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online presenting

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Most of us watch television and claim to ignore the commercials. Yet even small companies spend a great deal on TV commercials for one reason: they work. Large national or global companies spend an average of $350-thousand dollars to produce elaborate videos with sophisticated special effects. However, small companies in local markets with much smaller budgets still create effective commercials by following some of the same rules on a much smaller scale.

Online presentation creators can learn a great deal from small-scale commercials that produce substantial financial returns. Whether we present through live webinars or on-demand website presentations, TV commercials offer valuable lessons.

Lesson number one: Keep it simple. Successful commercials—even infomercials—seldom introduce multiple ideas. Whether they are promoting a restaurant, a tax prep service or a tire store they state their basic message in as few words as possible and then offer several proof statements to support it. Invariably they end with a call to action like, “call now”, or “stop in and talk to us”. They don’t make the fatal mistake of many PowerPoint presenters who try to tell a complex story by including a deluge of details.

Lesson number two: Use multi-media to deliver ideas. Some viewers absorb information from a narrator’s voice. Many people need to see the same words written onscreen. Still others relate only to pictures. Most effective commercials use all of these, along with graphics because each of these media forms strengthens understanding of all of the others. Most commercials also use background music, because the human brain retains more information, both consciously and subconsciously, with musical accompaniment.

Lesson number three: keep some form of motion on the screen. Low-budget commercials can seldom afford cartoon-style animations, but they continually change parts of the viewer screen by fade-in or fly-in of new pictures, new text, or new graphics. These changes keep viewers focused.

Online presenters can follow all of these rules with effective use of PowerPoint. That usually means that we need to eliminate some of the typical parts of PowerPoint presentations, especially the ones that bore audiences. Smart commercial creators never use screens full of static text bullets. When they use text it fades in or flies in to support the narrator’s message and disappears in a few seconds. Good commercials never dwell on a single picture, but constantly change to multiple views. Graphs and charts are used in their simplest forms and seldom dwell onscreen for more than a few seconds. If charts need to make more than one statement, they appear in segments as animations.

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The most effective on-demand PowerPoint presentations tell a story online. And the most effective stories benefit from rich background music.

Used properly, background music can transform relatively humdrum subject matter into a compelling presentation. Like moviemakers who use music behind scenes to create different moods, online presentation creators need to select music appropriate to their subject matter. For best results it’s important to select music that fits each presentation. Music chosen only according to a presenter’s personal taste can make an entire presentation feel out of balance. For example, serious classical pieces might be out of place behind a presentation around contemporary subjects like social media strategies. So-called “big” pieces that seem to signify earthshaking announcements are incompatible with relatively simple material.

To ensure that music doesn’t violate copyrights, presenters can select royalty-free licensed material for their backgrounds. Online sites like Music Bakery ( provide a rich selection of music catalogued by type and available for instant audition. Most pieces are available as inexpensive 30-second clips. PresenterNet users can upload short clips to their online Showrooms and set them to continuously loop during an online presentation. The result is a low-cost musical background that offers the same results as purchase of a more expensive piece.

Effective use of background music provides a polished effect that makes all presentation elements work harmoniously. Presenters creating on-demand material need to act somewhat like movie producers. A major element of their success is coordination of disparate pieces within their presentations. Background music is one of their strongest tools for pulling together voice, text, photos, and graphics so that they all fit together smoothly.

By using tools like music, concise voice narration, fast auto-advance, well-timed animations, and high-quality photos, presenters create an on-demand product that is entirely different from a typical PowerPoint file posted on a slide-sharing site. A fully integrated multi-media presentation flows smoothly and maintains viewer attention to meet the presenter’s goals.

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Engaging your audience during online presentations—either live or on-demand format—requires skills different from those used in a face-to-face meeting.

When we attend a face-to-face presentation, most audience members remain seated, despite a presentation that may be dull and boring. Even the worst examples of so-called “Death by PowerPoint” seldom cause a mass exodus. Audience members may mentally tune-out, doodle, or read online email from mobile phones and laptops, but they usually remain physically captive. That’s somewhat good news for struggling presenters who may find a way to recover after the first few minutes. However logistics, scheduling and travel constraints also keep their audiences comparatively small. And having all of the “right people” in a room at one time is virtually impossible.

