On-Line Presentations

One of the trends these days in business is for meetings to be done on-line.  Typically the vendor sends her slide deck to the client. They set a time for an on-line meeting call.  The vendor presents the slides to the client.

This process is fraught with problems, and the only value to the process is a savings in time and money.  It is not an acceptable substitute for a face to face meeting.  I don’t think it benefits either side. But, that battle has already been lost and on-line presentations are here to stay (until some newer, better technology is introduced).

On-line meetings create bad presentation habits. The people giving them tend to not prepare as well as if they were doing a face to face presentation.  People get nervous when they have to present face to face and that nervousness translates to better thought out, better prepared, and better rehearsed presentations. For some reason when people prepare an on-line presentation, they just don’t put the same effort, rehearsal and thought into it.

It’s no wonder that clients complain that on line presentations are less focused and often plain, old boring.  In research, clients reported that he presenter often sounds like he is reading scripts, rather than having a conversation. Or, worse yet, reading slides, which the client had in advance and probably already read.

Here are Tips to help you put together more powerful on-line presentations. The first one is pretty obvious:

–          Treat your on-line presentation just like a face to face. Think it through carefully, prepare, and rehearse.

–          One of the ways to rehearse is to have notes on what you’ll say while every slide is up.  You’re not going to read the slide, but you will want to give color commentary on why it is there.

–          The tone of your voice is very important. Try to sound interesting and passionate. Avoid the monotone delivery style.  Maybe throw a few surprises into the presentation deck that weren’t there when you sent it over.

–          Smile.  The people on the other end of the phone can tell if you are smiling because it reflects in your voice.

–          As you present your on-line presentation, sit at the table that way you would if the client were there. Use good posture. Don’t slump in the chair.  I have a friend who goes as far as getting dressed in her business clothes when she has an on-line presentation from her home. She wants to put herself into that business aura.

–          Check in with the client regularly during the presentation.  Check in means asking questions about the presentation and or things that have been presented. When you present some factoid, for example, ask the client if they found the number surprising.  Try to get some conversation going.  Ask if this is the specifics they were looking for. Ask if the presentation is working for them.  You want to keep the line of communications active and you don’t want the client to be lulled into playing a game of Sudoku while you present.

–          Pay special attention to slide #2 in your deck. This is often the slide that coveys the takeaway you want the client to remember.  Slide #1 is the title slide. Visualize the process. You get your client on the phone. There is some small talk about the Red Sox and weather. Then you get started. Slide #2 gives you the opportunity to say “We’re going to cover a lot of stuff in the next 20 minutes, but this is the point I hope you’ll take away.”  It really gets everyone focused on the business at hand.

–          If you are presenting with others from your team, by respectful of the client. Don’t allow people to make faces and have side conversations.  They wouldn’t do that in a face to face, they shouldn’t do it here.

–          Use navigational headings on your slides to remind the audience of where you are.

–          Work to keep your presentation focused, which should help keep it to a shorter length.

–          After you put all of this together allow enough time for one or two rehearsals. An ideal rehearsal would be where you can record the presentation into a tape recorder, as you are presenting it to a colleague at the conference room table.  I like having a live person there for rehearsal because you’ll be more animated and, if they do make a face about something, perhaps they are telling you it isn’t clear.  After you record the rehearsal, wait an hour than listen to it as you click though slides. Does it work for you? Have you found places where you are not clear, or where you have extraneous material, or where a different order of information would make a clearer presentation?

–          One of the complaints from presenters of on-line meetings is that, because the client already has the full slide deck, they jump ahead and want to get to some issue 30 slides in right away.  There are a few ways to handle this. They are the client, and if that’s how they want to handle the meeting, it’s difficult to stop them.  You also need to be brutally honest about your presentation.  Was there so much fluff in it that the real meat didn’t start until slide #30?  I prefer to say up front that “I know you have probably looked at the whole deck already, but I would appreciate the opportunity to present the slides as planned.”  If this is a persistent problem, it might be something better handled separately in a more private conversation.

–          Like all good meetings you should have a proper close to your presentation which includes some call to action.  As a result of this presentation, what do you want the client to do next? Review and get back to you? Move to the next phase of the project? Send a formal proposal? Whatever that next step of the process is after the on-line presentation is the last thing you should discuss. Try to be as specific as possible on what you will do and when you would like feedback from the client.

–          Don’t forget to follow up with an e-mail of the meeting notes with particular emphasis on the action steps you discussed in the last step.

If you have the time, try one more rehearsal after all your fixes. After all, this is what you would do if you were presenting face to face. Why should you do less for on-line?

If you do a lot of on-line presentations I think it is also valuable to occasionally ask the client how effective these on-line presentations are, and is there anything different she would like to see done.  You never know.


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