Dataviz is great, but only goes so far if you can’t show it well during a live presentation or webinar.
Back in 2014, I tweeted this image of Johanna Morariu and I getting ready to give a webinar. I jokingly referred to our conference room’s careful setup as our Webinar Command Center.
A bunch of people have asked how we set up our Webinar Command Center.
Here’s how to structure your physical space to ensure that your mind is free to give the best webinar possible.
Yes. Three. Each laptop serves a unique purpose.
Laptop #1 is for viewing your slides and speaking points through PowerPoint’s presentation mode. We make the images really small and make our speaking points really large.
Laptop #2 is the “live” webinar laptop, which is registered for the webinar in the Presenter role. This laptop gets a special treat, the blue ethernet cord, to ensure the fastest connection possible. In a two-presenter setting, we assign one person to advance the slides and another person to monitor the chat box. In a one-presenter setting, I advance the slides and stop at regular intervals (every 10 minutes or so) to monitor the chat box and address questions that are coming in.
This is the secret sauce!
Laptop #3 is registered for the webinar in a Participant role. We “watch” the webinar from the participant’s point of view from the corner of our eyes. We’re constantly glancing at this screen to check for technological glitches (blank screens, frozen screens) and slow slide transitions (fluctuating internet connection speeds). Sometimes we notice lag times of 2-3 seconds between slides, so we stop and take a breath as we’re waiting for the new slide to load on Laptop #3.
If your organization is hosting its own webinar, it’s easy to register yourself as a participant with a fake name. If another organization is hosting the webinar (i.e., you’re a guest speaker on a webinar that someone else has set up), just ask the host to set up a fake participant registration for you. It’s easy for the organizer to set up, and guarantees a higher-quality webinar for everyone.
Physical notepads are critical for two-presenter webinars.
Since you’ll often be on camera, you can’t just whisper to each other.
And you’ll have several laptops already, so it’s hard to type notes to each other without getting distracted by what’s on screen. And nobody wants to hear your click click click typing noise as they’re trying to deliver or listen to a webinar.
That’s where physical notepads come in and save the day!
Here’s the notepad that Johanna and I used during a recent webinar.
We troubleshoot about pacing, timing, technological glitches, and questions that come in through the chat box. As you can see, most of our notes are related to pacing: encouraging each other to speed up during boring sections or slow down when the slides are advancing slower than normal.
Notepads are also crucial when you’re presenting solo: to jot down participant questions that you need to remember to address later in the webinar (“during Q&A – elaborate on Maria’s question re: strategies for using data for org learning”) and to reflect on what you’ll need to adjust for future webinars (“this section moved too slow; need to cut down content”).
I’ve given at least a hundred live webinars over the past few years, and I still create pacing schedules for every single one. Here’s how I create the schedule.
First, Make a Broad Outline of the Webinar’s Content
In the weeks or months leading up to the webinar, outline your content. I just use Google docs so that I can add ideas from work, from home, or from my cell phone as I’m riding the train into work (via the Google Drive app).
Think about the big buckets of content. What are the three, four, or five major sections that you’ll include in the webinar?
Second, Decide How Long Each Webinar Segment Should Last
A major step in outlining is to allocate time to each section.
I ask myself, “How much time does this particular story, example, or resource really deserve? 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes?”
I practice explaining the content aloud and time myself with my cell phone’s stopwatch feature. I need to know exactly how long each story takes so that I don’t overemphasize boring sections or underemphasize the most useful sections. By the time I give a webinar, I’ve practiced each section 3-5 times (or, sometimes 10, if my initial time estimates were way off).
And of course you’ll want to allocate time for participant activities and questions, but that’s a different post.
Notice how the introduction only gets 5 minutes, max. The most boring part of your webinar is the background information about you and your organization.
Give people the meat of the presentation (the information they paid to learn) as soon as possible, or you’ll lose your audience (and get awful survey ratings). In our 2014 webinar, we knew we would purposefully begin the webinar 1-2 minutes late. Then, the hosting organization would welcome the participants and introduce their own organization. Once the webinar was handed off to us, we still needed to introduce our organization… and ourselves… and the agenda… and the learning objectives for the webinar. We spent those 90 seconds very carefully.
Third, Design Your Webinar Slides
When your outline and time allocations are 90 percent finished, then you can start working on your slides.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from presentation novices is that they design their slides too early in the process.
The most beautiful slides in the world won’t make up for poorly-planned content.
I’ve shared slides design tips in a few different blog posts. Here are a few of my favorite slide design tips.