Live online presentations and webinars provide better opportunities for larger audiences, and easier scheduling for the “right people” to attend. However, audiences can leave without being impolite. Many audience members will multi-task, since they have no presenter eye-contact. Presenters therefore must grab and hold their attention early. Online success requires attention to all aspects of the presentation: excellent script or notes, a well-practiced presenter, clear messages, attractive slide design, and perfect coordination.

On-demand presentations have the highest potential impact of any presentation medium. Often embedded on a website, they can be viewed 24 X 7 for months at a time. Along with typical web and search marketing traffic, on-demand presentations attract viewers through paid search like Google AdWords, and email marketing.

Nevertheless, every on-demand presentation must grab and hold viewer attention within the first 15 seconds or the presentation fails. Without the need to register or identify themselves, viewers treat an online presentation like any web page or video. If they’re not immediately engaged, they bail. And they are usually lost forever.

Our next few blog posts will explore the “Do’s and Don’ts” of on-demand presentation. We’ll begin here with our first “DON’T.”

DON’T ever post the slides from a live presentation on your website or a slide sharing site without embedding voice narration. Slides that may have been easily understood when supporting a narrator’s voice, do not deliver their message without narration. They are somewhat like watching a TV commercial with sound muted. And if slides are filled with text bullets, viewers will seldom read and completely understand them.

DO create a well-scripted narrative and embed it for each individual slide. Re-do the presentation to remove any unnecessary slides. Then embed narration and time it carefully to support the view onscreen, especially if the view changes through animation.

We’ll provide tips for creating a clear, professional style narrative in our next blog post.

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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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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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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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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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One of the greatest challenges for webinar presenters is maintaining attention of viewers that we can’t see. One great way to keep the eyes of all viewers onscreen is to create movement.

Viewers quickly tire of static images, and soon stop looking at a webinar screen until the slide changes. Presenters who stay on a single slide for more than a minute typically lose effectiveness. Attendees mentally tune out.

One good solution to this problem is to limit the screen time of any slide to 30 seconds or less. However, presenters may need more time to communicate their messages. The best tools then are onscreen animations.

The array pictured above for example, demonstrates how a single animated slide progresses onscreen. As the presenter speaks, animations advance to emphasize the next point in the slide’s overall message. The presenter controls them, ensuring that animations are timed to each point being made.

PowerPoint and other presentation graphics programs offer a rich array of animation features that can be used in many different ways. They can make photos, graphics or text appear or disappear, whenever appropriate. New items can fade in or fly in using a myriad of visual styles. Or items can morph into new forms.

Though animations can serve multiple purposes, their greatest value in webinars is to keep every viewer’s eyes on the screen, thereby keeping their attention. When they are used in pre-recorded on-demand webinars, animations can be perfectly timed to support a fast-paced narration. If accompanied by fast slide transitions, timed animations often create an effect similar to a tightly scripted video.

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Webinars have emerged as the web’s most effective and  inexpensive method of delivering business results. Businesses of all sizes deliver thousands of webinars daily. Sadly, most need to be greatly improved to deliver their true potential.

We view hundreds of webinars every year, and have been taking notes on the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re pleased to share seven tips that will enable any business to get far better results.

The first tip: Use Techniques that Maintain Audience Attention

Online Webinars are very different from face-to-face presentations. One obvious difference is that the presenter and the audience cannot see each other. The presenter therefore loses the power of eye contact. Even more important, there is no way to know whether audience members are paying attention. Are they still out there? Are they reading emails? Are they chatting with friends?

The best way to keep their attention is to make them into participants, by using interactive slides. Using the interactive slide example pictured above, the woman who is presenting begins her webinar by asking audience members to respond to the question onscreen.

The presenter then reads some of the responses back to the audience and mentions each respondent by name. She then promises to concentrate the webinar on the items that audience people have checked.

This request accomplishes two things. It empowers the audience to partially set the agenda, giving them a feeling of ownership. Equally important, the presenter has demonstrated that she is facilitating an interactive discussion, and each audience member must be alert to respond. This rapport uses the power of human nature as a presentation technique. No attendee wants to be embarrassed by being unavailable to answer.

Numerous studies have proven that participants learn and retain 70 percent more information when they are participating, instead  of  being passive viewers. And that’s the power of online interactivity.

(We’ll share the next six Webinar tips in upcoming posts.)

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