During the COVID-19 situation, webinars have become an excellent mode of connecting with hundreds, perhaps even thousands of individuals, across the globe. People from all walks of life- from corporate honchos to homemakers- attend these webinars to gain important insights that can be applied to routine lives. For the first-time presenters, speaking in a webinar can be quite daunting due to the absence of visual cues. In such circumstances, how can presenters capture the audience’s attention? Reflecting on my personal experience (having made my share of mistakes) at a webinar, I would like to suggest a few ideas that academicians can consider to deliver effective webinar presentations.
First and foremost, we need to think of a webinar as a storytelling event instead of a formal presentation. In stressful, surreal times like these, people are increasingly looking for emotional comfort. Communicating the essence of your topic through stories/ narratives is more likely to build an emotional bond with the audience than presenting innumerable facts and abstract theories. What’s more, a zealously enthusiastic narrator with an expressive face is considered a cherry on the cake.
Second, use fewer jargons. Jargons are an integral part of an academician’s life: we, as academicians, use them considerably in research papers and classroom lectures to build our credibility. However, the audience pool for these resources/ activities is considerably small. During the webinars, we are communicating with a much wider audience, many of whom operate outside the realm of academia. Hence, using too many jargons can be counterproductive. Bringing in real-life examples and analogies and maintaining simple communication is the mantra. Coco Chanel has aptly said, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
Third, filler words (for example, ‘umm,’ ‘you know,’ ‘right,’ ‘sort of’) should be avoided as much as possible. As academicians, we often deal with topics that lend themselves to multiple perspectives and thus require considerable cognitive effort. In our conversations centred on such topics, we often use filler words. However, the webinar audience is most likely to perceive the use of filler words as a sign of anxiety. Hence, many experts recommend substituting filler words with brief pauses.
Fourth, carefully consider how much and what form of information is included on the slides. While preparing classroom lecture slides, academicians usually include 4-6 ideas on each slide. However, a few people- both presenters and attendees- whom I talked to suggest that each of the webinar presentation slides should not include more than 3 ideas. Any more ideas on a slide and the target audience is likely to feel overwhelmed and lose interest in the topic. Furthermore, avoid using too much text in the slides. Wherever possible, substitute textual input with graphics and short videos.
Finally, offer workable solutions. Academicians have a penchant for critically examining and evaluating a particular phenomenon. While academicians must certainly adopt an analytical outlook during the webinars, they must help the audience understand how these critical insights can be incorporated in everyday affairs. Today’s audience wants to fathom the solutions to the problem, not the problem per se.
Given that the current pandemic is unlikely to abate anytime soon, we will have to rely on webinars for a considerable time. The webinar is a blessing in disguise for academicians as it has given them an opportunity to step outside the ivory tower and engage with the laypeople. If we execute the above suggestions, academia will definitely become a powerful vehicle to bring about radical change in people’s attitudes and behaviours.
Bio: Ninad Patwardhan has successfully completed his Ph.D. in Humanities and Social Sciences (Psychology) at IIT Bombay. His doctoral research is centered on autobiographical memory and its implications for well-being.
He has completed his Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and Master of Science degree in Psychology (Clinical) from Christ University, Bangalore. He is primarily interested in the domains of social and personality psychology, cognitive science, and health and well-being. He has taught courses, such as Cognitive Psychology, Personality and Individual Differences, Psychology of War (Mahabharat), and Psychological Testing and Assessment at Jyoti Dalal School of Liberal Arts (NMIMS University) and Applied Science at School of Design (NMIMS University). He has published his research in national and international journals and has presented research papers at national and international conferences.