Why I Hate Webinars

My job, for various reasons, requires that I sit and listen to a wide variety of webinars.  In the nearly two years that I have been in my current position I imagine that I have watched nearly a hundred webinar presentations.  I would be willing to bet I have hated a good 90% of those and as such I almost always cringe whenever I am asked to sit and watch yet another webinar.

Let me state that I am not opposed to the technology or the idea of web conferencing in general.  I think that, in the right hands, these can be valuable tools providing for a greater breadth of communication and interaction.  That being said, however, I think that webinars are more often than not, done absolutely horribly.

I believe that the issues with webinars is what I would call the PowerPoint Effect (which, considering that many webinars are essentially just streaming PowerPoints, shouldn’t be too surprising).  I define the PowerPoint Effect as being that unfortunate occurence wherein a presenter finds him or herself relying on a presenting tool in such a way that it ultimately detracts from the actual content and benefit of the presentation at hand.  There are a number of reasons why this can happen.  The tool could be distracting, contain misinformation, flow unevenly, or really just be irrelevant to the issues at hand. 

Yet another factor, when added to the PowerPoint Effect, is generally bad presenters.  Here  is a reality folks; not everybody is a good speaker and presenter.  Sure people can practice and learn and get better at their presentation skills, but there are always going to be people who just should not be giving a presentation.  I know about this because my job requires a lot of public speaking and presentation and so I have definitely honed and refined my skills and as such have a strong critical eye for other’s presentation abilities.

Part of the problem with tools like PowerPoint or Web Conferencing software is that a lot of people assume that they can make up for poor presentation skills on the end of the human giving the talk and material.  This is patently false.  Just because you have some pretty pictures and relevent bullet points does not mean you are going to be giving a good presentation.  Poor presenters very often fall to the trap of the PowerPoint Effect.  Furthermore, often the tools are poorly utilized.  When this all combines you have a presentation nightmare. 

Now sure, sometimes we on the audience end just have to grit our teeth and bare through it, but really this shouldn’t have to be the case the majority of the time.  There are solutions.  Let me offer a few.

  1. Minimize reliance on the tools, be they PowerPoints, web conferencing technology, posters, whatever.  A presentation is first and foremost about the information content that is being conveyed, thus any tools used are there only to support and help organize the information.  If more attention is put on the tools than the actual content then the presentation is bound to fail and the information conveyed to the audience will be lost.
  2. Learn about you presentation style and, if you know you are a poor presenter be honest with yourself and don’t do presentations.  This is a hard one to come to terms with.  Many of us may think that we are fine at presenting but really might have some bad habits that detract from our presentations.  My advice is to practice a lot and have others sit in and critique you.  Contrary to some beliefs, good presenters are not people who don’t get nervous in front of an audience (I know a number of great presenters who admit to having very real stage fright).  Good presenting skills is a combinations of all sorts of things; voice tone, body language, familiarity with subject matter, etc.
  3. Watch good presentations and take notes!  There are a lot of good presenters out there making amazing presentations.  If you are looking for some I’d recommend checking out some TED videos or Pecha Kucha.  Hell, watch fucking Steve Jobs!  Say what you want about the guy but he has his presenting skills down pat.  I am not suggesting that you should try to imitate or replicate what these good presenters do (I mean if you try to pull the whole Steve Jobs thing, somebody is probably gonna slap you in the face), but you can learn a lot about presenting by just observing them.

Webinars and PowerPoints are not innately bad they are just all too often badly used at the expense of the material in the presentation.  This is unfortunate because often times we find ourselves really interested in the subject matter but by the end of the poor presentation we just don’t give a fuck anymore. 

So, in closing, until a see a turn around with a majority of good presentations versus poor ones, I will continue to hate webinars.

~ by Nathaniel on June 17, 2010.

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