5 Tips for Creating Social Presence in Your Webinar

nicevirtualpresencedeviceA central idea in the study of online education versus in-person instruction has been the Social Presence Theory. Early studies often started with the bias that distance learning was inferior because it lacked the feeling of being there.

Learning is, after all, a social event. It’s not the 12th Century anymore. The educated classes are not the Monks who sit in a library all day.

Most studies on social presence and distance learning are being conducted in the education fields. I taught History and Math for 10 years, so I get into this stuff.

As for the business and marketing community, far fewer studies have been conducted – at least in the social presence field. Most of our studies tend to be focused on profits.

As in, make a profit – the attendees must have felt pretty good about the presentation.

But you aren’t out to just make a little jingle. You want to make a difference. A difference in people’s lives, a difference in your tribe.

To do that, you have to think of yourself as an educator, not a marketer. You need to understand a little bit about Social Presence Theory.

The short version is, the more people feel like they are actually with you in person instead of watching a webinar, and part of the group as a whole, the better they will learn. The more useful they see your webinar. And yes, the more they buy – at least, that seems logical.

How can you create that sense of being there? Here are 5 tips for creating a social presence for your attendees.

Have a Pre-Existing Relationship

I do use Facebook advertising to bring in new customers to my webinars. But you need to create a link with your webinar attendees.

Even if they come from an advertising stream, you need to reference webinar attendees to some more “getting to know you” materials before the webinar starts.

Those can be YouTube videos, your podcast, your articles… anything that clues them in on who you are.

Call Your Attendees by First Name

How does a teacher speak to his or her students? By first name.

Don’t answer a webinar attendee’s question by saying, “OK, we have a question from someone…”

Seems obvious, right? A lot of webinar hosts tend to just read through a list of questions, though. Don’t. Use each attendee’s first name. As often as possible.

Photo by Mitchell Joyce
Photo by Mitchell Joyce

Encourage Group Discussion

I’ve never been a fan of it… but the more I study, the more I change my thinking. Leave the chat box on.

I don’t like the idea of having some troll in my chat room while I’m doing a presentation, though. A moderator could really benefit you here. They can monitor the conversation as well as guide it (and keep up with who’s asking questions!)

This might be atypical of your live, in-person seminars. But a good live speaker will encourage some interaction among the audience.

Use Humor in Your Presentation

Do you tell jokes in person? Make sarcastic comments?

Why wouldn’t you do it in your webinars then?

Just because your presentation is pre-planned and educational, doesn’t mean you can’t have some humor in it. If the best you can do is open with a cheesy joke, then tell the cheesy joke.

Then acknowledge that the joke is cheesy, explain that you’re nervous and were afraid the presentation would be humorless… and move on.

Photo by Brandi Redd
Photo by Brandi Redd

Don’t Be Perfect

Human beings. Individuals. We make mistakes. Real people do.

You want to create a sense of being in the same room with someone as the give a live presentation. That means that mistakes happen.

I’ve taught thousands of hours of classes and never once, not in a single class, did I go through the whole period without something going wrong.

I’d trip over a cord and unplug the projector (at first, it was an overhead projector). Or I’d stumble on a story. Or call a student by the wrong name. Anything.

Everyone laughs, I laugh at myself, and we move on.

That’s what a real, live presentation looks like.

You can’t plan for those mistakes, but you can acknowledge them when you make them. You also don’t have to rehearse your next webinar ad nauseum to eliminate every stumble.

Remember that the purpose of your webinar is to educate, first. If you offer plenty of value to your attendees, they’ll purchase your products or services.

And since education is a social event now, you need to treat it as such. It’s a discussion, not  a lecture! Field questions from your audience, refer to them by name make everyone feel like they are part of the group.

When you do that, you’ll be creating a social presence in your webinars that is going to lead to better trainings and higher conversions!

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