Is Anybody Listening? 10 Easy Steps Toward More Dynamic Internet Presentations

December 17, 2008
Sundie Hallen

,
Neil Baum, MD

MDNG Primary Care, December 2008, Volume 10, Issue 12

Conducting distance learning activities over the telephone and the Internet is a cost-effective alternative.

As travel costs and busy schedules make it more expensive to attend faraway meetings, many physicians are discovering that conducting CME, speaker training, consultant meetings, advisory group conferences, and other distance learning activities over the telephone and the Internet is a cost-effective alternative. However, the difficulties of communicating to an unseen audience prevent many speakers from effectively conveying their message.

How many times has this happened to you? There you are, trying to listen to a teleconference or online audio presentation, reading the slides on your computer or on a handout, but because the speaker is droning on and on in a monotone voice, you soon find yourself multi-tasking or doing something else instead of paying attention to the presentation. Or maybe you’re the presenter with the narcotic speaking style but just aren’t aware of it because there’s no audience providing live feedback.

This situation is frustrating not only for the bored physicians who are listening to the presentation, but also for the speaker trying his or her best to communicate a message to an unseen audience. It doesn’t have to be this way. By following these 10 easy tips, you can hold the attention of your audience even when you can’t see them.

1. PREPARE YOUR ENVIRONMENT.

If you are doing the presentation at your office, be sure to quiet your staff and let them know you are giving a talk and are not to be interrupted. You don’t want any phone calls during your presentation, so turn off your cell phone. Have a glass of water at the ready, just like you would for a presentation in front of an audience—you may be speaking for 30 minutes or more and are likely to need a sip of water. Also, use the restroom before the program begins. You should use the handset on your telephone and not the speaker phone or a cell phone, as the sound is much better with the handheld receiver on your land line. It is a good idea to provide the moderator with an alternative phone number in case your call is dropped and you end up delivering a monologue to yourself.

2. STAND UP.

You generate more energy if you stand up instead of giving your presentation sitting in a chair. In order to see the screen of your computer, you may want to position your keyboard and monitor or laptop at chest level by placing it on a tall desk or other elevated surface. Remember, your voice follows your hands. Standing up gives you the opportunity to move around and make greater use of your hands, which allows you to put more force and animation into your voice (even if there is no live audience to see what you’re doing).

3. SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY.

Pretend that you are having a one-on-one conversation with another individual. When you are talking with others, you usually speak slowly and clearly. Think about a scale of 1-10, with one being a barely audible whisper and 10 being shouting over the music at a rock concert; you should shoot for somewhere between 6-8. Because this can be difficult to gauge when you are conducting your teleconference in a small room by yourself, adjust the volume of your voice a little higher than if you were speaking to a small group or if you were having a dialog with a patient. You should also vary the speed of your speaking. If you want to motivate the audience to take action, speak faster. If you want to emphasize a particular teaching point, speak much slower.

4. USE DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE.

Don’t use a pointer on your computer that connects to their computer; it’s distracting and often suffers from long delays in response time. However, you do want to capture and direct your audience’s attention, so tell them what you want them to focus on. For example, if the bulleted points are numbered on the slide, you can direct your audience by saying, “Look at bullet number three, which demonstrates…..”

5. DESCRIBE WHERE YOU ARE IN THE PRESENTATION.

It’s easy to lose your place as you follow along, especially if the speaker makes frequent extemporaneous remarks or provides a great deal more detail than is included on the slides or handout. To keep everybody on the same page, periodically during your presentation announce the number of the slide you are discussing.

6. SMILE WHEN YOU ARE TALKING.

Place a mirror near your computer so you can see yourself smile. The audience can hear the smile on the other end of the line.

7. SET THE TONE OF THE CONFERENCE CALL BEFORE YOU BEGIN.

Consider making your presentation interactive. For example, you might say at the very beginning, “I hope to make this an interactive program. In the next 40 minutes, I will be calling on a few of you to get your thoughts and opinions on our subject,” or “Randomly, I will be throwing a question out to the audience, and I would really like to hear from each of you.” To do this, you’ll need to request the moderator to provide you with the names of a few of the audience members. As a result, your audience will be more engaged, focused, and attentive—no one wants to be put on the spot and not know what to say because they weren’t listening.

8. BE RESPECTFUL OF TIME.

Tell your audience how long your presentation will last. Be very respectful of their time. It is far better to have a shorter presentation than one that goes over the allotted time.

9. MANAGE THE QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION.

When most speakers ask for questions, there is usually silence on the other end of the line. If you have given one of these Internet presentations, you know how painful these pauses can be. For an Internet program, it is better to have a Q&A throughout the program instead of at the end. We’ve found that it is best to have a mini-Q&A after each main section of a presentation, while the information is still fresh in the audience’s mind. Let the audience know about this format before you begin, so they are prepared with questions after each segment. Be proactive if you don’t immediately get questions from the audience; engage them directly, and solicit their opinions on the topic at hand (“Doctor, if you have a patient with this condition, how would you manage her?”). Another option is to kick start the Q&A session by preemptively asking yourself a question and answering it—“One question that I’m often asked is XXX…” This tactic will often generate follow-up questions from the audience.

10. FINISH STRONG.

Let the audience know when you are winding up—signal that you are near the end of the presentation by prefacing your final remarks with “In conclusion, …” or “I would like to conclude this program by...” It’s a small courtesy that goes a long way. Also, don’t forget to summarize key points and takeaway messages. Finally, always thank the audience for their time.

The bottom line is that Internet presentations and teleconferences are going to become more common in the future. This format presents a different set of challenges for the speaker who is used to engaging an audience in person. However, if you incorporate these 10 suggestions, you can be assured that you will engage your audience, hold their attention, and get your message across.

Sundie Hallen is a senior trainer at McGrath Communications Group (732-246-0733). Dr. Neil Baum is a practicing physician in New Orleans and is the author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice — Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, published in 2005 by Jones and Bartlett.