Delivering a Fearless Webinar: The Feeling of 30 Minutes in Freefall

Get the Rush of Running Great Presentations

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Introduction

Don’t get nervous at the thought of delivering a presentation, particularly these days when talks are increasingly delivered over webinars and within the comforts of our home.

There’s no magic 🔮 involved — all you need is a single document to read from and the ability to sound confident, using your voice as your instrument.

In this article, I share how I prepared a careers webinar that I’ve given to students at colleges and universities. I’ll take you through the delivery and follow-up process, setting up visual aids, and circumventing obstacles.

Part I — Creation

Create your presentation

I use Google Slides for my presentation.

A well-crafted presentation uses a consistent color scheme throughout and avoids out-of-date color combinations.

I launch the webinar on this landing page, which is shown 5 minutes before the start of the webinar so that participants who join early have something to look at rather than a blank screen:

Opening Screen for the Presentation

Next, tell people a little about yourself with a one-sentence description, such as:

“I’m a software engineer, author, blogger and tech enthusiast who believes in helping other to make us happier and healthier.”

Tell your audience who you are, your objective, and the kind of values that are important to you:

Careers in Software Presentation — Summary

Be generous with the use of high-quality pictures as visual aids to keep your audience engaged. Ensure that all text and graphics on a slide are also purposefully matched:

Using pictures along with text to keep participants engaged

Don't clutter slides with too much information: it confuses the viewer about which section of the slide to concentrate on.

Also, occasionally change the format of a slide to keep viewers interested, such here where I list and explain standard technology stacks:

Changing the Slide Format

When you reach the end of the presentation and begin to take questions, make sure that you keep a slide up that tells participants how to contact and follow you on social media.

Contact details page to show during the Q&A phase of the presentation

This slide will be displayed in the 10–15 minutes of questions at the end, and I feel contact details are best placed at the end of the presentation rather than when you introduce yourself at the beginning.

Create a presentation document

My presentation document was created using Google Docs:

This document does three things:

  • Lists the preparation, delivery, and follow-up tasks in a checklist.
  • Has a speech to go along with each slide — you can either follow this strictly or keep it as an option to fall back on should you get nervous or forget what you want to say.
  • It acts as a cue to remind me when to jump to the next slide.

Your presentation document should be a table with two columns: one, the left is a screenshot of your slide; on the right, is the text that you’ll read out loud to your audience.

By organizing it in this way, you’ll remember to display the next slide when you come to the end of the text in each row.

A two-column approach to know when to show the next slide

Prepare your presentation checklist

Use a checklist to document the steps that need to be taken before and after a webinar. To help you get started, here’s a list of steps I wrote down before my Careers in Software Presentation:

1 Week Before

  • Print the presentation document — I like to order it bound, as shown below.
  • Make contact with the presentation organizer to agree on how the event will start when the organizer hands over control to you and how the Q&A session will be held.
My presentation checklist

Before the Webinar Starts

  • AirPods are charged
  • Laptop connected to the power
  • External monitor connected to the power
  • Laptop connected to an external monitor
  • Remind self how to mute everybody on Zoom
  • Remind self how to pass control between presenter and organizer

Start of the Webinar

  • Join 15 minutes early
  • Share screen, displaying the first slide of the presentation
  • Display the chat window
  • In the beginning, ask if everybody can hear and see you ok

End of the Webinar

  • Send a ‘Thank You’ email to the presentation organizer
  • Attach a PDF version of the presentation to this email (I prefer to do this at the end rather than beforehand so everybody is focused on my content)
  • Ask for feedback

Prepare backup questions

During the Q&A session at the end of the webinar, I invite people to unmute themselves and ask anything they like.

Make sure you have some back-up questions at the end of your document should nobody have questions. For example, here are my software careers presentation back-up questions:

  • Are there typical hours a software engineer works?
  • What does a typical day look like?
  • Where’s the best place to look for software internships?
  • Do you recommend using a coding ‘boot camp?

Part II — Planning

Practice and tracking time

Before using Zoom, you’ll want to practice reading your presentation aloud to ensure that all the ideas you want to get across to your audience are delivered effectively.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of your voice tone as you lift and lower it?
  • Are you speaking too quickly?
  • Is there enough time between slides to give your audience a chance to digest your main points?

Scheduling the meeting in Zoom

To schedule a new meeting, click the Schedule button:

Give the meeting a title and decide to use either a Passcode or Waiting Room. I’m going to choose Passcode.

