how to do a webinar without putting your listener into a coma

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Presenting in front of an audience is tough.  If you have ever noticed good public speakers, it seems like they almost make love to the audience.  In the age of SaaS & social media, webinars have become the standard for delivering information to customers, and like me you probably attended many of them that put you in serious risk of going into a coma.  The difficulty is in the fact that the presenter (you) is not there right in front of the listener and you have no control of what they are doing.  You can’t make love to the audience, you can only have phone sex.  And just like phone sex (so I’ve heard) chances are that if you are boring, the listener is not exactly doing what they say they are doing (they might also look different than they describe, but I digress..)

Here are some tips to delivering online webinars that will keep your listener non-comatose and will increase your success rate:

1. Shut the frack up!

knockoutThis is by far the most important tip to doing effective webinars. If the listener starts asking a question – shut up and listen.  If the listener interrupts you – shut up and listen.  If the listener so much as passes gas – shut up and listen!  This is your only way of knowing if you really have her/his attention, this is your only way of knowing if you are on the same page, this might be your only chance of getting back on track in case you are somewhere in mental wonderland and your listener is doing emails.  He/she may have decided to take the phone off mute and ask a question or two in hope of getting you to address something that actually interests them.  It doesn’t matter if you were just about to tell them that after signing up for your product their laptop will sprout a fountain of gold from the keyboard; if the listener wants to say/ask something – listen to them.

2. Stop to ask for directions

Since you are not in front of the listener, you don’t know if you are hitting the right spots.  Its just you, a computer, and a worn-out office phone.  Before you start your pitch, ensure to ask the user “what are the most important issues for you?”. Then while you are presenting often ask the user if you are addressing the right items of interest, and listen carefully to the answers.  And for items that you feel are relevant but the user didn’t specify, you can ask at a later point in the webinar – “now that we have covered the items that you told me were important to you: A, B, and C, I feel that also K and L could be very interesting for you, they usually are for customers that care about A, B, and C.  Would you like me to cover those as well?”

3. Get professional help

The only thing worse than a boring bullet ridden presentation, is a boring bullet ridden presentation where a salesperson is trying to prove their Powerpoint graphic editing skills.  Unless you are selling squares and circles, please don’t try to be a graphic artist.  Build a proper presentation that is attractive and coherent, and do it with the assistance of a graphics professional (if you think you don’t have the budget, you would be amazed what a freelancing graphics college student can do for a very reasonable cost).  I also highly recommend grabbing the most creative person in your company, and signing them up to assist with this task.  Get them to contribute creative ideas for the graphics & images used to empahsize your point, and please please please do not use a ton of bullets.

4. Tell short stories

For each topic that you have (and you will only cover some of them, per the listener’s interest) have short stories ready.  Don’t just read out a set of features, but describe a story around the topic.  This can be an example of another customer and what this particular capability has done for them, this can be a description of life without this benefit and a related horror story, or this can be a day in the life of a user.  The sky is the limit, and people love a good story.  But just make sure to keep it real, don’t lie and don’t tell stuff that sounds like you are reading a marketing pamphlet.  Keep it real.

disclaimer – Inkblot test displayed is fictional, if it resembles any persons that you know whether real or imaginary, it is pure coincidental.  Also, no frogs were harmed in the process of creating this blog post.

    • @olegshilovtsky
    • February 2nd, 2010

    I think, the biggest problem of webinar is that it still requires attention and time. Therefore, Id apreciate an idea of having webinars available on demand and blogs that can be used for open dialog with your customers, partners, prospects…
    Best, oleg
    —written from mobile device, excuse for typos–

    • BennyShaviv
    • February 3rd, 2010

    Oleg, I see what you are driving at, but I don’t really agree with you. If you are in the B2B world, any customer interaction takes time – and its worth that time as long as its a qualified customer. It helps you learn what the customer needs and to cater better to him. Webinars are very effective, as long as you know how to qualify your customers and how to measure your time investment vs. return. I do agree with the fact that many companies will do webinars indiscriminately without proper qualification, which is time consuming and takes attention away from the real customers and their needs. Customer self usage tools are effective as well if properly used and they are the lead to the human interaction. At the end of day the name of the game is building a machine that gets the qualified customers to the webinars – might do a post on that one… (maybe that is what you meant in the first place)

