Presenting on the Web

By Heather Baldwin

You’ve got a big Web conference coming up. If you’re like most presenters, you’re probably planning to dust off the PowerPoint slides from a face-to-face presentation you gave on the same topic last week. After all, it worked great with that client. Why tamper with a good thing, right? Wrong, says Wayne Turmel, director of products and marketing for New York-based Communispond, a company specializing in business communication skills. Because of the technology and the distance from your audience’s eyeballs, says Turmel, Web-based presentations must be more direct, shorter and better planned than face-to-face meetings.

For starters, you won’t have the eye contact and visual energy of an in-person presentation to keep your client’s attention. In a Web environment, “attention spans start to wander after 17 minutes,” says Turmel. “After an hour, you’ve effectively lost them. At that point, you’re just data dumping and hoping something sticks.” And face it – even with the best of presentations in front of them, there’s still the temptation to multitask by answering emails and straightening desks. So how do you overcome these challenges? “Tell the client what you want to tell them right now. There’s no room for extraneous stuff,” says Turmel. “A lot of the lovely detail and color you’d usually add save for the Q&A. And instead of two or three great examples to make your point, use just one.”

So pare down to the hard-hitting essentials if you want to keep your audience’s attention on the Web. At the same time, make sure you’re not overwhelming them with technology. Sure, you may be presenting from your office on a high-speed network connection, but your audience may be in a remote location on a 56K dial-up. So if you’ve incorporated video and dense graphics into your presentation, your client’s computer may not have the bandwidth to process those features and thus may lag behind or freeze during the presentation. And that’s no way to make a great impression. “You have to organize your Web presentation to the lowest common denominator,” says Turmel.