Creating effective slides for online presentations is actually really hard. Much harder than creating decent slides for use face-to-face, and most people can’t do that. But the thing is, that if your slides aren’t good, then presenting a webinar effectively just becomes incredibly difficult.

In the same way that putting  up a bunch of text and reading it or explaining it when the audience can just read it doesn’t work when presenting face-to-face, it also doesn’t work when presenting online. Self-explanatory slides don’t work – whether you want to present them online or in person.

But then, there are extra considerations for presenting online. When presenting in-person, audiences are somewhat restrained in how they respond. It’s rude to get up and leave, so people are less likely to do it. It’s rude to check email, or type replies, or talk on the phone. Some people do these things – even in a small meeting room with a presenter next to them – but not as many as do it when nobody is watching and when the speaker is in another city.

Also, when presenting in person, the speaker herself provides a whole additional point of interest. The presenter can move around, wave her hands, point at things, look at the audience, smile, or even accidently trip and fall. All these things can be visually engaging – to different levels. When combined, slides and speaker usually give the audience something to look at. Interacting with the slides to focus the audience’s attention on something, or using the ‘B’ or ‘W’ keys to blank out the slide to make the audience focus on the presenter, can take this further. Make the speaker invisible – because they are presenting online – and all of a sudden the slides need to work much harder. So does the presenter’s voice.

So, why do so many webinars leave text-heavy slides on screen, unchanged, for minutes at a time? I think that’s a stupid mistake. The audience will read the slide in five seconds, and then the slides will be ignored for the next couple of minutes. The webinar becomes a podcast. The audience start multi-tasking, and the presenter needs to work really hard to retain – or regain -attention.

We think that something should change on screen every fifteen seconds or so for a webinar. That can mean a new slide, or animation within a slide, or the use of mark-up tools to annotate or highlight slides. Leave things unchanged for longer than fifteen seconds, and things become unnecessarily difficult for the presenter. Our style of slides uses plenty of animation within each slide, but then, we’re pretty good at using PowerPoint. If you find it easier, go from slide-to-slide, picture to picture – that can work too. Annotation can work brilliantly – but is harder to get right if you are reading a script. Consider using an assistant, present from notes, or plan breaks from a script to show things on screen. Just keep things moving quickly.

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Joby Blume

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  1. Image of Annabella Annabella says:

    Dear Joby,

    Thanks for this post. I agree it’s really hard to present something properly if you can’t do it in person. I just wanted to make you aware of a website called Present.me. It’s good for situations when you can’t be there in person to give a presentation but feel that your PowerPoint isn’t a sufficient explanation of your topic. So you upload your slides on to http://www.present.me then record yourself through your webcam explaining them. I’ve found it really useful- and because it’s video and slides, I can explain all the bits that are a bit ambiguous in my PowerPoint. And it’s free! Hope this helps! Annabella

    • Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

      Annabella

      Thanks for the comment/advert.

      I’ve looked at Present.me, and I really wouldn’t recommend it for two reasons:

      1. The slides don’t animate, so everything I say above about using animation is impossible to achieve. The slides end up pretty much irrelevant, especially because –
      2. The speaker video isn’t super-imposed on the slides, it sits separate. So the audience don’t know where to look – slides or presenter.

      Presenting online does present unique challenges, but they can be overcome. For an on-demand recording of presentations, I think there are plenty of solutions out there that support animation, and that’s far more important than being able to place a video of a presenter next to a static slide. As static slides add so little, just skip them and upload a video of yourself to YouTube if you want to record a speech.

      That said, it’s always useful to consider new things, so thanks for bringing it to our readers’ attention.

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