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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  September 01, 2008

Speaking At Remote Events: How To Be Present When Your Body Isn’t

Originally published for RainToday.com

Between high travel expenses and the fun of working in your jammies, e-events work for presenter and audience alike. But many presenters make the mistake of treating this format like a typical speech. Webinars and teleseminars have a different dynamic, a different relationship between presenter and audience. Below are two of the biggest distinctions between a remote event and an in-person speech, and two strategies to make your next e-program the best one yet.

Lack of feedback and focus

Like many performers, speakers respond to the energy of the attendees. Professional presenters constantly read their audience’s body-language and can adapt to that reaction in an instant. When a speaker knows the attendees are responding well, they relax and “play” with the participants. It’s those interactions that create classic spontaneous “moments” no one forgets. They also can spot the “problem children” and know how to draw them back in.

Webinars and teleseminars lack that unprompted give and take. When speakers don’t have that visual feedback, they can’t adapt to the audience in real time. They are presenting in a vacuum, having no idea how their ideas are coming off or if they need to change course. Result: Their energy naturally goes down. Going through the material – rather than being with the audience – becomes the goal.

The second difference is also about focus — of the audience. In a speech, the participants are more captive. They are gathered in a room, away from their normal environment, not surrounded by the distractions of their office. Most of the time, they are there voluntarily (except for the poor trainers who have to teach the “hostages,” those participants forced to attend by their supervisors). And yes, while it’s possible to check email via our blackberry, the physical presence of other people is more compelling. The audience pays more attention because they don’t want to “miss anything.”

Participating in Webinars creates the opposite setting. We are alone, safely tucked into our most comfortable environment. A place rife with tempting distractions and no way to get caught. Now be honest: How many of us have checked our email while listening to a webinar? Surfed other sites? Read the Google RSS feeds? It’s much easier to multi-task when it’s right in front of us. Result: All of these options make our attention span shorter than it already is.

Start smart

So how can we counteract these differences? By adapting the way we present from the very beginning. In live speeches, many presenters start by introducing themselves and explaining their background. This introduction is important because it creates the context for their remarks. Researchers explain the methodology; business people focus on their experience and track record.

Audiences in remote events need the context but not necessarily at the beginning. Many have already read your bio, so there’s no need to start with an in-depth recap of your experience. If you start with that information, many attendees tune out. Their thinking: “I’ve already read this. Wonder what’s in my email inbox?” And getting them back is a lot of effort.

What’s needed is what insiders call a “bomb”: Something that will immediately provoke attention. It doesn’t have to be obnoxious or overly controversial – just an insight that can immediately change their perspective. It lets the audience know they are in for a wild ride and to pay attention or they’ll miss something good.

Then, you can relate your experience back to that remark. Keep the bio short and move on quickly. You can also relate to your experience throughout the session, as long as the key point stays in the spotlight. Examples: “I’d say that the majority of my clients want (enter key benefit here) and find that (enter key point here).” Or: “I get hundreds of emails a month about (enter biggest challenge here), and the most common question I get is….”

Don’t data dump

Without the visual feedback, humor becomes much more risky for the presenter in remote events. Rather than risking failure, many speakers depend too much on the material and overload the audience. The thinking: If the content is compelling, the audience will stay engaged and won’t shop for shoes on the Internet. (I plead no contest.) The result: The audience gets overwhelmed and tunes out. They “half-listen” and the multi-tasking begins. Bottom line: Drinking from a fire hose is not intriguing.

Humor serves a very important function: It gives the brain a break to process the insights that were just unveiled. It also bonds the audience by sharing laughter from a common experience. The best alternative for remote events: stories and Q and A.

Many professional speakers use stories to make their points come to life – and create opportunities for situational humor. For remote events, the story changes. Have shorter vignettes or examples for every key point. And have more of them. It’s better to have less content that the audience remembers than more content that they forget. Stories engage, and shorter attention spans need that engagement.

Question and answer sessions serve the bigger need: the attendee’s agenda. Everyone on that call or online is there for a reason. They need more information to make a decision, or ideas to implement. By breaking more frequently for questions, you get the chance to clarify your points. It is critical to clear up any mysteries as soon as possible; confused participants stop listening until their question is answered. So don’t save the Q&A for the end. Break the program up into segments that include questions before moving on.

Conclusion

Remote events are everywhere and for good reason. They are effective branding and education tools that get our point of view into the marketplace. Different formats need different presentation strategies. By addressing the lack of visual feedback and shorter attention span of our audience with strong openings, more stories and Q&A interactions, we can use these programs to boldly go to markets we have not gone to before.

Filed Under: Speaking


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.