I also prefer to keep Video off for everybody by default, including myself.

Once I click Save, I then add this event to my Google Calendar:

Sending out invites

Send the invite to the meeting organizer from Google Calendar, who will then distribute it via the student newsletter:

Call with the presentation host

You must agree on a time to speak with the meeting organizer beforehand. Check how the presentation will open — when more than one person is presenting in a session, the webinar is typically started by the organizer.

On other occasions where it’s just me speaking, sometimes the organizer will not even be on the call, and I have the freedom — and responsibility — to do the presentation.

Other things to consider:

  • Give a summary of the different parts of your presentation.
  • Tell them approximately how long the presentation will be.
  • Agree on how the organizer will handle the Q&A session and if the presenter wants to ask the first question.

A dry run

If this is your first time using Zoom, ask a friend to join a mock meeting with you to test how well your checklist works.

Phase III — Delivery

Join the meeting 15 Minutes in advance

Yes,…15 minutes! Trust me, those minutes tick by very quickly if you encounter technical issues, so it’s always better to join early.

Some keen attendees always join the meeting 5 mins early, and it’s worthwhile putting a message out on the global chat saying:

“Thanks to those who’ve joined the call. I look forward to our webinar at 1 pm.”

Have Participants and Chat Window Always Visible

Check everybody can hear you and see your screen. Then ask them to wait a couple more minutes while others join the call.

Familiarise yourself with the Waiting Room and/or using a webinar passcode and evaluate which works better for you.

In the bottom panel, click Participants and Chat and dock them on the right-hand-side:

Finally, click the Share Screen button and share the presentation:

You’ll see a green status bar confirming this:

Ensure Participants Are Muted

You won’t want any distracting noises interrupting you, so make sure you know how to mute everyone on Zoom.

If anybody can’t hear, ask them to post this into the global chat window, so you’re notified.

I also prefer to mute myself until I’m ready to speak.

Begin the presentation

Give it two minutes for participants to join, then begin the presentation. Start by thanking the organizer for having you:

“Ok great, let’s get started.

First of all, I’d like to thanks [X] for having me here to talk to you today — it’s a great pleasure and a privilege.”

You’ll then want to say a little bit about yourself, then make it clear what the aims of the webinar are and roughly how long it will take:

“My talk today will take around 30 minutes with a Q&A session at the end. The goal of this session is that you leave here today with information you need to own the power to take control of your career in software engineering…”

10 minutes before the end

It’s a bit awkward if you get silence at the end of a presentation when you ask if anybody has questions.

Therefore, I leave a marker in my document when I’m roughly 10 minutes to go until the end of my presentation. This reminds me to announce that if anybody has questions, leave them in the chat window.

At the end of the presentation

I’m now ready for questions, saying:

“Thanks very much for listening, that brings me to the end of my presentation. If anybody has a question, feel free to either unmute yourself and ask, or place the question in the chat window.

Happy to take questions now.”

If I don’t get a question after 10–15 seconds, I fall back onto my pre-prepared questions in Prepare Backup Questions in Phase I.

Phase IV — Follow-up

Saying “thank you.” ❤️

Follow up with the presentation organizer, repeating thanks for allowing you to present. You may also want to share your presentation with the host so that students/employees have a copy in case they missed anything.

Post-presentation lessons and editing

Your presentation document will evolve as you learn what worked and what didn’t. I regularly make written notes against my Careers in Software Engineering speech, so I know what changes I need to type up:

Post-Presentation Notes

Not ready just yet?

For some of us, the thought of delivering a presentation is daunting. This is particularly true when speaking to a large group of subject-matter experts, e.g., speaking at a JavaScript conference about a trending JavaScript library to a hundred JavaScript developers.

Don’t ask too much of yourself — I’d recommend starting by finding a less stressful setting to build your confidence. A perfect alternative is volunteering to speak about your career at schools, and there are three reasons why this is an excellent option to consider:

  1. It’s easy to talk about your job.
  2. Children won’t have complicated questions for you to answer
  3. Volunteering makes you feel good about yourself, making you more confident and powerful to take on bigger challenges.

Schools are always calling out for volunteers to talk about their careers! If you live in the London area, I’d strongly recommend getting in touch with a charity such as Inspiring the Future — I’ve volunteered with them to talk about software careers at schools and colleges.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to subscribe. 👍

George is a software engineer, author, blogger, and tech enthusiast who believes in helping others to make us happier and healthier.

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