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+++ S P E C I A L R E P O R T +++
"Online Seminars—how to make them work for you"
By Walt Boyes
Principal, MarketingPractice Consultants
www.waltboyes.com
 November 29, 2001

I’ve done considerable work with online seminars. I’ve given them, and I’ve consulted to clients who were interested in giving them. Here’s a quick compilation of some of the things I’ve learned.

Computer-mediated meetings are very different from in-person meetings in many ways. An exciting and successful in-person seminar does not translate directly to an online seminar…it must be redesigned and reworked so that it fits the new medium.

First, unless you have the bandwidth for full duplex live videoconferencing, and all of the attendees in your meeting do, too, you can’t be seen. If you do set up videoconferencing, it is different from the way you are seen on stage in a meeting room or in a hall. You are a tiny little picture on a box. Think about what that means to “stage presence.”

Most online seminars work using a seminar or meeting client, like Placeware or Webex, or their several competitors, and a conference call audio link. You can either use one provided by the meeting client provider, or provide your own conference call linkup. Obviously, the success of the seminar revolves around how good your link is, and how clear. This is essential for multinational seminars, where the quality of telephone service may not be as good in some places as it is in North America.

The seminar client is set up to emulate a conference room, with virtual “seats” and so on…and “emulate” is right. You cannot see the presenter, normally, nor can you see the other attendees. Conversation with them, and the presenter, is often done by typing into a "chat client". Often, attendees are not familiar with the rules, and how to use the tools, and this can be a problem, too.

Most of the visual cues that keep and direct the audience’s attention are missing…and you, as presenter, cannot tell when somebody puts you on hold and goes to the bathroom.

I’ve evolved some specific techniques for taking an in-person seminar and converting it to “play well” online. Some of these include making your points clearer, making your slides simpler, and finding electronic analogues for those gestures and facial expressions your audience cannot see.

One of the most important of these techniques is to increase the level of interactivity in an online seminar from that normal in an in-person seminar. In many seminars, people sit in the dark listening until the Q&A period. You cannot run a web seminar that way. People will begin signing off. Or they will leave the screen, or they will start doing something else, and “sorta be listening” to the audio. You’ve lost them.

I’ve even been able to take a complete neophyte client, who had no online experience other than email, and teach him proper online seminar techniques. We started out by looking at his business model, and deciding what sort of online seminars he wanted to do. Then we looked at the meeting client providers, and selected the one best suited to his business model. Then I reworked his presentation with him, slide-by-slide, comment-by-comment, and point-by-point so that it fit the online seminar medium. Finally, I sat in with him on his first several seminars doing the technical effects and being able to “rescue” him if he got lost. Now he regularly does online seminars on his own.

Online seminars can either be the most boring, kiss-of-death, horrible time wasting thing you can do to your staff or your clients…or they can be vibrant, immediate, participatory, and community-creating tools to further your business, online.

It is all in how you do it.

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Walt Boyes -- MarketingPractice Consultants
walt(at)waltboyes.com
21118 SE 278th Place - Maple Valley, WA 98038
253-709-5046 cell 425-432-8262 home office
fax:801-749-7142 ICQ: 59435534

"Strategic marketing, sales and electronic
business consulting for the small and medium-sized
enterprise: http://www.waltboyes.com"
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