Recently I (Roger Courville) did a short presentation plus extended interview for the gracious Toastmasters District 47. My host, David Carr, was the consummate journalist and moderator who provided me with the following questions in advance. I share so you can see how we think here at EventBuilder.
Why don't you start by telling us how you became a world-renowned authority on online presentations?
As for a reputation, that’s for you to decide if I’m renowned or not – I just study and teach and let the chips fall where they may! But to answer your question: persistence and passion. When I started in 1999 – the middle of the dot com boom – I fell in love with the fact that conferencing and webinars is first about communication and connection, not technology. I started studying computer-mediated communication and that curiosity plus a passion to help others has never stopped.
For those who are just starting to think about it, what are the opportunities for speaking online? What kind of online programs can we create?
I focus on real time communications, just to be clear, asking “What can we do when the communication is real time?” My recommendation is to start with what you’d do offline and then think about how to adapt it. Is it a keynote? Training class or multi-class program? Collaboration on a project? Meeting? Seminar? If you can do it offline, you can do it online. The medium transforms how you do it, obviously, but you can do it nonetheless. So the question might be, “What kind of programs can we create that serve our purpose?” Start with serving people, then figure out the different modalities through which to do it.
I understand you think many webinars aren't very good - or could be a lot better? What are some examples of how the medium is used poorly?
Usually we take the lesser exciting parts of what happens offline and those get emphasized online. Interaction – both audience-to-presenter and audience-to-audience – are minimized or eliminated and we do more infobarf over PowerPoint. It doesn’t have to be that way.
If someone knows how to give a speech in front of a live audience, will that make them a good online speaker or presenter? Will it at least give them a head start?
Certainly many elements of speaking well translate perfectly – how to structure your content, how to use your voice, all that. Moving online is a function of adapting to the medium, so there must be a willingness to be okay with change. You lose some things, and you gain some things.
In a more obvious example, if you tell a story as a speaker and then write that story down for a book or blog post, often something changes in how you tell it because it’s a different medium. A reader doesn’t hear your audible tone of voice or see your hand gestures, right?
Moving a live presentation to an online medium may mean the need to change is less obvious, but it’s just as important.
What are the skills that are just as important online as they are offline?
Content structure and storytelling. Vocal variety. Being able to ask insightful questions or facilitate interactions.
What are the challenges that tend to trip people up?
As mentioned before, failure to adapt. Oh, and the fact that there is so much poor practice out there that mimicking what you see others do leads people to make the same mistakes. (Check this out)
I know you have coached a couple of the World Champions of Public Speaking, who obviously demonstrated exceptional skills on stage. What did they have to learn about going online?
To be clear, a couple world champions are friends of mine. I spent an hour with one on his podcast, and the other I did do some coaching for. Given they’re both brilliant speakers and seriously good people, I focused on my specialty, which is helping others adapt to the virtual state. We just did it at a very deep level with them because they’re already expert at what they do on a terrestrial stage.
What is the best way to develop better skills for the medium?
There’s head knowledge and experiential knowledge. You certainly can accelerate the former because, unlike when I started, there are books, blogs, and a zillion webinars about webinars to learn from. Experientially, though, there is no substitute for repetition. It’s uncomfortable to do something new, so the question is, “Will you embrace the pain?” It doesn’t really have to be painful, of course, but don’t expect to be a rockstar in your first webinar or if you’re not willing to get some reps under your belt.
Given the option to use video in a presentation, should you turn on your webcam? How can good video help? How can bad video hurt? How do you make it better?
I’m going to give you a short answer. Any tool can be used for good or ill, and video is no different. Turning it on helps with personalization, but it doesn’t immediately solve the problem of attention. It’s part of what the audience is experiencing, but arguably a smaller part than you might imagine. You make it better by one, making it part of the whole and two, learning its boundaries so you can work within them.
I've seen a couple of Facebook ads for programs purporting to teach how to get rich giving webinars. Who if anyone is getting rich with webinars? (Can we all get rich, too?)
If you haven’t figured out what problem you solve for whom, how much they’re willing to pay to solve that problem, and what message and offer to put in front of them to get them to take action, just changing the medium through which you do your thing isn’t going to solve your problem. People who make promises that webinars will make you rich are opportunistic sharks picking on others who don’t know any better. And that’s putting it nicely.
We said we would focus more on skills than technology, but for those who are wondering what to look for in a webinar platform, what is your advice?
The differentiation is in the details and design. By analogy, if you don’t know what you want to do with a vehicle, any one will do. The minute you decide between hauling children and hauling gravel, while both minivans and pickups will do both, arguably the elegance of one emerges. The same is true for “webinar” platforms that fall into three general buckets in terms of being purpose-built: meetings, presentations/events, and training. If you try to buy one all-purpose platform, you’ll be making tradeoffs. Call me and in 15 minutes we’ll get you pointed in the right direction, regardless of whether or not EventBuilder is the right team for you from a professional services perspective.
How important is the choice of technology versus the skills we've been talking about?
It’s easy to think, “A real pro will make anything work,” but that’s only partially true. A real pro will adapt to what they’ve been given and make the most of it, but that doesn’t mean they’re operating at peak potential. That said, skills come first because they’re transferrable. Being an expert in a technology doesn’t make you a great presenter.
Again, many thanks to David and Toastmasters District 47!