I was leafing through a car enthusiast magazine yesterday. On the final page, the creative director wrote an article about how tough it had been to create that month’s cover art. I hadn’t really paid the cover much attention, so I went back and took a closer look… To be honest, I still just shrugged. It seemed like a straightforward composition of a photograph and an illustration. There was nothing that made it stand out and bowl me over.
Then I went back and read the “behind the scenes” article a little more attentively. They wanted to counterpoint the drudgery of city commute driving against the thrill of a video game driving adventure.
This required a photo shoot on the crowded streets of Manhattan in rush hour. Careful lighting, perspective, and perceived size of objects. Give that to an illustrator to blend with artwork that matched the angles, colors, and sizes so that there was no perceptible break between the reality and the fantasy portions. Proper top and side space to hold title text, and so on. The mark of the achievement was in how it didn’t stop the eye and call attention to itself. The craft disappeared behind the message.
Crafting and delivering a good presentation is like that. Doubly so when presenting online. If you are conscientious and professional, you will put skill and effort into:
- Structuring your message
- Creating supporting visuals or multimedia content
- Deciding and rehearsing how to deliver your talk
- Mastering the webinar or webcast software
- Setting up and testing audio for clean sound
- Setting up lighting, framing, background, focus, sightlines, and so on if you appear on camera
- Coordinating with support crew for moderating, handling Q&A, technical assistance, etc.
If you are REALLY good at all of these, your audience never thinks about them and never notices what you have achieved. The presentation just feels natural and meets their expectations as they take in your messaging.
This is one of the great sorrowful truths of the creative field… Audiences simply EXPECT perfection. They tend to count up the things that fell short instead of the things that went right.
We listen to professional music recordings by the best musicians in the world, recorded in perfect acoustical settings, mastered and remastered by experienced professionals, with retakes and subtle edits inserted as needed. Why doesn’t everybody sound like that when they make music?
We watch the nightly news or our favorite interview TV show and wonder why web presentations fall short of this standard. How hard can it be to just look into a camera and talk? Most people are dimly (if at all) aware of the studio crews, lighting, audio, makeup, wardrobe, script supervisors, and decades of presenter experience that are applied towards making that natural, seemingly unremarkable broadcast happen.
All of this is why I sometimes feel frustrated when webinar vendors push advice for their users on how to “Wow your audience” or “Use more features to stand out from the crowd.” I’d rather see webinar hosts and presenters just try to master the expertise and attention to detail needed in order to “Meet your audience’s unreasonable basic expectations.”
Because getting a good outcome doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires training, practice, expenditures on proper equipment, attention to setup, and a willingness to spend more time and effort than anybody ever anticipates.
Several years ago I broke down a “behind the scenes” look at an INXPO XPOCAST web production. The company has taken down the video I used as the source, but you still might like to read through my analysis of the things they had to manage in order to produce a professional web presentation from a local event. All of it needed just to meet the unreasonable expectations of an audience looking for casual perfection.
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