For the last few years the Web has been hailed as the ultimate medium for presenters because you can deliver a presentation from the comfort of your own office. But even the biggest Web advocates will admit that Web presenting can't replace the value of a live presentation in terms of gauging the audience's reaction, interacting with attendees, or building rapport with the client. So whether or not you've jumped on the Web-bandwagon, take a few moments to review some of the reasons why you may or may not want to deliver your next presentation in cyberspace.

To Be
The major advantage of Web presenting is obvious eliminating the need to leave your office means you're going to save a huge amount of time and money on business travel. But there are other advantages too. Presenting in cyberspace gives you access to a huge potential audience. And you don't need to worry about conflicting appointments, since anyone who misses your presentation can view it at his or her own convenience. Alternatively, if any attendees need to clarify a certain point, they can revisit the presentation later.

Although you've eliminated the opportunity for live audience interaction, the Web can provide an opportunity for your audience to interact with your presentation. Many Web-based presentation packages offer whiteboards, chat boxes and instant polling. So your audience can type in a question or comment, vote on outstanding issues, or contribute to a brainstorming session, all from their own desktops.

This leads us to another major benefit of presenting over the Web audience participation. Most presenters find that getting a live audience to ask questions is like pulling teeth. The Web offers some form of (visual) autonomy so participants tend to ask more questions via e-mail or chat boxes.

Or Not To Be
The easiest way to present over the Web is to convert your existing presentation (e.g., PowerPoint) to HTML. But be warned the presentation you spent hours crafting may come out a little worse for wear when it's viewed on the Web. Some of the glitches you might experience are: 
Transitions and animations won't work on some browsers
With only 256 colors (or 216 if you want your presentation to work for both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator) your photos may come out blurred and pixilated
Sound effects won't translate unless viewers download an audio plug-in (such as RealPlayer)
Your file size is likely to be HUGE (some presentations will double in size when converted to HTML)
Your presentation may be frustratingly slow

So converting an existing presentation might be all right if you're pressed for time, but it won't be nearly as professional as creating a new, Web-based presentation from scratch.

The most effective way to deliver a Web presentation is to integrate an audio track so you can guide the audience through your presentation vocally. Converting an existing presentation may eliminate this option, as low-bandwidth attendees won't receive the audio. If you're delivering the presentation live, you could guide the audience over a conference call, but absent attendees will miss out on the vocal explanations.

Another inherent problem of presenting over the Web is that your audience's attention span will be a lot shorter. In the privacy of their own offices, attendees will be more likely to write e-mails, gaze out the window or water the plants. So make sure you employ some extra creativity in your presentation (e.g., games, quizzes, stories or anecdotes) or you'll have people snoozing in their chairs. 

And the Verdict Is
That leads us back to our original question Web presenter, to be or not to be? It really depends on the situation. If you're delivering a presentation that could make or break your career, then you probably wouldn't want to trust it to the Web. There are too many technical glitches that could ruin things, and too much potential for your audience to misinterpret your message if you're not able to gauge their reaction. On the other hand, there's no denying that Web presenting is infinitely easier to schedule and finance. Plus, you're able to reach a vast audience (although they're more susceptible to tune out without a live presenter). Try to reach a happy medium enjoy the ease of presenting over the Web, but don't sacrifice your message in order to do so. Perhaps the question is not to be or not to be a Web presenter, but rather, when to be or not to be?

Read meeting dilemmas solved by the Meeting Guru.

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