In addition to being author of the seminal handbook on the topic of virtual presentations, Roger Courville has a worldwide following of virtual presenters and facilitators. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies and the American Management Association.
JATHAN JANOVE: Doesn’t being a good public speaker mean you’ll necessarily be good at conducting webinars?
ROGER COURVILLE: Absolutely not. I’ve experienced too many speakers who are captivating on the platform but dreadful online.
JJ: Why is that so?
RC: Think of acting as an analogy. Some actors succeed on Broadway and struggle in Hollywood, and vice versa. It’s all acting, right? Any change of medium changes the sensory, cognitive, and social aspects of communicating. If you want to rock it, you’ll need to adapt.
JJ: Let’s say someone approaches you and says, “I’m confident about my speaking ability in public but not via a webinar. How do I get there?” Aside from buying your book, what steps would you advise the person to take?
RC: Figure out how to talk with people instead of at them. You “get it” when you’re on the telephone. Don’t let a webcam or PowerPoint transmute you into a talking head devoid of humanity.
JJ: What do you mean?
RC: The question I’m most frequently asked is, “How do I engage people I can’t see?” The truth is you simply need to be engaging. Tactically, in webinars or virtual classes you have tools that give you a “view” of your audience that you don’t have on the telephone. These are like the dashboard of your car . . . you glance at them, and they tell you what’s going on.
JJ: What are some examples of these tools and how do they work?
RC: Full-featured web conferencing platforms have the capability to display attendees’ questions and to chat with attendees (both publicly and privately); features such as the “hand up,” check marks, and emoticons; attention detectors and meters; polls/surveys/tests; and others. Some of these tools (like a real-time poll) are more beneficial for your presentation if you plan to use them in advance, but many (or most) can be used on the fly. That moment when you’re presenting and, off-the-cuff, you say, “Give me a show of hands if you’ve ever…”? can be seamlessly mimicked in your online presentations.
JJ: What’s a “Roger Courville Personal Favorite?”
RC: Plain, simple dialogue. Step 1: Open up the question-and-answer or chat panels. The default in web conferencing requires you to go hunting (or clicking) for them, which isn’t very conducive to real-time discussions. Step 2: Dialogue with the audience in your natural awesome way. Step 3: Watch the questions-and-answer and chat areas for responses.
Here are a couple of variations.
I usually speak to larger audiences where, like during a conference call, you would never want all the audio lines open. For this reason, text-based communication from the audience is near mandatory. As a bonus, create inclusion by being the “voice of the audience” by reading out some of the responses (e.g., “Julie says that she had turnips for lunch, and both Mukesh and Karl had tacos!”)
In a smaller meeting where the audio lines are open, encourage participants to respond in the way that is most comfortable for them. Many participants (e.g., introverts or Millenials) prefer to use text-based communication even if they could otherwise speak up.
If there’s a close second, it’s that “hand up” button. It’s fast, easy, and you don’t always need a typed personal response.
JJ: Any final advice for the aspiring virtual presenter?
RC: Don’t expect it to be the same as presenting in person, but don’t get caught calling it worse. The change of medium means you lose something, but you also gain something. If you write it off before getting to that aha! moment, you’re going to be leaving money on the table.