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Series: Online Presentation Techniques

By William Murillo, Assoc. AIA
Manager, CES Provider Training

Part 1: Preparation and Content

For the average professional offering educational services in the post internet age, it is becoming increasingly apparent that social networking and online media formats are shaping what will be the future of education. Currently, the challenge for educators and professional trainers has become how to stay relevant in a technologically driven world with outdated presentation techniques, technological illiteracy, and misconceptions on educational paradigms that we have subscribed to since the inception of post-industrial education.

For the next couple of months, the subject of this Provider Training mini-series will be online presentation skills for the various and changing online educational formats such as webinars or ‘hybrid events.’ Webinars are widely common in the realm of professional development and such instructional models are popular because they mirror our current standards for ease of accessibility. Presently, if we want to truly know anything, even the most obscure detail of any topic, we can turn to search engines to answer our questions. Information is more easily accessible than it has ever been and the shelf life for innovation or even a singular idea is curtailed. Trends start and end at a pace which businesses struggle to keep up with. Currently, the industry standard for training employees or entire companies is through webinars, remotely accessible presentations which can be delivered anywhere and over the ease of a high speed internet connection. Yet, with the ever decreasing attention span and complex schedule of the modern professional, even a once sophisticated presentation technique like the webinar is expected to either evolve or be replaced very soon.

For now, let’s concentrate on what we know and address ideas of preparation and content for online presentations. With any presentation initial preparation is based on purpose. What are you speaking about? Why is it important? or Why is it interesting/relevant? Once you’ve determined the purpose of your presentation it is crucial to identify and tailor the subject matter to your audience. This process culminates with developing content and providing related resources or peripheral material, typically in advance to serve as an introduction to your subject. You can also organize your presentation by choosing a pattern or strategy that suits your topic so your audience can easily follow your message. For example, if I were to speak about “How to survive Architecture school”, the title would be my purpose for presenting but the pattern or strategy I elect may be a series of anecdotes that arrive at lessons learned rather than a laundry list of helpful hints. In this way, I ensure a connection to the audience with my purpose and allow my message to resonate and become ‘consumable.’

In any webinar your challenge will be to create a program that is multi-dimensional and will hold the ‘virtual viewers’ attention. It is important to establish a comprehensive experience for the participant, one which will engage throughout the whole webinar rather than at planned and specific points. In order to accomplish this, consider delivering a total sensory experience. You can do this by generating what has been referred to as ‘Whole Brain content’ by author Roger Courville in his book The Virtual Presenter’s Handbook. In essence, this involves developing your presentation so that it stimulates your audience not only on an intellectual level but also an emotional level. In this vein, using images and sounds over excessive bullet points is valuable. Similarly, you can also seek to facilitate natural interactions with your audience by not relying on your PowerPoint or slide deck, which attendees should already have access to, and adopting a more dynamic yet quasi-conversational style. Consider employing analogies and anecdotes which are effective tools for delivering your message or content. Attendees will be more receptive to subject matter that they are able to relate to making complex concepts or ideas easily explainable and understandable. As you develop content, also consider how to use exercises or activities to encourage learning through individual discovery. Lastly, and most importantly, know your content. You need to have a very clear attachment and understanding of your topic or rather a veritable passion for what you are teaching. The dynamism that results from truly knowing your subject matter radiates as you present to a physical audience, through your presence, or a virtual audience, through your voice.

Remember, preparation and content are key elements of a successful presentation. Also, remember to avoid common misconceptions about presenting in an online format. The medium by which you communicate your content, whether it is a simple report or a highly interactive webinar, will always change the way in which that content is received and processed. Consequently, do not adopt a ‘one presentation fits all mentality’ and learn to adapt to new mediums and new audiences.

Next month, we will cover techniques for engaging your audience and turning attendees from unwilling spectators into active participants. We will also survey the future of education and training, the technological advances which are spawning new and innovative presentation design, and how to adapt to these changes and the rapidity of social media.


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