Introduce Your Main Points Early
This was one of the first slides from a recent presentation about data placemats. Veena Pankaj and I wrote an article about this process a couple years ago, so if you want to nerd-out, you can read more here.
My speaking points went like this: “I’m going to teach you a three-step process. Here’s what the process looks like at a glance. First, you analyze the data and design placemats. Second, you facilitate an interpretation meeting with a few key stakeholders. And finally, you go back to your office and use stakeholder feedback to produce the final deliverable, like a report or slideshow.”
Make a Divider Slide for Each Section
Next, make one divider slide per main topic. In this presentation, I made one divider slide for each of the three steps that I was teaching about: Analyze Data and Design Placemats, Facilitate an Interpretation Meeting, and Produce the Final Report or Slideshow.
Design Your Body Slides
You might need 5, 10, or 20 body slides depending on your presentation’s length, audience, purpose, etc. Don’t shy away from having a large number of slides! In a typical 60-minute webinar, I might have 60 slides. In a half-day or full-day workshop, I often have hundreds of slides. I break up the content into tiny slices and place one slice of information on each slide. Below, I advise you to have “a” graph, photo, diagram, or quote per slide (not multiple graphs, photos, etc. per slide).
Alternate Your Colors by Section
This is a great way to help your webinar attendees follow along with your key points. You simply introduce the ~three topics early… and then choose a different color for each of those topics (blue, green, and fuschia)… and then make the headers and footers of each slide in a different color.
Stop Using Bullet Points Altogether
And when it comes to designing the individual body slides…
That advice about “only using three bullet points per slide” is outdated. I suggest using zero bullet points! See how I transform bullet points into visuals in this blog post.
You can replace your bullet points with graphs or with photographs. See how I selected photographs to match my speaking points in this blog post.
Fourth, Write Your Detailed Webinar Schedule on Large Paper
Okay, back to tips about the webinar’s physical set-up.
On the day of the webinar, write your final pacing schedule on large paper.
We star the sections that are most important (in this example, the logic model components and the awesome FAQs, which went into advanced-level logic model details). This is where we pause frequently to address questions coming in through the chat box, elaborate on our stories and examples, and go off-script to make the tone more conversational and interesting to listen to. These starred sections contain valuable takeaway lessons and can’t be rushed. In contrast, we also remind ourselves when to rush through less-crucial information with notes on our pacing schedule like “hurry here!” During these sections, we rarely stop to address chat box questions in the moment, although we certainly answer these questions at the end when we have extra time.
Then, tape the pacing schedule somewhere extremely visible.
We often tape the schedule onto the window that’s directly across from our chairs so that we can glance up every few minutes and make sure we’re on track. Why large paper? 8.5 x 11 papers will get lost in the clutter on your table, no matter how clean your desk is.
Here are some additional objects that I have handy during webinars.
Notice how the phone is located between the two presenters’ chairs so that it picks up both voices equally.
As a backup for the occasional landline fail.
Filled only halfway. Otherwise I get nervous and gulp it down.
Everyone who’s co-presented conference presentations or webinars with me knows that I get ridiculously thirsty after speaking for 60 or 90 minutes straight. Give yourself just enough water to soothe your dry throat, but not so much that you mindlessly drink more than you need. (You can’t run to the bathroom in the middle of your own webinar.)
Avoid coffee! The best way to sabotage yourself is to throw unnecessary caffeine on your adrenaline rush and nerves.
For the dry lips. My throat and lips get so dry after talking nonstop for the duration of a webinar.
In case Laptop #1 explodes.
What’s Not in the Room
Garr Reynolds discusses how we need to be fully present when speaking with our audience.
Remove all the clutter from your desk–your purse, wallet, extra notepads, project work, etc.
Better yet, lead your webinar from an empty conference room.
A simple, well-designed physical space will give you the mental space to focus all your energy and attention on your audience.
Additional Webinar Workspaces Submitted by Readers Like You
Karen Matthes from the University of Minnesota Extension writes, “Ann, I love the photo of your webinar setup! It is much cleaner than mine but here is a photo of my command center that I’ve shared in my ‘Intro to WebEx’ training workshops. I use this slide to stress the importance of being prepared during a webinar. Having a second monitor is really helpful. I use our conference room computer as my second monitor.”
Do you notice some of the same objects? Karen also uses two screens, a laptop plus a second monitor that’s mounted on the wall. She’s got her laptop connected to the magical blue ethernet cord. She’s got her beverages of choice ready to go. And her cell phone for back-up audio. And her notepad. And her printed presentation materials. And you’ve gotta love IT Goldy, presumably there for moral support. Everything on her desk serves a purpose. Great work, Karen!