You should present online, here’s why

Ever go to a conference and get completely overwhelmed by the number of presentations. Try as you might but with only so much time, and the desire to catch up with old friends, how many sessions do you actually attend?

Maybe you give presentations. Too bad yours had to be on Saturday afternoon, up against my own, at a time when I was exhausted, <insert other valid reason for not attending here>, or I would have attended. Sometimes the uncrowded room has nothing to do with a lack of interest and a lot more to do with bad timing.

Now if you were to craft an online presentation, I would be there in a heartbeat. That is, as long as you tailor it for the web and don’t put up too many barriers.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how, that’s why I’m here.

Here’s what this post will cover.

  • I start with a simple definition of presentation;
  • then talk about the stuff that’s secondary;
  • cover the two big benefits to traditional approaches;
  • then talk about the costs (they’re significant);
  • introduce online presentations;
  • list out 6 common online presentation problems;
  • and end with a question for you.

Here we go…

Defining presentation

Let’s define presentation.  Here’s my super simple definition…

Presentation: Communicating something to someone.

  • The something is your idea, your message, your lesson, your evidence, your story, your report…
  • The someone is your audience, the person or persons you hope receive your something.

Pretty simple right?

But, as anyone who has ever stood on a stage in front of an audience knows…

Actually communicating your something so that it is received by your someone, is far easier to say than do.

Everything else is secondary

If you fully buy into the notion that presenting is just communicating something to someone then everything else we agonize over becomes secondary.

Conference rooms, journals, handouts, powerpoint slides, pictures, websites, YouTube, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare, pdfs, Word, webinars, stories, infographics, interactive visualizations.

These things matter, but they only matter if they help you communicate your something to your someone.

The benefits of the traditional

Why do we travel to conferences, write in journals, offer courses or organize meetings?

Is it because they are the only way we can reach our audience?

No.

As Clay Shirky would say, we live in a time when publishing is a button.  Any presenter can start a blog or publish a series of videos.

The traditional approach offers two big benefits. It forces us to flesh out our something and provides us with receptive someones, just at a cost.

  • Flesh out your something: Ever submit a vague proposal for a presentation or article?  Well, maybe, but generally the proposal process requires you to flesh out your ideas.
  • Receptive someones:  When you pick up a journal or go to a conference presentation, you are usually at least somewhat receptive to the something being communicated.  The same isn’t true on the web.

The cost of the traditional

Never underestimate the costs of the traditional.  By presenting only in the traditional realm you are almost always leaving out a large part of your target audience.  A conference presentation can only be seen by the someones who show up.  A paper in a journal can only be read the someones who have access.

[This cartoon is like a year and a half old (I know, ancient).  I'm pretty sure that's Ronald McDonald in the lower right]

Presenting in the big room

Presenting in the big room (a.k.a. the web) allows you to avoid some of the inherent costs of the traditional.

Presenting online means your presentation doesn’t have to be tied to a specific hour on a specific day. It also doesn’t have to be tied to a room in a hotel.

We tend to overthink technology. And when we do, it gets complicated. The web is just a presentation platform. And by using it, you get access to a collection of tools that help you communicate your something to your someones.

When you fail at presenting online, it’s easy to blame the technology. But, more times than not, your failure is due to execution.  That’s ok, just remember, we’re all still learning and learning takes practice.

6 common online presentation problems

I’d say these are the most common problems that lead to poor execution of online presentations.  Don’t worry, they can all be fixed.  If you’re interested in knowing how, I suggest following me via email (I’ll be going into detail in the coming months as I write a book on the subject).

1. You don’t have a something.

Not having a something is a common problem for new online presenters.

Seth Godin gives the advice, “write every single day.”  I used to think that the advice was about publishing, it’s not.  Even though I don’t post every day, I write/create every day.  It’s surprising how much you can learn about your something through regular authorship.

2. Your something stinks.

Usually happens when you develop a something before figuring out a someone.

3. You don’t know how to package your something.

The web is different, so it requires a different approach.  If you want to give a good presentation, you need to do more than emulate the offline.

4. You don’t know your someone.

This is another problem for new online presenters.  Also, when you write to everyone, you reach no one.

5. You don’t know how to reach your someone.

Or you do know how, you just haven’t given it enough thought or translated that thought into action.

6. Your someone is not receptive.

When surfing the web, are you always up for an engaging discussion on an academic something?  Yeah, me neither.  So don’t expect it out of your audience.  If your presentation is good enough, they’ll come back when they’re ready.

Do you present strictly offline?

Why? I don’t know your situation, but I can tell you already, you’re missing out.

Comments

  1. says

    Seems more and more conferences are going to be focused on online presentations and formats for a huge number of great reasons. Now we need to think about how to make far better use of the f2f time when we do gather … Perhaps every two to three years if not annually.

    • says

      My favorite part of gatherings is getting some face to face time with the people I connect with all throughout the year on the web. Not sure we’re at the point where the online experiences can dictate a change in the offline experiences.

      Many online conferences I’ve seen approach online by replicating the offline. They end up putting in a lot of time, place and participation restrictions (ex. live this day, only through our site, just the big names presenting). Ultimately you end up taking away a good bit of the web’s benefits and create a shallow conference. It can reach more people, but it can’t touch the experience of an offline conference.

      I think we can approach all of this in a different way, I’ll be going into more detail and provide a model soon. If you can create rich online experiences if gives you the opportunity to approach offline differently (more personal, Q&As, networking), etc..

  2. Rebecca says

    Thanks for this post, Chris! It’s just what I needed to hear! I think I’m stuck in the f2f mode (presentations at conferences, workshops for faculty and grad students). I know I’m missing out on a whole world of people and much greater impact.

    I also think there’s a need for continuing support for folks who try new things. In my case, I’m helping people improve their STEM teaching at universities and colleges. The online world could really make that happen for those who are interested.

    You’ve inspired me!

    • says

      Thanks Rebecca, that’s great :)

      I’m going to be going into a lot more depth over the next little while, so hang with me, a new post is written and should be up tomorrow.

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