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Online Presentations

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The most effective presentations offer more than a series of informational slides.

The picture above illustrates a slide that asks a question, provides a way for viewers to answer, and captures their responses. It’s part of a new evolution of presentations, which are actually full-function applications. (Click here to view a DEMO PRESENTATION.)

Presenters and presentation designers need to ask themselves, “What’s the goal of my presentation?” For example, if the goal of an online presentation is to sell, the presentation needs to perform like a salesperson. Besides providing information, it needs to ask questions and capture audience responses. Just as sales professionals learn from dialog with prospects, presentations need the power to ask questions and capture important responses from viewers for further actions.

Presentations that perform functions like these are presentation-driven applications. They may be lead generation apps, sales apps, training apps, survey apps, focus group apps, etc. If they are posted online as on-demand or webinar-style presentations, their end-product is the information they capture. As such they meet mainstream business objectives.

An on-demand lead generation application for example, provides a clear story told by a narrator, who asks questions and captures onscreen response information from viewers. The questions are similar to the ones asked in a live sales discussion. The system captures all answers from viewers and makes them immediately available for marketing or sales follow-up. Whenever someone views the presentation, enters responses and requests follow-up, the system sends an email to a sales or marketing person.

The email alerts assigned people to evaluate the responses from each viewer who wants follow-up information. The responses determine what action should be taken. They highlight the really hot leads that need immediate action, and earmark others to receive appropriate marketing materials.

Since the presentation may be viewed on-demand 24 X 7, the application is called Continuous Lead Generation. PresenterNet has posted a demo presentation that describes the application in detail, including reporting and follow-up examples. The demo goes on to illustrate how the hot leads are handled, using live online presentations to immediately create a personal sales presence. The presentation is at


What’s the first thing that most people do in developing a new presentation? They open PowerPoint of course, and begin creating slides. That’s how they fall into the PowerPoint Trap!

Great presentations are stories. They may use pictures, graphics or charts as illustrations. But the words that come from the speaker’s mouth tell the story. A better tool for creating a presentation then might be a text editor like MS Word.

The easiest way to approach a presentation story is the traditional instruction: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you told them”. You also need to insert a call-to-action, identifying the most important takeaway of your presentation.

We recommend writing the story first in an essay format. Though you probably would never present it as such, writing it first makes the rest of the process much easier and more effective.

Once you’ve written the story, isolate each point as a separate sentence or paragraph, and paste each of them into the notes of a blank PowerPoint slide. Then looking at each slide, create the best way to illustrate the point. You might use one or more photos, PPT drawings, or charts to support the story visually. If possible stay away from text bullets, especially those that repeat the written text. Finally you can insert the obligatory chart, table or spreadsheet segment if necessary.

When the body of the story is in place, convert the text notes to speaker’s script segments. These vary widely, according to the project format, and your personal style. If you are creating an on-demand presentation for online access, you need an actual script, using short sentences and as few words as possible. If you have created the presentation for live delivery, you usually reduce speaker’s notes to a simple outline.

To capture the audience immediately, you might add an “attention step” to the beginning. This might be a cartoon, a news photo with a surprise caption, an inspirational scene, or anything else with a “wow-factor.” Then you can use the same or a related scene to close the presentation, tying it into the overall message.

And the final preparation step is: Practice, practice, practice!

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The first and most important step in creating a great presentation is planning. And effective planning begins with understanding your audience.

First we need to ask a few key questions: What’s the purpose of this presentation? Is it to sell, or persuade? Is to communicate and teach? Does the audience have a common thread or interest (e.g. technical people, energy conservation advocates, senior citizens, business people, parents, potential customers)?

What is the audience expecting? How long is their attention span? Is humor appropriate? Will they expect detailed information or should you just hit the high points? Is the audience online, or in-person?

Many presentation experts offer hard and fast rules: “Use no more than 20 slides”. “Never use text bullets.” “Sell the benefits.” “Don’t use complex diagrams.” Rules like these may apply in the right context, but they can be useless in others. So the best rule is “Forget about the rules. Consider the needs of the audience.”

