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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Communication – what people really mean – when understanding the words isn’t enough

A couple of years ago I did some research into some of the linguistic challenges that German customers faced when moving to the UK. It wasn’t about the English language itself, and the kind of problems that non-native speakers have, but about the gap they sometimes faced between what the words meant and what the person saying them actually wanted to say.

I also wanted to use the examples here, to show that even though something may be clear to the person making the statement, there is room for interpretation on the part of the listener. That’s why it’s always so important to communicate clearly and to reduce the chance that someone may go away with a completely incorrect interpretation of what we thought or wanted.

So, in these examples I was talking to non-native speakers, but these misunderstandings can easily happen between native speakers too. Some people naturally interpret things more literally than others, which is why it’s always better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Criticism can be less harsh, but you need to be able to spot it

Understating things

The typical English person doesn’t jump around with excitement or fling their arms round their friends in a warm embrace. Sometimes it’s not good to take their words literally.

“That’s not bad”, can actually be interpreted as “that’s quite good”. “I’m not doing too bad”, probably just means “I’m doing ok!”

According to Marco, people in Germany are more direct than they are in the UK. As a result, it’s important to listen out for the hidden or understated messages because people might not spell them out for you. “I am a bit disappointed that” probably means that the person is very disappointed. We sometimes use words like “a bit” or “quite” to soften the blow, but the key words in the sentence are “I’m disappointed”.

I know that I have been guilty of this as a teacher in the past. “I have A few minor corrections” does often mean exactly that, but sometimes it means “I’ve read your work and now I’m going to tell you about your mistakes. There were actually more than a few minor ones but I don’t want you to feel bad”.

Sometimes people don’t mean what they say

There are no definite rules. Sometimes, “I’ll bear it in mind” does mean exactly that. The person will take your comment on board and think about it going forward. However it can also mean “That’s a completely useless contribution, but I have to acknowledge it so as not to be impolite”.

In the same way, “that’s interesting” can mean any number of things from it’s indeed really interesting to it’s strange or it’s completely irrelevant, let’s move on. The key here is to think about what else the person is saying, how quickly they want to move on, whether they look bored or eager to learn more.

Let’s get to the point

This is what Angelika had to say: “British people seem to beat around the bush a lot before they get down to business instead of getting straight to the point. It frustrates me sometimes as I just want to get on with it.”

Sometimes English people are masters of conversation when it comes to superficial subjects such as the weather. It’s a way to break the ice. Everyone can have an opinion and it’s hard to get into a controversy unless you get into a heated debate about global warming. This may go on longer than you are used to, but plunging straight into the business details may leave people feeling that you’re not interested in them, but only the task at hand.

Some people will feel happy spending a whole evening with you without telling you much about themselves. They may choose to open up once they know you better, or they may not. And whatever you do, don’t expect people to be open about their age. Most won’t!

Being polite vs being honest

Anja shared quite openly about the difficulties she faced in this area. “I found there is a different culture in how people communicate and at the start I really struggled with people being polite but actually not meaning what they said in the same way I was used to from German friends. People are a lot more polite on the surface and less straightforward, which I think can be a struggle to start with; Not just in business.”

“It’s fine” or “it doesn’t matter” shouldn’t be taken literally if someone has a face like thunder or a scowl, or if the other person keeps going on about the thing that apparently doesn’t matter!

People who don’t do what you expect them to aren’t necessarily being rude

Particularly among colleagues, the salutation in emails is often dropped. So there’s no “kind regards”, “best wishes” or “have a good weekend”. Sometimes there’s just the person’s name at the bottom. Sometimes they just write your name at the top, with no “dear”, “hi” etc. Whilst I may be tempted to do that if someone is annoying me, many people do it out of habit and there is no hidden message at all. In this way, English people can offend colleagues from other parts of the world without even realising it.

Christina said “I noticed that it is not uncommon here that people don’t greet each other while in Germany we shake hands with every colleague in the morning.”

I would think it rude if I said “good morning” to a colleague and they didn’t answer, but I think that, generally, particularly in the big cities, we are less likely to greet people than in other parts of the world. I remember going to get a coffee in a hotel in Sweden and some people whom I didn’t know said good morning to me on the way past. I returned the greeting, but it took me by surprise because it’s not what I’m used to.

In terms of people that you know, greeting them is normal, but many English people only shake hands the first time that they meet someone. They wouldn’t do it every day.

Less formality

It’s not all bad! According to Christine, the atmosphere seems much more relaxed in the UK, people joke and are not very formal.

Christine is the second person to mention joking, and it’s true – we can be a less formal, relaxed bunch of people.

Anne-Marie pointed out that in the UK people usually start off on a first name basis, whereas in Germany, people happily work alongside each other for years before offering the “Du”. This is true. When I worked in a previous role, even the Directors were spoken to using their first names and this was completely normal. It’s just a different kind of working culture. It doesn’t mean that we respect them any less or that we are closer to our colleagues – it’s just a different way of doing things.

So, what does this mean for you?

For me, as an English person, I find direct communication refreshing. You don’t waste time promising to do things that you have no intention of doing. Yes means yes and no means no. I didn’t think that we, as English people, were particularly polite, but what my German contacts tell me suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m just not typically British!

It’s true that this article focussed on intercultural differences in communication, but I think there’s also a lesson to be learned about how we communicate with people in general. Is it really clear and obvious what we mean? Do we try to dress things up so that they sound friendly, but in doing so hide some of the core meaning? Could what we write or say be confusing to someone that doesn’t know us? If so, how can we fix it?

If you have any thoughts on this, let me know in the comments.

Get in touch

If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form: