I recently had the pleasure of co-presenting an AMA webinar with Anthony Salas from ReadyTalk. The event was a great success and a great time for the team behind the scenes. A recording and other references are available on the ReadyTalk site: “Webinar Best Practices: Engaging the Invisible Audience.” 

More than anything else, we were so pleased that our audience was so engaged, lively, and smart. From the opening movie trivia (yes – there was movie trivia) to the closing Q&A, a great many of the event attendees were actively participating in the conversation through chat. Unfortunately, we ran out of time at the end and weren’t able to answer everyone’s questions live, so Anthony and I have teamed up again to respond to all the questions that got left out in the cold when our hour was up. Here are my responses to the content-related questions:

From Anh Thu Burks: Regarding images…our company is cautious about using images that are found online.  How can we ensure that we are not infringing copyright or intellectual property when inserting images?

Anh Thu, the safest way to ensure that you don’t have any usage issues is to purchase your images from a company that sells stock. There are many providers out there, but two that I’ve used personally are iStockphoto and Shutterstock. iStockphoto also offers a selection of free stock images that are available through their subsidiary site, stock.xchng. I also routinely use a third-party Flick search tool called Compfight to search the Flickr databases for images that fall under the Creative Commons license.

When you pay for an image (which can cost you anywhere from one dollar to hundreds of dollars), you are buying the rights to that image and have permission to use it according to the particular usage rights in your contract. The bulk of the images used in webinars are royalty free, meaning that you pay a one-time fee and you’re all set. Free images often require that you include attribution with the image (i.e., “Image Credit: [insert creator’s name]). Each site will post its own standard terms – just give them a read and make sure you follow their instructions and you’ll be all set.

Regarding pop culture images (such as the movie stills we used in our presentation), you can usually use those without much fear of retribution. However, to be safe, I recommend including an attribution that includes the source (movie title, studio, etc).

From Barbara Souza: I’m not a speaker but I produce webinars and my challenge is finding an engaging presenter who can stay on track with their presentation.

Barbara, I think we started to answer your question during the webinar, but I wanted to reprise it here because it’s an excellent one. I believe Anthony suggested reaching out to people whose work you have already seen. In the case of the webinar Anthony and I presented, he found me when I responded to a forum question he posed on the Focus network. He liked my answer and – after we spoke on the phone – felt I’d make a good partner for this particular presentation.

In addition, I think it’s important to find someone who is really comfortable with the material. When someone is unsure of their expertise, they will sometimes get a little rigid in their presentation, potentially relying too heavily on notes. When someone really knows the topic inside and out, they aren’t worried about running into any content-related stumbling blocks and can focus on making the presentation more entertaining and lively.

As for the “staying on track,” I am a big believer in strategic outlines. As I explained in the webinar, a good presenter should think of herself as a teacher and think of her presentation in terms of a lesson plan. When you break the concepts of your talk down so that each part addresses an audience need, you can’t help but stay on track. Working with the presenter on rehearsals can also help to iron out any awkward segues and eliminate any places with potential for going off on an unrelated tangent.

From Craig Goldberg: I always seem to see a one hour webinar. Are they ever longer or shorter and is there a reason 1 hour is used?

Craig, I don’t have any empirical data, but I’d guess that an hour is simply the most convenient unit of time. Most people tend to block out their calendars in one-hour increments, so a one-hour webinar can be easily scheduled. An hour also breaks down nicely to allow for introductions (about 5 minutes max), the “meat” of the presentation (approximately 40 minutes), Q&A (usually about 10 – 15 minutes), and any “housekeeping” (calls to action, follow-up URLs, etc – typically only a couple of minutes).

I have seen other durations, both shorter and longer. These tend to be designed to meet specific needs. For instance, shorter duration webinars are usually promoted as such, the benefit being that the busy audience will gain some useful information in a very short timeframe. Longer webinars are sometimes required if there are a multitude of interactive elements or very complex subject matter. In my experience, 90 minutes is about the max for business webinars. Most people can’t allocate more than that in their schedules.

From Garrison Cox: Garr Reynolds (the Zen guy) suggests 2- to 3-page follow-up documents in Word — not the slide deck. Whaddya think?

Garrison, I think that how you follow up depends on your material and your audience. I agree with Reynolds that a slide deck alone is usually not the best choice. If you follow the best design practices we covered in the webinar and keep your slide content minimalist, the deck won’t be the most comprehensive reference document for your audience. I always like to archive the entire webinar (as we did with the ReadyTalk webinar) for replay. For additional reference, you can send an “executive summary” of the content. You can also provide a “worksheet” such as the one we used for our webinar. In our case, we structured it as a partially completed outline so that attendees could fill it out themselves – thus boosting engagement and also providing them with a summary of the topics. I’m also a fan of web-based follow ups – resource pages and such. From the user perspective, these can be most accessible (no platform, operating system, or software compatibility issues). From the presenter perspective, it gives your audience a reason to visit your site after the event, meaning you get another chance to interact with them.

