budget." -- Dr. Sebastian Baily, Co-Founder of Mind Gym.
When I first started coaching and teaching classes to business people, my first instructor trainer was a guy named Jim Bartz in Dallas. Jim used to harp on me over and over about the value of what he called "time-spaced learning". What he had discovered was that if you want your course participants to learn quickly and to retain the information, you get a much better result if you teach them a concept, make the delivery interactive, then give the class members time to apply the content in the "real world". His concept was to conduct short, half-day sessions of content at a time on a weekly basis. The strategy worked phenomenally well. In fact, when I designed my first leadership class as owner of The Leader's Institute ®, I used this technique. I created a series of six, half-day sessions spaced a week apart. By the end of the six week class, the participants had experienced a dramatic behavior change. They had learned and applied so much of the content, that many claimed to have had a life-changing experience going through the course.
However, as The Leader's Institute ® started to grow, I experienced significant logistical challenges. When I was just teaching classes in Dallas and Ft Worth, it was easy to travel across town six times in six weeks. However, when I began teaching classes in Austin and Houston, those weekly car trips were time-consuming and expensive. For the first couple of years, I remember booking classes in Chicago on Tuesday, Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday, and Indianapolis on Thursday just to keep my costs low. (It was cheaper to to pay for a single round-trip flight each week and drive to all of the locations than to pay for six flights for each class (18 flights). Needless to say, after a year or so of this, I was exhausted. Eventually, I began doing slightly longer sessions each week and condensed the class from six sessions to four sessions. I also had to train instructors in additional cities. As a result, I had to increase the tuition per person.
Technology fixed this logistical problem in the last few years, though. With webinars, I (or another instructor) can deliver bite-sized content on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis for little or no cost at all.
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"Electronic communication makes possible what has previously been excluded: namely, active, simultaneous and reciprocal contact between individuals across all frontiers constituted by countries, religions and continents." -- Ulrich Beck.
The major benefit of webinars is that anyone who has a smartphone or internet connection can access them. As a result, you have incredible reach in today's world if you use webinars. In a couple of weeks, we'll cover some of the different software packages out there that will allow you to broadcast a webinar, but there are so many options that we can't possibly cover all of them.
If you are an entrepreneur, you can generate webinar attendees by posting an invitation to your website and social media accounts. By doing this, you can reach potential customers all over the world. I've had people fly to the United States or into our classes in Europe from all over the world as a result of these people attending webinars that we have conducted. If you are creating webinars for an internal audience, you can communicate with employees in multiple cities, states, or countries all at the same time. We do this internally with The Leader's Institute ®. I have dozens of instructors all over the US, Canada, and Europe, so we will meet every other week via webinar to share success stories, cover training topics, and exchange ideas that would be very difficult to do logistically without webinar software.
Yes, there are a LOT of advantages to webinars, but there are also a lot of extremely important disadvantages as well. The main disadvantage is that webinars are not the best medium for certain types of programs. For instance, although we do conduct webinars on specific topics abut public speaking, there is a reason why we don't do a "Fearless Presentations ® webinar". Public speaking fear is a challenge that can only be overcome by experiencing a series of successes as a public speaker. So, if we were to deliver a series of presentation skill webinars to help people eliminate public speaking fear, we would likely not have very good reviews after just a few sessions. The main drawback to webinars is that there isn't a mechanism to coach people in your audience. So, although webinars are an efficient mechanism to deliver content to many people, the information delivery is often one-sided.
I know what you are thinking right now... "Wait a minute Doug... You do a weekly podcast? What is the difference?" If you are thinking this, you will probably have already noticed that, on my podcasts, I actively promote our in-person presentation skills classes in every episode. Yes, webinars and podcasts are great ways to access information efficiently. However, if you want to speed up the process of implementing that content, in-person coaching sessions work much better.
If you keep you webinar to around 30 to 60 minutes in length, and you let your audience know the duration ahead of time, as long as you have an interesting topic, you will likely keep most everyone engaged throughout the entire webinar. For every additional five minutes, though, you will either need to be very compelling and entertaining, or you will see a dramatic drop-off in attendees.
WorkCast conducted a statistical analysis of the optimal time for the length of a webinar (https://blog.workcast.com/whats-the-optimum-length-of-a-webinar). The results were pretty interesting. For webinars under 60 minutes in length, a majority of the people who attended the webinar live stayed on the entire time. However, most people who accessed the webinar as a recording dropped off after about 20 minutes.
While the study didn't address why the people viewing the recording dropped off, I can make a pretty educated guess. People are busy. If they are watching a recording, and they see that there is forty minutes left, they will begin to assess whether the first 20 minutes was worth their time. If the answer is no, they will drop off. Also, if they are attending live, the realize they will likely have a chance to ask questions at the end. Without that additional nugget, they often leave the webinar before the recording is finished. However, if you are concise in your delivery and you can keep your webinar length to 30 minutes or so, this won't happen as much. Human nature is that once they get to that critical 20 minute point, they will look at the toolbar and see that only ten minutes is left. As a result, they are more likely to finish the entire session.
By the way, for in-person sessions, an hour to an hour-and-fifteen-minutes is the optimal time for a presentation.
If you are nervous speaking to groups of people, then you may not want to cut your teeth on webinars. Webinars are dramatically more difficult to deliver than regular live presentations. You are likely to be exponentially more nervous conducting a webinar than you would be just standing p and speaking at a staff meeting in your office. First of all, you have more balls to juggle. In a regular presentation, you might have to setup a slideshow, but once that is done, you don't have to worry a lot about the technology involved in your presentation. In a webinar, though, you will have the webinar software to worry about. You'll have to remember to turn off the auto mute button that many webinar platforms have installed. (I once did 25 minutes of a webinar where I was on a roll covering all kinds of great content, but no one heard any of it because I had "mute" on the whole time.) You will have people chatting questions to you. You will inevitable have someone log on without headphones, and the feedback will make you have to mute all attendees.
All of these things are stressful challenges that are unique to webinar delivery. The absolute worst part of conducting a webinar, though, is that...
One of the things that our instructors reinforce in our 2-day Fearless Presentations ® classes is that one of the best ways to reduce public speaking fear is to "look for the friendly faces" in your audience. Most often, when you are communicating well in front of a group, you can look around the room and notice people nodding at you when they agree with you. If you say something funny, they will smile. However, on a webinar, this important feedback loop is missing. As a result, the nervousness of the speaker can increase as the session goes on versus decreasing like is common when we speak in person.
Next week, I will cover a few fool-proof tips to reducing some of this common tension and making your webinar more interactive.
Although webinars are tougher to get the hang of, and they can make nervous speakers even more nervous, they create a tremendous opportunity in the business world. When I'm teaching the Fearless Presentations ® class, I often tell my class members that if they want to be a great speaker, the bar is set pretty low. You don't have to be an exceptional speaker to be seen as good or even great by your audience. You just have to be a little better than the last speaker who put everyone to sleep, and your audience will love you. So, when people complete my classes, they are often extremely comfortable in front of a group because they know they are more highly trained than most people who speak in business.
In the webinar genre, the contrast is even greater. I spoke earlier about the study where many webinar viewers of the recordings drop off after 20 minutes. It is quite possible that another reason that they drop off is the the webinars were just flat terrible. So, if you are interesting as a webinar leader, you have the opportunity build a following of viewers who see you as the go-to expert in your field by using this technique.
So, now that we have covered a lot of the pros and cons of webinars, next week, we're going to show you how to create your content for a webinar so that your audience really loves you!