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Tips & Tricks

Packing a Punch: How-Tos for Better Webinar Presentations, Part 2

Use these pointers on the tools and tactics that will help you avoid snafus and become the ultimate online presenter.

Even though you can’t see the audience and they can’t see you, webinars let a presenter and attendees interact in new and really cool ways. But you have to do your homework if you want to prepare and present your online CLE program without hitches.

The previous installment of Tips & Tricks laid the groundwork for a good agenda and solid content in a webinar presentation. In Part 2, let’s focus on some of the other issues you need to think about, including creating your PowerPoint slides, avoiding computer snafus, and using your webinar software’s features to interact with your audience.

Prepping Webinar PowerPoints

When creating PowerPoint slides for a webinar, remember that the online format lets you ignore the 6 x 6 rule, which advocates six points with six words on each slide. That rule should almost never be broken for a live presentation so that people in the back rows can easily read your slides. However, when sitting at their desks looking at a computer screen, people can read more information. So more content in your online slides is okay, but not too much. You want them listening to you, not reading long passages, right?

Also, light-colored print on a dark background generally provides higher contrast, and thus higher visibility, in an online format. However, for any “handout” materials that attendees will print out to accompany your program, you take a different tack, since light text on dark doesn’t work well for printing. So in the Print dialog, under the Color/grayscale option, remember to select Pure black and white to have black text on a white background for your handouts.

To make your presentation more interesting, don’t use a standard template on absolutely every slide. Vary the slides in format and layout instead, adding graphical elements or pictures tied to the topic of each slide. Change background graphics or colors, and intermittently use a photo on some slides. A great source for no-cost clipart and royalty-free photos is the Microsoft Online Clipart page.

In webinars you should use little or no animation or slide transitions because they just don’t reproduce nicely across the Web, especially for people on slower connections. However, if you can’t resist it for some slides, know that a slow fade-in is better than a fast fly-in. You can find more about preparing better PowerPoint slides in earlier Tips & Tricks columns available in the online Law Practice archives at www.lawpractice.org/magazine.

Prepping the Computer

A technology meltdown can interrupt but may not totally kill a live presentation, since you can still troop on without your PowerPoint or a microphone. (I know, I’ve done it.) But that’s not the case with a webinar, where random technology snafus can mean no presentation at all. That’s why it’s very important to do everything you can in advance to make sure the technology won’t fail you.

There are a number of technology logistics issues to think about. First, which computer will you use? If you use a computer from the CLE provider, you can avoid compatibility problems with the provider’s webcasting software. However, snafus could arise in different areas. For example, running a Power- Point created on a different computer can cause problems if there are font substitutions (i.e., fonts used to create the PowerPoint aren’t on the new computer) or if there is missing audio (i.e., it was an external file on the other computer). The best way to identify and fix these problems is to run a test session before the actual webinar.

If you’re presenting from the comfort of your office or home (one of the cool options in the webinar format), you’re more likely using your own computer. But again, you should still do a test-run before your presentation to make sure everything will operate properly. In particular, make sure that the webinar software and any other applications you’ll be using will operate without problems. Remember, too, you may need to have administrator rights to install and run some webinar applications.

When using your own computer, also remember to have a power brick and do a clean boot without unnecessary background applications running (IM or chat, e-mail and the like). And for heaven’s sakes, put your computer in Presentation power mode so it doesn’t shut down in the middle of the seminar. You should also clear your browsing histories and remove silly or inappropriate stuff on your desktop—and don’t check your e-mail during the webinar! You’re going to be “sharing” your screen (more on that in a moment), so don’t take a chance that someone else can see what they should not.

Lastly, be prepared for a computer disaster by making sure you have a backup copy of your PowerPoint on a thumb drive or in your online email account. Consider sending it to the CLE provider’s staff before the program so they can run it from their end if there are problems with your computer. If this case, you should also have a printout of your slides, the seminar agenda or script, and any notes you need. If you’re demonstrating specific software as part of the session, have a second laptop with all necessary software on it in case there’s a problem with the first computer.