From Lynn Drake: If you do have to use bullets, should you give the participants time to read the bullets?

Lynn, if by “time to read the bullets” you mean pausing in your presentation while they read to themselves, I’d have to say no. That kind of pause can really break up the flow and rhythm of your presentation. If you absolutely must use bullets, make them as concise as possible. That way, your audience can scan quickly without taking too much of their attention off you. If your concern is that the deck needs to do double duty as a post-event reference, you may want to consider creating two versions of the deck: one for the presentation (no bullets) and one for distribution after the presentation (include your original slide in a smaller format with your bullets off to one side).

From Mandy Sponholtz: How can you be minimalist with highly technical information?

Mandy (that’s my sister’s name!), Anthony touched on one great solution when we were live on the webinar – using screencasting to demonstrate complex processes that would otherwise require detailed step-by-step documentation. Another way to avoid information overwhelm is to adhere closely to the “one idea per slide” best practice. This will make your deck longer, but will help with your audience’s comprehension. If you need to illustrate the relationships between various concepts, “ghosting” is a great design technique – you show all the elements on a single slide, but only the one you’re speaking about is shown in full color. The other elements are “ghosted” back or shown in shades of gray. Finally, you can provide more detailed documentation as a follow-up to the webinar. If you choose to do this, I recommend giving your audience a heads up at the beginning of the webinar (and reminding them at key points in the presentation) that additional material will be coming their way after the event. This will hopefully help them to focus on what you’re saying without worrying about having to capture every single detail in notes.

From Paul Snyderman: How do you avoid practicing so much that you come off flat?

Paul, this may sound a little New Age-y, but try to stay in the moment. If you are able to remain aware of your own voice and energy level, you’ll easily be able to make adjustments on-the-fly if you start to mutate into Mr. Monotone. Standing up can also make a huge difference in how you project. When you practice, remember that your notes should be as concise as possible so that you never fall into the trap of reading your presentation. Your “cheat sheet” should include only the milestones of your narrative so you can fill in the blanks between them in a more conversational way.

From Tim Angbrandt: How do you determine amount of material to fit the timeframe?

Tim, The first thing to ask yourself is, “What do I need to include in order to answer my audience’s question?”  Whatever topic you’re covering, there is a question that the audience needs answered. Your first order of business is to identify how you can answer that question. Once you have an idea of the material you need to cover, you can create an outline to organize the content based on the various concepts you need to cover. The ratio between the number of concepts and the available time will determine how deeply you can dive into each point. Once you get into actual content development and start rehearsing your presentation, you will start to get a feel for how much time you need to address each idea based on the detail in your outline and notes. If you have a very complex topic, you may want to break it into a series starting with an overview and then doing deep dives on specific topics via individual webinars.

From Tracy Williams: How long did it take you to prepare a webinar like this?

Tracy, the time required to put something like this together hinges on your familiarity with the topic. If you know the material inside and out, it’s just a matter of making time to put the pieces of the presentation (concept, outline, talking points, images, etc) together. If, however, you need to include research in your preparation time, that can add a great deal of additional time. Assuming that you are pretty comfortable with the subject matter – meaning that you know what you want to say, you just need to know how you’re going to say it, I’d break it down roughly as follows:

  • 1 – 2 hours to do a little brainstorming around a concept for the presentation
  • 1 – 2 hours to put together an initial outline
  • About 2 hours to “flesh out” your outline with specific talking points
  • 1 – 2 hours to create your layout and template (if you don’t already have one)
  • 3 – 4 hours to source all your images (depending on how many you need)
  • 2 – 4 hours to put the actual slides together
  • 1 – 2 hours to create any follow-up materials (depending on what you decide to create)
  • 1 – 2 hours to rehearse
  • 1 – 2 hours to coordinate logistical details
  • 2 – 4 hours to develop and distribute promotional messages
All told that clocks in somewhere between 15 and 26 hours. Of course, there are many variables that can affect the total amount of time required, but this is a good average. If you can collaborate with someone, dividing and conquering the list of tasks can help to make very short work of the whole creative process.
So, that’s my extra two cents on the Q&A questions. I hope you’ve found it helpful and would love to hear your additional ideas and insights in the comments. Please be sure to check out Anthony Salas’ post on the ReadyTalk blog which includes answers to additional questions from the event.
Thanks again to the teams at ReadyTalk and the AMA, and to everyone in our fabulous audience.
Until next time!


Image Credit: opensourceway