How long should we make the presentation? This too is an audience question. How long can we hold their attention? If we are creating a sales presentation for example, the optimum size may be relatively short. But a presentation that communicates information that the audience wants to understand in detail, can hold attention much longer.

If we expect the presentation to last 30 minutes, how many slides will we use? There’s no absolute answer to this question, but we can consider a few guidelines. If the presentation is online, we want the screen to be active, using animations, scene changes, pointers, highlighters, etc. Each slide will probably be on the screen for no more than 1 minute. So a 30-minute presentation would require at least 30 slides. If we stay away from lengthy text and bullet points, we may use one slide for each point, making the total even higher.

Does that mean that all presentations move fast with large numbers of slides? Does that eliminate the use of tables, charts, and diagrams? No. But complex slides of that kind require special techniques. You might magnify key segments with animations, or use other methods to highlight pieces as you step through a complex slide.

In the end, it’s always about the audience. In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss presentation design considerations that provide the best experience for our audience members.

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Which of these statements is true?

• PowerPoint is the most effective presentation graphics tool in the world.

• PowerPoint creates the worst presentations possible worldwide.

Both statements may be true, depending on people, situations, and skill levels. PowerPoint has legions of fans and supporters. But for every proponent there is at least one detractor.

Occasionally we see PowerPoint presentations that are excellent. They communicate well and are visually pleasing. In parallel we see numerous PowerPoint files that are totally boring, confusing or amateurish.

The reason for this apparent contradiction goes back to the very first development of PowerPoint in the 1980’s. Early developers apparently explored a range of options. Some wanted to develop the most technically sophisticated tool in the industry, and to build the broadest set of capabilities imaginable. Others wanted to provide a tool that was so simple and easy to use that virtually anyone could open it and produce a presentation. At the same time, all developers knew that they would have to maintain compatibility with other tools that would eventually comprise a full office suite.

Predictably, developers were forced to compromise, and build the tool that eventually evolved to PowerPoint as we know it today. As with all new products, it was impossible for developers to foresee the environment they would create.

PowerPoint today has become extremely successful with hundreds of millions of users. Many of those users however, simply type text bullets then format typefaces, backgrounds, and borders to deliver presentation slides. This usually produces ineffective slides that people are supposed to read while a speaker is talking. Others insert diagrams, tables and charts to summarize their ideas. Unfortunately, those visuals are typically so complex as to require several minutes for audience understanding.

Why do we see so many weak presentations like these? They are the result of a well-meaning development team that hatched a product more than 20 years ago to enable unskilled people to use high-value capabilities.

Despite the many “death-by-PowerPoint” materials seen every day, there are also excellent multi-media presentations that communicate, inform and entertain. In upcoming posts we’ll explore some of these techniques and how they make presenters effective.


A live online presentation is almost as good as being face-to-face with an audience or a sales prospect. In some ways, it may be more effective than being there in person.

If you’re teaching a class online, you can enable two-way conversations. Students can ask questions, much as they would on a conference call. If you are using interactive slides, you can ask questions and have audience responses captured for later use.


On-Demand Presentations have some unique advantages too. They are excellent lead generation tools that can appear embedded on web pages 24 X 7. They can be viewed and listened to anywhere in the world at no cost.

When people cannot meet the schedule of a live webinar, they can often experience the same program pre-recorded on-demand.

Presenters using interactive on-demand presentations can create self-study centers. Students or trainees can choose from multiple lessons, and control them so that they are not restricted to the pace of an online live lecture session. Their presentation may be set up so that they can go back and repeat selected slides.

On-demand presentations can become interactive videos, using high-speed transitions, background music and other multimedia techniques.


Although on-demand presentations can be interactive, there is no live instructor to answer questions and build rapport. On-demand narrators can provide choices of subjects to be covered, but there is no way for a presenter to poll audiences and react to their inputs.

In final analysis the choice depends on the presenter’s objectives, the style and interest level of the audience, and the actual material to be presented. Potential audiences see live webinars as learning events. Because they are live, audiences perceive the information to be fresh and new.

Nevertheless, on-demand presentations are likely to move quickly, create immediate interest, capture new sales leads, and focus website visitors who might otherwise not digest your message.

Presenters can use both within a sales, training or marketing strategy. Either choice may be the right one, depending on the desired results.

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Every effective webinar needs a “call-to-action.” A completely successful webinar is seldom a standalone event. It is part of a series of actions planned to meet a goal. Typical goals are to attract attendees to purchase a product, to download new information, or to provide contact information for one-on-one discussions. Once the primary webinar messages are completed, the presenter articulates one or more calls-to-action.

The most productive calls to action come at the exact moment when every audience member’s interest is highest. If a webinar includes interactive slides, the call to action may be fulfilled as part of the presentation itself. For example, the presenter may encourage interested people to check a box onscreen or enter contact information.

However, presentations without interactive slides can also provide action opportunities, if the presentation screen is part of the presenter’s own web pages. The presentation screen can be on the same page as clickable buttons that lead to follow-on actions.

In the web page pictured above, presenters display media on the screen and can also reference items that appear on the page. This offers a smooth transition for a call-to-action. Presenters can say, “Maybe you would like to subscribe today. You can subscribe by clicking the button below. Or if you’d like to try our product free for two weeks, click the trial button. And if you would like more information, please click the button to download our white paper.”

When presenting through a web page, presenters can also offer more subtle suggestions. They can draw audience eyes to web page information like the bullet points on the example above. Or they can refer to other pages with link buttons.

Regardless of the presenter company’s tone or style, a strong call-to-action through a web page transforms a webinar into an important step in the overall process. Whether it is the first step or a step later in a relationship cycle, the webinar delivers messages with a clear call to move forward.

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How do you move the hearts and minds of an online audience to say, “Yes”?

Even when presenters intend only to educate or inform, they are selling a point of view. But moving a sale forward takes one more online step. Webinars offer a powerful way to sell a viewpoint or a product. But unlike a persuasive face-to-face encounter, a one-way webinar doesn’t offer an opportunity to bring people forward to take action.

The most effective sales professionals present an idea or a product and then solicit feedback. They test their potential prospects with qualifiers like, “Does this solution work for you?” “Are you ready to take the next step on this?” To add an effective qualifier to an online presentation, presenters need an interactive slide.

The presenter using the example above speaks to audiences of 25 or more and keeps them engaged as she explains a business arrangement. She then displays this slide as her qualifier. It’s a new form of the question “Are you ready to take the next step on this?” She instead asks all audience members to rate their interest level on a scale of 1 to 10.

Taking this approach, she accomplishes more than she would by asking the more traditional question. By moving the slider, each viewer becomes self-classified as a hot prospect, a potential prospect, or a non-prospect. The presentation system files each of these responses in a database, enabling the presenter to create a report that she can sort for follow-up actions.

All attendees who have rated their interest at 9 or 10 become immediate prospects, to be contacted as soon as possible following the presentation. People who have rated themselves in the midrange—5 to 8 may receive fresh marketing efforts. However they are not ready to enter closed agreements. People at the bottom range—0 to 4—are unlikely ever to become genuine prospects, and are therefore excluded from follow-up efforts.

By using an interactive slide in this way, sales presenters can get more out of their online PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint slides often require more than good design and presentation skills. In this scenario, an interactive slide becomes part of a strong sales closing application.

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First impressions count, and a great Welcome Slide makes a great first impression. But a Welcome Slide can do a lot more.

Many viewers initially log in with only lukewarm interest, wondering whether the scheduled webinar will be worthwhile or a waste of time. If they log in a few minutes early they need to see more than a plain screen or the presentation’s opening slide.

The Welcome Slide example illustrated above tells audience members that they are in the right place, and that the event will soon start. It also adds to the organization’s overall branding strategy. The slide prominently displays a logo and a distinct color scheme that consumers associate with the organization.

