Making Web Meetings Work

Wayne "The Cranky Middle Manager" Turmel is an author, speaker and former corporate guy who has dedicated his career to helping managers and organizations realize their potential while sharing a few laughs along the way.

A former standup comic, car salesman and corporate trainer Wayne is the president of The mission of Wayne’s company is to help people develop the presentation, sales and facilitation skills needed to use any web platform to do more than present, but to communicate and connect.

He is also the host of "The Cranky Middle Manager Show" podcast, where thousands of people around the world hear him interview the some of the brightest minds in the management field. His work appears monthly on as well as in countless articles, interviews and in his words “everywhere else anyone will let him talk.”

As a big fan of Wayne’s and someone always needing to improve his own online presentation skills, I’ve asked Wayne to get us up to speed on the world of Web Meetings and share some tips.

How popular are online meetings?

Do you mean how many do people hold or do people like them? The answer is millions, but not many people like them much. Seriously, the numbers are staggering and they are growing exponentially. There are many different forms including team and project meetings, webinars, training and sales demos. There are 127 different providers of web meeting technology ranging from companies you’ve heard of, like WebEx and LiveMeeting, to small companies like iLinc, WebMeetlive and Dimdim. Some companies, like IBM and HP, even have their own proprietary platforms. As travel budgets tighten and more real-time collaboration is expected use will only increase. In a year or two the ability to present effectively online will be a core competence for managers and Sales professionals.

People estimate there are 11 million face to face meetings a day in the US alone. It’s not hard to imagine at least half of those could be done on the web….and there are millions of those going on as we speak. It’s estimated that over half of corporate training in the next 4 years will be done by distance, including webmeetings. It’s a staggering amount of web meetings, and even more staggering is how badly people use the technology and how unprepared people are for working in that environment.

How different are the skills required?

If you think that communication has three key components: verbal (the word choice, the things you say) vocal (how you say it- tone, pitch, speed) and visual (what people see, including your presentation visuals, body language and eye contact). Now you have a presentation medium that turns things on their head. Many of these platforms don’t have a video component so you can’t see your audience, even if they can see you. This is particularly true for large meetings. The presenter then has to do a number of things differently:

- They must be concise and clear, because even the best-intentioned audience member will tune out and start answering email if it takes too long

- The presenter must use any of the tools available on the platform to intentionally increase interactivity. This can include polling, asking for written responses in chat, letting participants chat with the presenter and each other….. they are inventing new tools all the time but most people are too intimidated to use them often and too inexperienced to use them well and most training stops at the “which button do I push” level.

- Things that a presenter would do instinctively in a live setting, check in…asking questions as you go instead of holding them till the end is a good example…. Higher levels of communication and facilitation don’t’ come naturally when you’re presenting through technology. There is more planning involved and it takes a while to become consciously competent with the new platform.

What kind of success are companies seeing with online meetings?

Well an obvious success story is dollars saved. If you put 20 people in a web meeting instead of putting them on an airplane it shows ROI pretty quickly- assuming the team still accomplishes its goals.

My favorite stories are when people encounter unexpected victories. One company took an annual “best practices” conference and instead of bringing 14 teams in to the home office for 3 days, did it all on line, one presentation a day for 2 weeks. On the surface this seemed like a bad deal for the presenters…this was something of an honor, it was a break from work…but what it did for them was allow everyone in the company to view the recorded event so they got greater exposure throughout the company and had a permanent record of their presentations for review from now till doomsday.

Not only did the company save money on travel and downtime but more people than ever were able to share the learning. That’s an example of how these things can be done well and add real value, but the presenters were carefully coached and their presentations were very different than if they’d been live in front of the CEO.

I’m always excited to work with small startup companies who can use webmeetings to level the playing field. They may not have reps in every city like the big dogs, but no matter where you are in the world, you can hop on a webmeeting and give a powerful just-in-time demonstration of your product and engage the customer just as well as any big company’s rep- often better.

Can you share some pointers?

A couple of things that might seem obvious but don’t seem to be by the number of really bad webmeetings I’ve been on:

-Don’t get so caught up in getting it over with that you ignore human connections. Webcams or even pictures of participants help create a sense of a real team. For one meeting it might not matter, but over time it’s easy to forget these are real people, not disembodied voices on the phone

-Plan what you’re going to say, and build questions and interaction in. there is a tendency for most presenters, especially newbies, to “ want to get it over with”, and the presentation becomes one-way broadcast rather than a true meeting or collaboration event. Even sales demos should be more sales and less demo…..

-Don’t talk and move the mouse at the same time. Your voice follows your eyes, and if you are demonstrating something and are trying to direct the mouse, you’ll talk haltingly and the “ummms” and “errrrs” start

-Speak slowly but clearly

-Share the lead…. Let others present as well. Studies show that a variety of voices and changes in tone keep people engaged

-If you’re going longer than an hour, you’d better have a darned good reason. People can only withstand so much and then the siren call of email starts.

How can one get started?

The best thing to do is to see these tools in action. I’m sure that most of us come across invitations to attend “webinars” all the time. Take someone up on the offer (start with the free ones). What do you like about them? What did the presenter do well and try to copy it. What did they do badly and take an oath never to do that to your audience.
Then visit a couple of providers of these platforms and take the free demos (they all offer them). Start with a couple of the big platforms and then move to some of the lesser known providers. Each has features that are great and all have drawbacks depending on what you want to use them for. A couple of key things to ask yourself and the prospective vendor:

-How easily does it handle firewalls?

-Will my IT department freak out if people download clients or other software?

-Is it compatible with webcam? Do I care?

-Does it record?

-Does it use Voice Over Internet Protocol or a standard phone? Can you use both?

-Can I share the presentation powers with other people on the call?

-What interactive tools does it possess and are they worth the money (don’t get fooled by the White Board- they all have it and none of them work particularly well yet as an interactive tool, although it’s getting there.

What’s the Future Hold?

We are at an interesting time with this technology. Remember the introduction of Powerpoint? Suddenly we all could have reasonably good graphics and carry them with us easily. We also remember those meetings where no one knew how to connect the projector to the laptop because we were never trained on THAT part of it. We sat through presentations with camera clicks and dogs barking and flying, spinning letters because the tool itself is only part of the process- knowing how to use it effectively is the other piece. We’re going through this right now. Companies are very good at providing technology and saying “okay, go use this and try not to hurt anyone”, but the really smart ones provide training, context and best practices right at the start.

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