Using Webinar Application Tools

Among the common applications that CLE providers use, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Acrobat Connect Pro and similar products have similar features, but each has a different look and feel and operates in slightly different ways. You want to be confident and comfortable navigating the slides in your presentation and using the other features these products offer.

At the most basic level, these products let you share some or all of your computer screen across the Internet so webinar attendees can see what appears on your screen. The presenter and attendees will have similar screen contents, although there are usually a few extra things (like a list of attendees) on the presenter’s screen. The host of the presentation, which will usually be one of the CLE provider’s staff members, is like a super-user who can change or access anything and will take care of setting up and configuring everything.

The largest part of both the presenter’s and attendees’ screens will consist of a box with content that you designate as shared so attendees can see that particular content. There are different levels of sharing:

# You can share an individual document (e.g., the PPT deck you are using). For most presentations the CLE provider will do this for you.

# You can share an application (e.g., PowerPoint itself), which lets all meeting attendees see everything that happens in that application. You would share at this level to do a software training or demonstration session on a specific program.

# You can also share your desktop, which lets attendees see everything on it. But holy smokes (getting back to our earlier point), be careful with this: Remember, they will see everything you do (so don’t check your e-mail)!

Note that anything that is shared can be marked up with annotations (such as arrows, text, circles, freehand marks and the like). Those annotations can be saved and shared electronically as well. And you can even give control of shared content to attendees as you want.

Another neat feature for brainstorming or collaboration purposes is the whiteboarding functionality offered in most webinar products. You can share a virtual whiteboard with your attendees, and some (or all) can add to it if they are given sufficient privileges. The bonus: All the content added to the whiteboard is electronic so it can be saved and distributed at the end of the webinar.

Interacting with Attendees in New Ways

Webinar applications offer several interesting tools for interacting with attendees in ways you just can’t do in a live CLE environment. The options include a basic Q&A function, a chat function and a polling function. The results of all three can be captured electronically and used or printed after the program.

Q&A is the easiest to use, while chat requires more effort but makes the session much more interactive. For the Q&A, attendees have a simple panel on their screens that lets them type in and submit a question. The presenter’s Q&A panel will have a list of all submitted questions. Attendees don’t see an answer until it’s posted, and answers can be sent only to the person who asked the question or to all attendees. The chat function works just like any mainstream chat tool, and presenters and attendees can chat with each other as the presentation proceeds.

Even experienced presenters, though, can find Q&A and chat difficult to deal with while they are doing a webinar. After all, in the live setting you often don’t take questions until the end and you rarely—if ever—have to deal with multiple people throwing questions at you at the same time. However, anyone who uses one of the common online chat tools should have no difficulty using webinar Q&A and chat features. Also, you can have someone other than one of the presenters—such as a session moderator—help handle questions and chat discussions.

In addition, several of the webinar tools have polling functionality that facilitates getting audience feedback, testing knowledge or taking a vote on something. The results are instant and are shared with all attendees, and individual or group results can be saved. And you can have various question types, such as multiple choice, short answer or so forth. It’s best to create your polls before the presentation, although you can create one on the fly.

Lastly, another cool thing is that some webinar applications have a notetaking feature, which allows one or more designated people to input notes electronically. The notes can be hidden or visible to attendees during the webinar, and they can be easily saved and distributed in electronic format at the end. Some webinar products also allow you to record all that is done on screen and capture the audio as well.

To get a better idea of how these tools work, there are some great online tutorials for using WebEx at http://support.webex.com/support/howdoi.html.

I hope this two-part Tips & Tricks has you excited about doing presentations webinar-style. Be it CLE or otherwise, online seminars are exploding in popularity, so if you want to be a 21 st century presenter, webinars skills should be an essential for you. Good luck with your first, or your next, webinar.

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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