A discussion of all web presentation software would be impossible;
more than 100 different packages are out there, with more added all
the time. As if that weren't daunting enough, most of them do
version or feature upgrades at least once a year. Instead, let's
focus on the main features you can use to make your learning event
Understanding the main features
Here are the main features that you need to learn:
- PowerPoint and document sharing
- application and desktop sharing
- annotation tools
- webcams and video.
The most important part of a web presentation may be the audio.
Basically there are two ways to get audio for your web
presentation: the telephone and Voice over Internet Protocol
The key to effective audio is to keep your pace crisp and
energetic, but not too fast. Also, remember that audio can (and,
whenever possible, should) be a two-way tool. Encourage people to
participate by asking for feedback in specific situations such as a
question-and-answer period. As the presenter, it's your job to
facilitate and direct traffic so you won't be interrupted
unnecessarily, but people should feel comfortable contributing.
Basic guidelines for using the telephone include:
- Use a landline phone rather than a cell phone for presenting.
- Use a headset if possible. You want your hands free to run your
presentation tools and to gesture and project physical energy.
- If you can't use a headset, a speakerphone will work, but be
aware that you will pick up all the background noise in your
- If members of your audience are going to use the telephone
rather than the audio provided by the platform provider, make sure
they know how to mute their phones.
- There is a difference between "mute" and "hold." A lot of web
presentations and meetings have been ruined because someone put his
or her phone on hold and all everyone heard was a chorus of beeping
or unpleasant muzak.
- Many companies control telephony costs by using their regular
audio conferencing provider for all web meetings and presentations.
- If you have more than six people on a call, consider muting all
callers until you want them to speak.
Basic guidelines for using the telephone Voice over Internet
Protocol (VoIP) include:
- You need a microphone and a headset.
- Turn off your computer's speakers. Leaving them on and using
the microphone in your computer will give you unpleasant feedback
and cause significant delays.
- If you plan to open the microphones for the audience members to
participate, make sure they know to use headsets and microphones
instead of the microphone in their webcam or laptop.
- If you're a presenter, you don't need to spend a lot of money
on a microphone, but don't buy a cheap one either. A good
headset/microphone combination will run you about $40 - $50.
- You are at the mercy of the speed of people's Internet
connection. This type of presentation will work best if you know
everyone in your audience has a broadband connection.
PowerPoint and document sharing
This is the most basic feature and the one that most people
identify with web presentations. The core of most virtual
presentations is a slide show deck that you share with the
audience, but you can share any document you create, for example,
PDF files or text documents, which can make true collaboration
possible. Imagine members of your team seeing you create and make
changes to the team charter as you go.
Or imagine showing your team how you created the annual budget,
taking suggestions as you go. If you are using animation in your
slides, be aware that it may function a little differently in this
environment. Be sure to test any animated slides before your
presentation to ensure they work the way you intended.
Application and desktop sharing
This allows you to share any type of application on your computer.
Imagine you're doing a sales call or conducting a training seminar
for a particular technical tool and you want people to experience
the product live, in real time. Not only can you show participants
the product, but you can also actually let them input data and
experience the software for themselves. Application and desktop
sharing is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal and the
one most presenters fear using. As with any of these tools,
rehearse using it before your actual presentation.
If you're an experienced trainer or meeting facilitator, you have
probably consumed a great deal of paper by using flip charts.
They're wonderful tools: You can use them for brainstorming,
creating lists, giving instructions, and even taking issues offline
in "the parking lot." The whiteboard on many platforms gives you
the same ability without the environmental consequences. Simply
share the whiteboard with your audience and write on it using the
Some platforms allow you to cut and paste pictures or text
directly, but that's an advanced skill that most platforms don't do
well. You should know that this tool is prone to lag, so often as
much as a minute will pass between the time you type something on
the whiteboard and the time it appears on your audience's screens.
An advantage to this tool is many platforms allow you to save the
whiteboard as a Word document so that you have a permanent record
of your activities. This is great for team meetings, taking
minutes, and other functions.
This tool allows you to come close to the interaction you would
experience in a live meeting. It also intimidates many new
presenters because they fear losing control of the meeting, and it
adds to their stress because they have to follow what's going on in
the chat while they're presenting.
