Remote Public Speaking The Right Way
Hosting a Webinar presents unique demands when it comes to holding your audience's attention. Here are some tricks to conquering the Webcast format.
Wed, September 09, 2009
CIO — As a card-carrying extrovert, there's almost nothing I like better than being on stage, making sure a room full of people are being entertained and engaged. Years of piano recitals banished my stage fright (talking on stage is ten times easier than performing up there) and the rest fell naturally into place with preparation and practice.
So imagine my distress when I discovered how nerve-wracking a solo webinar performance can be. By the end of it, I was out of breath, twitchy with nerves and having trouble swallowing—like a 12-year-old getting halfway through Debussy's "Claire de Lune" before freezing at the keyboard. (My mother never let me forget that one.)
The assignment had been deceptively easy. Talk for 30 minutes on a webcast about women and IT career paths. Show a few slides, take a few questions at the end. Never even leave my office chair. How could this not be a piece of cake, performancewise? What I hadn't bargained for was the deadly quiet, the utter lack of audience interaction. No eye contact. No heads nodding. No "sense of the room"—that vital sixth sense experienced speakers hone to alert them to the audience drifting away.
Worse than the sound of one hand clapping, this was the sound of one voice yapping.
"I've had that same problem of no feedback," says Zack Grossbart, author of an upcoming book on working remotely and a master of engaging Web presentations. "One trick is to have a friend in the audience, someone who can show up on your IM and tell you things like 'That worked really well!' or 'You're talking too fast!'"
This 31-year-old software engineer has been working with and coaching remote teams at companies like JP Morgan, 3M, Nortel and Hewlett-Packard since 2001. He's currently a consulting engineer working for Novell (remotely from Cambridge, Mass.) and looking for a publisher for his book, The One Minute Commute. (Learn more at www.zackgrossbart.com.)
The son of two psychologists, Zack comes naturally to his interest in how humans relate to one another. But it was his years of working remotely with a team of fellow engineers at Novell that sharpened his grasp of how to bond with an audience when you can't look people in the eye.
He identifies three big mistakes we often make when presenting remotely:
1. Assuming you have everyone's full attention even though you know perfectly well how much Web surfing and multitasking is, no doubt, going on.