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Webinar: Surprisingly compelling remote demonstrations

I attended a webinar today by Peter Cohan of The Second Derivative on the topic of doing remote demonstrations and doing them well.  Given the title, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was certainly compelling and done well.  It was one of the few webinars where I found myself actually paying attention during nearly the whole event.  While the focus was remote demonstrations, I think this advice applies equally to webinars.

How did he do it?  He was enthusiastic and communicated that to his audience.  He was prepared and he used as much audience interaction as he could squeeze into the webinar while still presenting the material in question.  That's the biggest difference: really bringing the audience into the remote demonstration.

Preparation: Be ready for the demo, and prepare your audience at the outset.

Of course, you should have your slides working and your demo up and running already.  And you need to be familiar with the features of the tools you are using for the demo (highlights, pointers, ...).  The kind of preparation Peter suggest is right at the start of the webinar.  Use the interactive features of the webinar tool to ask people if they can see the top right and bottom left of your screen (with a mouse wiggle).  Make sure people can hear.  Make sure you can hear people (in small enough audiences), and make sure you can mute people.  Ask people to tell you who they are -- in the case of this demo, he asked people to type their title into the Q&A panel.  Not only does this make sure everything is working with the technology, but it also brings people into the discussion right away.

During the demo: Now that you've got them engaged, keep them engaged. 

Peter said some version of "squeeze every ounce of excitement and enthusiasm down the wire to your audience."  To help the audience, make heavy use of a roadmap or overview -- use it more than you would in an in-person event because people jump in and out of online demos more frequently.  Ask people simple questions with yes/no answers at the beginning to get them comfortable.  Even ask easy questions throughout to keep people engaged.  Ask more involved questions at the usual points, and make sure to pause a good five seconds to let them type or unmute their lines for questions.  Use the highlighters and other tools of the medium to draw people's attention and show them things.  When using the mouse, be. slow. and. deliberate.  Fast, jerky mouse movements are guaranteed to scare people away.  If the demo is geared to a specific customer, see if you can get the sales rep to act as your local eyes and ears to help you gauge the interest of the audience.  The one specific advice around remote demonstrations is to consider having audience members take control of the demo -- possibly with a champion or existing superuser, depending on the demonstration.

Ah hah: I had an "Ah hah!" flash during this discussion.  A truly interactive and engaging webinar would have the backchannel available to everyone.  In most cases, there is a question and answer area, but the questions only get fed to the webinar organizers, as if the speaker is the only one who has the answers.  In today's world, this is just not the case.  Let people talk with each other to help them stay engaged too.  Of course, the webinar organizers will need a backup person monitoring the backchannel to bring the discussion back to the speaker.

In the summary of the event, Peter Cohan also mentioned the reverse of everything he discussed.  He has an entertaining Top Ten List of Inflicting Pain at a Distance (pdf) that is worth the time to read.  These are essentially opposites of what I've highlighted above, but you can read his own words in the details.  Peter Cohan's basic Top Ten List of Inflicting Pain at a Distance:

  1. Don’t Learn the (webinar) Technology
  2. Don’t Test the Technology ahead of time
  3. Present to a Large, Unqualified Audience
  4. Use a Speakerphone
  5. Use a flat, monotonic, Passionless Voice
  6. Move your Mouse Rapidly
  7. Eliminate Interactivity
  8. Don't use an Agenda or Roadmap
  9. Point at Your Screen with Your Finger
  10. Follow the advice in the Stunningly Awful Demos Top Ten List

Peter Cohan is also the author of Great Demo!, which has also evolved a community of DemoGurus (one month free).

Buckman's ultimate system from before there were intranets

The end of BlogWalk