The power of using the chat function cannot be stressed enough,
especially if you have a large number of participants and want to
engage them. Here's the best way to think about it. During a live
presentation, some conversation among audience members isn't always
a bad thing. That's where you get questions; participants give
their own examples and generate energy.
There are even laughs to be had. Yes, it can be disruptive, and
it's up to you as the presenter to set the ground rules and
facilitate the meeting effectively so things don't get out of hand.
It is the exact same thing with online presentations.
The following are four occasions when you would want to encourage
people to chat:
- You want them to be interested right from the beginning. By
encouraging them to chat, you send a clear signal you don't want
them to just put you on mute and answer email - you expect them to
- You want to lessen their trepidation about using technology.
- You want to assess their knowledge without conducting formal
polls and assessments - a simple "true or false" or "agree or
disagree" question is a great way to make sure you're on point and
they're following along.
- You want them to know each other. In team meetings, they will
be a stronger unit for knowing the strengths and weaknesses of
other members. Allow them to add input, make comments, or question
You have a lot of power as the presenter. If you want participants'
input but don't want them chatting with each other, you can use the
participant or attendee permissions feature. You can allow them to
chat with each other in the public room (where everyone can see
everything), send chat messages only to the speaker, or chat with
each other privately.
Chat is probably where you'll find the biggest technology gap with
your audience. Younger audiences, who spend a lot of time texting
each other and chatting on Facebook or instant messaging, will know
instinctively how to use the tool, and you probably couldn't stop
them if you tried. Less tech-savvy audience members might not be as
familiar with the tool. They may not know that LOL is a compliment
(it means "laughing out loud") or feel comfortable typing their
thoughts. A little patience and encouragement will get them
This tool allows you to ask questions of your audience and get the
answers in a form that is easy to share. You can ask a
multiple-choice question such as, "What department are you with?"
and see the results as percentages of the audience. Or you can
administer quick assessments and quizzes. This is a fairly
sophisticated feature and is best used with larger audiences where
just asking questions out loud won't let you hear from everyone.
Polling is a good tool for engaging the audience early - it's
actually fun to vote and see the answers appear. Audience members
won't feel quite so isolated and will have a chance to participate
rather than sit passively. This tool also allows you to see the
data as colorful graphs, which is a great way to make your
presentation more visually arresting.
Depending on the platform, you can either build these polls and
questions well in advance of your presentation or log in to your
presentation early and have them ready to go. More sophisticated
applications like Cisco WebEx Training Center and Citrix
GoToTraining allow you to see individual answers to questions (good
for training, but you probably don't want to share such information
with your audience) and keep transcripts so you can use the data
after the event.
One of the simplest ways to liven up the visuals in your
presentation is to use what are often referred to as annotation
tools. These include highlighters, which allow you to mark up your
PowerPoint slides for emphasis; text tools, so you can write on the
slides for brainstorming; and various colorful pointers, check
marks, and arrows so you can check off the bullet points as you
cover them, point out visual data, and generally give people
something interesting to look at.
More than a minute or two looking at the same PowerPoint slide will
make even the most dedicated audience member start to tune out.
Learning to speak in front of a group while adding visual
excitement to your computer screen is a great way to build your
credibility as a presenter, generate audience interest, and stay
engaged as a presenter.
You can also allow participants to use annotation tools to write on
a whiteboard, mark up a PowerPoint slide, or show you, for example,
where they think the new swimming pool should go on your design.
Remember to ensure your permissions settings are configured to your
specifications. This way, you can avoid such distractions as
someone mysteriously doodling on the screen because he or she wants
to know what that button does. Double check your permissions
settings and tell your audience members in what ways and when they
can mark up the screen.
One of the great advantages of a webinar or virtual presentation
over an in-person presentation is that creating a permanent record
of the event is incredibly easy. There are numerous ways for a
webinar to be useful. For example, a webinar can be a training tool
to bring new people up to speed. As a meeting tool, it can allow
people who couldn't attend the event to view the record of what
happened (no more excuses for missing action items!). It can also
be a coaching tool for you as a presenter. You can view your
presentation as a means of improvement.
Think about what this means for team meetings. No longer will those
who aren't able to participate have to rely on meeting minutes or
secondhand reports. If people can't attend your event, they will be
able to go back and view it at their leisure. Training becomes more
than an event - people can access your knowledge on demand. This is
a great example of how recorded presentations can have greater
reach than traditional presentations.
