Today, many people in business are caught in a dilemma of competing demands. On one hand, their business demands more of their time and attention. On the other, they need to upgrade their skills and accreditations or risk being left behind or shut out.

In many areas, technology is seen as holding the answer, with online learning becoming increasingly popular.

But, there is one area where it has been said that online learning cannot cover — presentation skills.

Well, up until now, that is. Recently completed programmes have provided the practical evidence that online training for presentation skills works despite arguments against it:

You can’t teach presentation skills if you don’t have an audience in the room. That depends on how you define “room”. You certainly have an audience.

During a webinar, the audience is sitting in front of their computers. They can see a list of the attendees. They can also hear and speak to everyone via their computers’ speakers and microphones or, ideally, headsets (that they may use for communicating via Skype or a similar VoIP service). Some attendees (especially those presenting) will have a camera while others won’t.

Webinar facilitators often use the phrase, “I’ll go around the room and get everyone’s opinion”, so while there isn’t a physical “room”, there is definitely an audience.

Participants can’t interact. At any time, participants can let the facilitator know they have a question via a “hand” icon that pops up on the screen. They can also type messages to the facilitator or one or all participants at any time. The channels of communication are numerous.

You can’t give feedback to someone you can’t see. I have previously run some presentation skill programmes by teleconference. Now, everyone acknowledged that these were a huge compromise, but they were the best you could do 10 years ago in most areas.

What they did teach me was that only around 30 per cent of the feedback to my participants was on their body language — often much less. Now, I know that up to 55 per cent of a speaker’s message comes from his body language, and I do not disagree.

But in terms of the feedback that a facilitator gives a speaker to try to help him improve his presentation, it is generally 40 per cent in the content and construction, choice of words (speech writing), 30 per cent in the use of voice (pacing, pausing, emphasising and tonality) and 30 per cent body language and any accompanying visuals (such as PowerPoint slideshows).

The reality is that you cannot give a speaking trainee more than three to five points to work on. Otherwise, it is counter-productive. Even when I cannot see him, I’ve never struggled to find five points for improvement.

Most trainees do have a webcam, but, to be honest, this is one area where the technology is lagging — mostly through low-light limitations of the cameras. Time and the march of technology will soon eliminate this problem. If they are using a slideshow, this can, of course, be visible to all so the presenter can receive feedback on it.

The feedback has been fantastic. The convenience for the participants is phenomenal. And the cost-savings for an organisation can be astronomical. On a programme I recently completed, the face-to-face option would have involved airfares from six different countries.

It’s not as engaging. It can be if you acknowledge that it is a totally different medium. The skills are the same, but they are applied differently, like the difference between a television and a radio programme.

As the facilitator, I have neat devices like immediate online polling and virtual discussion rooms I can use to ensure interaction and input from the participants.

Feedback on the programmes from participants has been encouraging, with many describing the online training as “engaging”.

In a perfect world, you will still have some face-to-face time blended with online learning, but with the constraints of time and travel expenses and the convenience for participants, it is inevitable that this method of training will become increasingly popular.