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THE INNOVATION ISSUE

 Table of Contents | Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

April/May 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 3 | Page 24
TECHNOLOGY

TIPS & TRICKS

IS ANYONE OUT THERE? HOW-TOS FOR BETTER WEBINAR PRESENTATIONS, PART 1

Traditional in-person CLE programs are going the way of the dodo bird. Quickly taking their place are CLE programs delivered via webinar technology. But if you want to be a presenter in these online seminars, you have to work harder to engage your audience.

Remote CLE makes huge sense in a tight economy, given how it saves attendees the time and cost of attending programs in person. And for growing numbers of lawyers, CLE webinars are the preferred mode of remote education. A core advantage of this format is that it goes beyond the simple teleconference by allowing attendees to view and follow PowerPoint presentations in realtime—just like in a live CLE program.

As the popularity of this format continues to grow, more and more lawyers will find themselves as presenters in webinars, too. But be aware that significant differences await you when you present in this format. To help you master the art, let’s dig into some tips on how you can be the ultimate webinar presenter.

What’s the Big Difference?

Since lawyers (especially litigators) are generally comfortable in front of an audience, it might, on first blush, seem like an easy thing to transition to presenting in the webinar environment. But it is not. Doing an online presentation is very different: The audience can’t see you—and you can’t see the audience. There is no spontaneous feedback, no gauging your success by their facial expressions, no laughter to cheer you on and let you know that you’ve got their attention. You are just talking to your silent computer screen— that is what makes it harder than it seems.

And remember, webinar attendees aren’t subject to the formal strictures of a live CLE audience, so they can easily succumb to distractions. Think of all the things they can do: doodle, read e-mail, eat lunch, go for a walk to grab a coffee, talk to the person in the next office, or if they’re really bored, they might even work on a file.

Obviously, the usual attention-getting stunts, like jumping around on stage or just wearing a loud tie, won’t work here because the audience can’t see you. So you have to work harder to give a presentation that is more engaging for the attendees. These next steps will help you do that.

Writing a Road Map

First, you want to have a lively panel-style discussion lead by an active chair or moderator. Each speaker should do three-to-five-minute segments on different topics. This keeps things dynamic and interesting. Attendees will go to sleep if the same voice drones on for longer than this time frame. The usual CLE format of speaker A for 30 minutes, speaker B for 30 minutes and so on is just too boring and monotonous.

Second, to make sure that things aren’t totally ad hoc or go off topic, the moderator needs a road map. This comes to life in the form of an agenda or script, which should cover all the requisite bits that make up a complete and proper presentation. It should outline the opening remarks, introductions, topics to be covered, transitions by the moderator, the closing, and time for questions at the end. All speakers should have input when drafting the script, so everyone is actually prepared and knows what they’re talking about in the seminar.

Each speaker can use the basic script to prepare a more detailed outline of the comments they want to make during their respective parts of the program. For some this will mean point-form outlines, while for others it will be word-for word comments.

A great way to collaborate on your script is to have a brainstorming call with all the speakers using GoTo-Meeting (www.gotomeeting.com) or a similar screen-sharing application. This lets everyone contribute ideas about the topics to be covered, and it lets them prepare transitions between the different topics to be covered. It also helps the moderator prepare transition comments that are a good mix of questions and statements—you don’t want a script full of predictable and obvious questions.

When creating the script for programs I moderate, I also work with an Excel spreadsheet outline, which helps keep track of the topics, the speakers and the time to be spent on each topic. (Click on the Web-Only Extra link on the magazine’s home page for a sample CLE program script template.)

A good script will leave a cushion at the program’s end, of 5 to 10 minutes, in case things run behind (which they often do). You can also use this time for some banter on new topics that attendees raise in their questions.

Also, in case the audience doesn’t ask any questions during the Q&A portion of the program, you should have some “pocket questions” ready for the moderator. These are questions that the various speakers have prepared answers for in advance. On programs I moderate, I also like to have each panel member prepare a one-minute final thought. This is a great way to finish a program on a positive note (and if you don’t get questions, the panelists can usually fill in a bit more time on these on-the-fly).

Of course, there are also a number of other issues to think about when doing a webinar, including your PowerPoint slides, the computer you’ll be using and the amazing tools that let you interact with an audience. We’ll cover that and more in the next Tips & Tricks installment

About the Author

Dan Pinnington helps lawyers avoid malpractice claims and looks for good tech tips in Toronto, ON. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine.

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