Plan to record your web presentations for later use. Most platforms
make it easy to save recorded web presentations in a shared file or
even embed them on websites for archiving. Recording also makes a
great training and coaching tool. You can review your recorded
sessions and see what the audience sees and hears. Sometimes it can
be painful, but there's no better feedback mechanism for
presenters. The best part is that if you're unhappy with the
results or you do the presentation again and get a better version,
recordings are easy to delete.
Webcams and video
These tools hold a lot of promise but are the source of much
frustration for both audience members and presenters. They do some
things very well (create human connections) and have their
difficulties (tend to freeze up). Just know that unless both you as
the presenter and your audience have good, high-speed Internet
connections, you are setting yourself up for a rough experience
with video freezing and computers crashing.
A good way to use your webcam is to turn it on during the beginning
of your presentation to create a connection with your audience and
then turn it off after introductions. Showing streaming video
during a webinar or web presentation is still difficult. Short
clips work best, but make sure you test them thoroughly on a
variety of computers and with various levels of Internet connection
before making them a critical part of your presentation. Use these
tools where appropriate, but until the technology catches up with
demand, use them sparingly.
Using the features for maximum impact
Having these tools at your disposal doesn't mean you have to use
all of them, every time. What it means is that by carefully
considering what you're trying to accomplish, you can make smart
choices about what to use. Consider the following four types of web
presentation and how their various functions could be used
strategically to get where you want to go.
These presentations are usually one-to-many broadcasts, which means
you have a large audience that you want to keep engaged while you
get your message across. To do this, you might want to use one of
the following tools:
- Internet audio - this means they'll be listening and speaking
through their computer speakers, microphone, or headset. This is
becoming more common as the technology improves and more people use
laptops with built-in cameras and speakers. It's cheaper for large
audiences, and they won't need to speak anyway. Many platforms,
like the "GoTo" family of products actually allow you to have a mix
of telephone and Internet audio.
- Webcam - because not everyone at the meeting will know who you
are, you want to connect with participants as best as you can.
- Polling - before launching into your presentation, you might
want to know what audience members' level of knowledge or comfort
is with the topic. If geographical information is important,
polling is a great tool for finding out that information.
- Chat - encourage comments and examples from the audience as you
go along. Don't hold questions until the end, when it's too late to
adjust your presentation.
- Annotation tools - use the highlighter and check features if
you're going to be on a single screen for a long time.
- Recording - post the webinar later for those who missed it the
These tend to be one-on-one or small group meetings, so you have
the opportunity to provide more individual attention and build a
connection. These are some tools that work well for this type of
- Audio - make it as simple as possible for audience members to
connect and speak. You want them asking questions and speaking just
as they would on a real sales call.
- Webcam - if possible, have the audience on a webcam as well.
Many platforms allow for two-way video.
- Share applications - let the prospect play with the tool. If
it's as intuitive as you say, let participants feel it for
All good training follows adult learning methodologies. Engaging
the audience frequently is important. Think about what you would do
in the classroom and consider these tools:
- Polling - assess your audience's knowledge and attitude. What
do members know about the subject already? How do they feel about
it? You can design pre- and post-session quizzes.
- Chat - let audience members submit questions in writing and by
voice. Allow them to talk among themselves in private and in
- Annotation tools - use highlighters, arrows, and the circle
tool to help people remember key points and words.
To get the most input from the audience, you will want to use a
combination of tools:
- Audio - if the meeting is small, keep the phone lines open (ask
audience members to mute their phones if there is background noise
where they are).
- Webcam and video - help attendees see each other. If your
platform allows multiple webcams, have each person turn on his or
her webcam while introducing him- or herself to the group and then
turn it off. You can also have attendees do this when asking
- Whiteboard - keep a running list of action items and topics for
- Application and desktop sharing - when working on documents as
a team, actually work on the live document. Audience members find
this much more engaging, and they'll see their input being used
Your goal is to communicate exactly the right amount of information
to make your point. Understanding your presentation platform and
mastering its available tools are vital to that process. Take these
- Determine which platform you will use (your organization may
have already decided this for you).
- Understand what features are available to you.
- Participate in other webcasts to see what other presenters do
- Practice with your specific platform and get comfortable with
its tools and features.
You can make the right call about what tools to use to achieve your
goal. Furthermore, you'll know you can use them effectively when
the time comes.