  1. Benny, I agree. However, the name of this machine is Google. So, you just put your webinars, write a blog and drive your customers to these links. Does it make sense? Best, Oleg

    • Ran Shribman
    • February 14th, 2010

    I can totally relate to this. As a sales person, the lack of eye-contact is tough. In a webinar the rule of “listen more than you talk” is even more important.

    • Michal Guelfand
    • February 16th, 2010

    Hi Benny,

    Nice reading your blog post !
    As you decribed, many of us, easily find ourselves very quickly bouncing off to reading our mails, answering phone calls, or talking to collegues who happened to stopped by our room, or our cubic, and it’s very hard to focus the attention of our listeners to our virtual presentation. (especially when we cannot tell them to turn off their mobiles from ringing….welll, we can try, but I doubt if that will work…;-) )

    I completely agree with your view of professional graphic assistance and short bullet presentation;
    and I very much relate to your story telling part.

    I would like to point out the difficulty in your suggestion of listening to your clients during your webcast.

    I think the only way it could work is if you have a very small audience that you are already familiar with personally, and if the purpose of the presentation is either brainstorm, finding a resolution together, etc.

    Otherwise, you can not ignore the technical obsticle of hearing your audience driving, eating, speaking, coughing, sneezing, whatever…and you need to keep the line silent, or else you can be sure you’ll lose your audience’ desire to stay online.

    What you could do with large audiences though is:
    1. when you send your “save-the-date” to the presentation, you can write some small blurb presenting the topic and the gains your audience will benefit from attending. At that point, ask people to send out their expectations and questions upfront. Then you will be able to address these questions during the presentation, and also thank the people who have asked them – this way they will also feel they have contributed to the discussion, and their question will be actually addressed.

    2. You could also pause twice or three times (not more) for some voting questionns online during the presentation. In this way you can monitor your audience satisfaction, or you can offer some topics and relate to the ones that are being voted the most. This – as you pointed out, will give you a more hand-on feeling and the direction you are looking for.

    3. After you’re done with your presentaion – post it where people can go back to it, ask your audience to raise more questions, and relate to them either in a follow up webcast, or other social media tool that you work with for everyone’s benefit.

    And a final comment, as much as the web makes the world small and opens tremendous opportunities that could have probably never beeen expolited otherwise, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction….

    Have a great day Benny, and keep on blogging !

    (Boy, was that a long blog comment, or what !)


    • BennyShaviv
    • February 17th, 2010


    thanks for your comments. Yes-keeping track of a large audience in a webinar is challenging. Thats why I made sure to use the word “listener” and not “audience” 🙂 I meant to focus on webinars that you give to prospective customers, typically its a 1-on-1 situation, or maybe a 1-on-few (from the customer side).

    larger scale public/audience/webcasts are do require entirely different tactics 🙂 , some of which you brought up. Hey – that might be worth a new blog post…

    regarding you comment on face to face interactions, I could not agree more (I AM a sales guy :-)). The challenge for SaaS companies is that in most cases the price of the license does not compensate for the cost of sale if you travel to the customer. Enter: “cool, exciting, kick-ass webinars” and efficient sales cycles.


  2. Benny, I couldn’t agree more.

    I also get where Oleg’s coming from, which leads to what I counsel clients to challenge themselves with:

    “If you’re going to talk AT and not WITH people, you’re wasting their time (and yours). Use an on demand recording (or maybe even a paper).”

    The key…if it’s live, you have unique opportunities to connect – and dialogue – at at distance. Use that gift wisely.

    Roger Courville
    Author, The Virtual Presenter’s Handbook

  3. And this is the reason I like Killer post.

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