9 rules for a great web presentation

Web conferences and webinars are wonderful sales tools, but you must use them properly.

With the cost and hassle of travel growing each year, many firms are replacing traditional meet-and-greets with online sales events. Unfortunately, web conferences and webinars are only effective when you follow these nine simple rules:

1. Offer something valuable. If you want prospects to tune in, give them something they want, such as the opportunity to interact with a recognizable speaker. And offer attendees a prize drawing at the end of the program, or a special gift if they stay online for the entire event. This is reasonable sales expense, like the refreshments at a meeting.

2. Remind them about the event. When somebody commits to a meet-and-greet at a hotel, they put it in their calendar and build their day around the event. No so with online meetings, which are sandwiched into busy schedules. If you want big attendance, remind people: Use email, voice mail, and IMs to remind prospects to tune in.

3. Start and end on time. Live meetings often begin a few minutes late to make certain that everyone has arrived. With an online meeting, though, attendees are at their own desks, so if the meeting starts late, they'll move on to something else and assume that you're hopelessly inefficient. Which is not good.

4. Dress simply and professionally. You're going to be on camera, so dress as if you were going to a business meeting. Wear a solid-color shirt or blouse, preferably light blue: White cloth can reflect light and certain patterns create optical illusions on camera. Keep ties or bows simple; don't wear flashy jewelry, or (especially) sunglasses.

Quick horror story: A CEO I know–normally a really dynamic guy–did a webinar and forgot to take off his reading glasses. During the session, he kept looking over the tops of them, which made him look like a disapproving grandfather.

5. Check your environment. Using the webcam in your office? Make sure there are light sources other than your screen. (Unless, of course, you actually want to look like one of the undead.) Be sure there isn't something annoying in the background--like stacks of messy papers, or a yawning co-worker.

Another quick horror story: I recall a few years back, some financial sales guy was being interviewed on a local television news channel--while his co-worker was in the background, checking out soft-core nudes. Ouch!

6. Set the context. Start the web conference with a welcome slide that lets attendees know what to expect. Review the ground rules, like how to use any special features--like chat and instant polls. Make the audience comfortable with the process, and they'll be a lot more likely to participate.

7. Have a conversation. Rather than trotting out the bullet points, have a conversation with a moderator that brings out your main points. (And if you're selling for big stakes, consider hiring a professional.) Prep the moderator with the right questions; this is not the time to wing it.

8. Don't talk too fast. The last thing you want is to seem like you're trying to cram information into the audience's brain. You also don't want to come off like the "fast-talking salesman" that everyone despises. Be high energy, but express that energy through tonality and word choice--not by being a motormouth.

9. Keep your cool. When you're on webcam, avoid blowing out your cheeks, scratching your nose, or clenching your teeth. Such behavior makes you look either defensive or, worse, slightly insane. Remember, your mike may be working even when you think it's not--so never say anything that you wouldn't want everyone to hear.

Just so you know, I have a lot to say about sales presentations: why most of them are so awful and how to make yours really shine. So stay tuned, either by signing up for my weekly "insider" newsletter or following my @Sales_Source Twitter feed.

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