TORONTO — Five minutes was all it took for Lise Archambault to hang up on a recent webinar.
In fact, the Ottawa-based travel agent, who works with Algonquin Travel & Cruise Centre – TravelPlus, didn’t even last long enough to make it to the actual start of the session. So appalled was she by the presenters speaking into a ‘hot mic’ about a private medical issue that she felt compelled to log off before they even got started.
“I could hear them speaking to each other and so I sent them a message in the chat box to tell them that they weren’t muted and that we could all hear them,” she tells Travelweek. “They either didn’t see it or ignored it. As they continued their conversation, I felt extremely uncomfortable and just hung up.”
For Archambault, who attends as many as 10 webinars a week, these online presentations have proven to be essential throughout the pandemic, particularly now as travel bookings start to pick up again. Noting her need to “see what’s in progress, what documentation is required and especially what sanitation protocols are in place in destination,” webinars are a pertinent way for Archambault to stay informed of a rapidly evolving situation so that she can, in turn, help her clients make future travel plans.
But as someone who has seen her fair share of Zoom sessions, Archambault has also picked up on various no-no’s and poor presentation techniques that can instantly turn a webinar into a major dud. She recalls one BDM who uttered “four to eight ‘ums’ per sentence,” which she says is a sure sign of unpreparedness, and another presenter who kept referring to viewers as “you guys,” an informal and male-based greeting that causes Archambault to immediately disconnect.
Tardiness is also a common occurrence, she adds, among both presenters and viewers.
“I logged on twice this week to a cruise webinar and the presenter was five minutes late both times,” says Archambault. “What also drives me nuts is when the host waits another five or 10 minutes to allow everyone the chance to log on. Why are you penalizing all of us who were punctual? It’s ridiculous and a waste of valuable time.”
Archambault does, however, applaud the suppliers who in her opinion do it right, with webinars that are professional, engaging and punctual.
“Well-scripted and rehearsed webinars are the best – get to the point,” she adds. “I like it when hosts ask participants to hold their questions until the end. And I absolutely want to know what the topics are in advance. Sometimes suppliers send out teasers to say they have incredible news to share, but it ends up being a complete waste of time. Webinars should never be more than 30 minutes long with 10 minutes for Q&A – it’s important to edit!”
All this may appear to simply be the personal opinions of one agent, however, according to Lindsay Leese of PitchCraft Presentation Coaching and Training, Archambault’s views hold plenty of merit. As a professional actor who got her start on Toronto’s famed Second City stage 35 years ago, Leese has built an entire career on the art of performance, facilitating corporate workshops and delivering keynote presentations on how improvisation can work to one’s advantage in both life and work. The majority of her clients are business speakers, internal moderators, subject matter experts, panelists, sales representatives and entrepreneurs, all of whom she has helped develop a ‘presenter’s mindset.’
Noting the proliferation of webinars over the last year, a necessary outcome of a pandemic that has enforced physical distancing and lockdown measures, Leese says that although remaining visible to clients is of the utmost importance, “how you do that” can make the difference between building and losing relationships.
“Good webinars help your company, bad webinars do not,” says Leese. “If the question is, how does the right kind of webinar improve client relations and enhance businesses? The answer is whether the webinar is providing clients with something they value or whether it’s really an Internet infomercial pushing what the organizer wants to sell.”
Leese is quick to remind presenters that a webinar is a “show” and suggests simple ways to keep viewers interested. While surveys, polls, videos and other media are the go-to engagement methods, she says audiences expect and deserve more creative elements to earn their attention. These can include sharing fun facts or surprising statistics, showing an unusual photo related to your industry and asking viewers to provide a title for it, incorporating a ‘show & tell’ portion during which speakers show a country custom or traditional item and share the story of its origin, and even borrowing segments from TV talk shows or game shows such as top 10 lists, word association games or quizzes.
Other tips for webinar hosts? ‘Cast’ your webinar with interesting guests and go beyond your usual circle of go-to contacts, weave audience questions throughout the webinar, and have a well-moderated panel discussion with provocative questions and lively interaction, which can be easily done if the panel is formatted as a debate highlighting pros and cons.
And like Archambault, Leese fully supports the notion of editing.
“Start strong, put your important topics and speakers up front instead of saving your most interesting subject matter until the end. Better yet, cut the duration in half by presenting only your strongest content,” she says. “I believe less is more. Most viewers value quality over quantity and the majority of webinars could easily be cut in half. Plan for fewer presenters, less selling and more content that provides relevant, helpful or actionable ideas.”
We asked Leese what she thinks are the top 3 mistakes made by webinar hosts, here’s what she had to say:
- Not giving the audience what they want. “We tune into webinars to learn something. When a webinar prioritizes selling over providing something of value to the audience, it sends this message: our interests are more important than yours. If you don’t know what your audience is interested in learning, ask them, stay on top of current events, and look at your own email outbox to see what questions you routinely answer. The best content is written by the audience!”
- Being dull. “Presenters don’t set out to be dull but when anxiety prompts them to control their delivery too tightly, it sucks the life out of things. Strive for a balance between being prepared with well-organized speaking points and being relaxed enough to share your personality and genuinely interact with spontaneity.”
- Not pursuing growth. “Make it an ongoing research project to discover fresh formats and new presentation techniques. Sign up for a workshop, take advantage of free resources and then create lower stakes opportunities to try new approaches. The best way for a presenter to build competence and confidence is through ongoing deliberate practice.”