Presenting to an audience that you can’t see – webinars, podcasts and live broadcasts

In the past, giving presentations was all about standing at the front of a room and delivering your content to people who were in the same room as you.

Now, technology has made it possible for us to deliver different kinds of presentations. Sometimes the audience is not in the same place as you. Sometimes they are watching or listening to your talk long after you delivered it.

Whether you’re preparing content to be consumed later, such as a podcast or a Youtube video, or you’re broadcasting live as part of a webinar or Facebook live broadcast, it’s a different experience to being in the same place as your audience.

For some people, this takes away some of the stress associated with presenting – you don’t see the sea of faces looking at you and you are often sitting in familiar, less formal surroundings, which in turn can make you feel confident. I love chatting to my audience from the comfort of my office because these familiar surroundings give me confidence.

However, there are a few things to consider.

1. Are you speaking to an individual or a group?

This is the first advice that I was given when I created my first podcast episode. I used phrases like “hi everyone” and “if any of you want to know more”. This doesn’t actually bother me when I’m listening to podcasts, but unless you are trying to build a community, the chances are that the listener is on their own and they may never come in to contact with the other listeners. I don’t want to say that there is a right or wrong way to do this, but just think about whether you want to address a group, such as a group of colleagues, or to make things more personal and speak as though you are talking directly to your listener.

2. Talking to yourself in an empty room

I actually like talking to myself in an empty room. It doesn’t bother me! I don’t mind public speaking in front of a large group either, but I don’t feel strange about talking aloud with nobody there. Maybe that’s what happens when you spend years talking to pets and knowing that they probably aren’t going to give you an answer.

Some people find the empty room distracting because there is nobody there listening to you and you can’t get the usual feedback such as an encouraging smile or a nod.

Sometimes the problem is that people are not used to hearing their own voice. If you find this to be true, try delivering your presentation aloud to your dog or cat, or imagine that a good friend or supportive colleague is there with you and you are talking just to them.

If it’s live, it can be even more off-putting if you can see that nobody is watching your channel, or not many people have signed in to the webinar. But remember, your content can be reused – Facebook live videos can stay on your Facebook page for people to watch at a later date, webinar recordings can be made available as a replay or on your site, so don’t waste the first 10 minutes saying “I wonder if everyone can see and hear me?” I’ve stopped watching replays or videos because of this – it was boring! Log onto the broadcast with another device if you want to know how well you can be seen, but try to focus on the content, rather than how many people are there at the beginning of the presentation. If you are going to repurpose the content, consider chopping the beginning if it won’t be relevant later.

People have a tendency to pop in and out of live broadcasts and webinars in a way that they don’t in real life, so try not to focus on that.

3. Make sure you get audience feedback

You can’t see if you’re audience is nodding along in agreement, looking confused or staring into space. Therefore, make sure that you have a way for them to interact with you and ask any questions. This needs to be managed in a different way than in a face-to-face setting. Even if you don’t want questions during the presentation, you can ask people to put them in the chat and come to them at the end. If it’s likely to be a busy chat, it’s sometimes helpful to ask someone to help you manage it and pull out the relevant questions. They can also help to manage anyone who is being disruptive in the chat so that you can focus on giving your presentation.

As well as showing a willingness to answer comments, this is also a good way to make sure that people are following along with what you are saying because you can’t gauge the mood in the room without some kind of feedback from the participants.

If it’s not live, make sure that you have some way for people to contact you with any questions or comments. This could either be an email address, or you can direct them to your social media, or a comment form on the show notes page of your podcast.

4. Think about your speed and delivery

I was used to giving plenty of face-to-face presentations, but I remember when I did my first online one. I practised a couple of times beforehand. Each time it took me 45 minutes. On the day, the same live presentation took 35 minutes. I didn’t realise I was rushing, but I must have been.

We don’t do it on purpose, but speaking too quickly is not fair to our audience because it often makes it harder for them to understand what is being said. If people don’t understand, they will lose interest, which is a wasted opportunity. Even though you might be offering a lot of value, if people can’t understand you because you’re speaking too quickly, they won’t get the benefit.

5. Additional materials

It’s a good idea to consider whether you want to offer anything else in terms of visual presentation or reference materials for afterwards. If it’s a webinar, you can put your slides on the screen or share your screen to give a demonstration. If it’s audio, you can offer a download of a factsheet on your show notes page. If it’s a Facebook live or some other kind of live broadcast, you can direct people to some further information on your website.

6. Make sure your surroundings aren’t distracting

If you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t need to worry about making them comfortable, but you do need to think about where you will be recording. When you’re live, sometimes things happen that are out of your control, but try to minimise this by being in a quiet place, making those around you aware that you are broadcasting, making sure the lighting is ok for visual broadcasts, and making sure there is nothing in your room that will be a noisy distraction to your listeners – even if you have got used to a ticking clock or a noisy fan, these things can become annoying for your listeners. Don’t play music in the background unless you own the copyright to it. Even if you do – consider whether your listeners may find it distracting.

If it’s not live, think about whether, or how much you want to edit.

7. Be smart about repurposing content

If you’ve created some fantastic content, there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose it for other channels. The content from your webinar can become a stand-alone ebook. The information from your podcast can be used for a blog post – often your podcast and blog audiences are not the same people. Key points from your talk can become tweets.

However, this has to be done with care because the different ways of giving information and the different social networks have their own requirements and audience expectations. People soon lose interest if they get the feeling that you have just dumped something from another platform. Does anyone actually like those reposts from Instagram on Twitter where the text gets chopped off halfway through?

I’ve seen someone post a live interview as a podcast, and it worked really well. It was a smart way to get a group of people together to share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve also seen someone post a live video as a podcast and it was terrible because they were stopping every 5 seconds to say “hi” to people who had just joined the broadcast. Podcast listeners who weren’t there don’t care about that.

I’ve seen people posting automated electronic transcripts of podcasts as blog posts and I found it really hard to read because none of the filler words or half-finished sentences had been taken out. I really wanted to tidy it up to make the reader experience better. I offer a service to turn audio and video content into text for blog posts, ebooks or newsletters if this is something that would interest you.

What about you?

So, sharing information when you can’t see a room full of people in front of you definitely has its advantages, and there are ways to give your content a much longer lifespan. Still, it’s important to be aware of your audience and their needs, particularly if you can only see them as names in a list of participants, or if people will be watching and listening long after you’ve finished giving your talk.

Which way of presenting do you enjoy most? Would you rather be with your audience, or on your own? Do you like the chance to start again with pre-recorded content, or do you enjoy the spontaneity of going live?

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