More importantly, it reminds viewers of the subject that originally attracted them, and introduces the presenter. Offering her picture, the slide is presenting her as a real person to whom the audience can relate. It offers the presenter’s credentials as well, with her degrees and current job responsibility. Finally it provides a call-in number and PIN, for use by viewers who will not be listening by VoIP (voice over internet).

This example also takes advantage of PowerPoint animation capabilities to provide an accurate countdown of minutes before the webinar will begin. The initial view of this animation is blank, but the presenter resets and starts animations five minutes before the program starts. Timed animations then change every minute, counting down to zero. This simple device keeps audiences onscreen, rather than departing to other tasks.

Many users leverage PowerPoint to make their Welcome Slides more elaborate. Some add an audio file with five minutes or more of wait-music. Others use animations to create a mini photo show on the screen, running through a few minutes of dramatic photos. Others make the Welcome Slide interactive, asking a poll question, and capturing answers from viewers as they log in. Any of these devices may serve to build interest and engage viewers until the actual presentation begins.

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Webinars have become one of the most effective methods of attracting qualified prospects. But with so many now being publicized, we need an effective invitation process that rises above the noise. The first objective then is to create a meaningful invitation. A simple text email won’t attract enough attention.

The invitation itself is a special kind of sales tool. It needs a compelling subject line, and should promote the presenter, especially if he or she has strong personal credentials. Using as few words as possible, the invitation must communicate that the webinar will offer new information or insights. And without being too loud, it must attract the eye and convey a feeling of professionalism. It should include a photo of the presenter, and any other graphics that emphasize the quality of the event.

Once the invitation is good-to-go, we need to reach out to enough people to meet our audience size goal. If we require pre-registration, we need twice as many people as our attendance goal. Typically, only half of the pre-registrants actually attend. The remainder may forget, or may be unable to spare the time from their last-minute scheduling. If we invite people from a general list we can only expect to register about two percent of them. Therefore an audience of 100 may require a list of 10,000.

Fortunately several good practices can improve the invitation success rate.

  1. Send multiple invitations. The first should be about two weeks before the event. The second should be 1-2 days before the event. The last should be a few hours before start time.
  2. Offer a choice of two different dates and at different times of the day. The individual audience size may be smaller for each presentation, but together the two events will reach more people than a single presentation.
  3. Offer a pre-recorded, on-demand version, to capture attendees who would otherwise be lost.

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How can audiences interact with a presenter if a webinar is pre-recorded for on-demand viewing? Top-flight presenters know that interactivity is the most effective way to keep audiences engaged. Interactive slides are therefore a “must-have” component of pre-recorded viewing.

Although a presenter isn’t available to interact directly, viewers can participate in shaping the presenter’s agenda, and can ask or answer questions. Shaping the agenda—providing optional viewer choices—requires the presenter to format a presentation into multiple segments from which audience members can choose. In the first example above, viewers listen as the presenter describes the subjects that he is going to cover and then asks the audience to select the subject to be discussed first. When the presenter completes the first subject, he invites viewers to choose another subject, or to skip ahead to a summary presentation.

Throughout this process, the presenter can ask viewers to comment or respond to questions, with all answers captured for later use. Viewers may also have opportunities to enter their contact information to request a direct call or email. As shown in the second example above, audiences often demand to ask questions. The presenter therefore pauses periodically for questions, and displays a slide for question entry. The slide includes a box to enter an email address for response, and a commitment to email an answer within 24 hours. By capturing the email address along with other responses from the viewer, the presenter has an opportunity to extend a relationship beyond the program, and potentially create a new client or customer.

By developing an interactive on-demand presentation, presenters can have the best part of two worlds. They create a presentation that may be promoted over a long time period without the limitations of scheduling or time zones. At the same time, they enable viewers to select information segments according to their interest. They create an environment in which viewers remain interactively engaged, and offer the potential of direct email dialog.

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