I have conducted my fair share of webinars and I would like to share some of the things I have learned and picked up along the way, with the aim of providing some useful nuggets on how to make it into a successful event.
- Prepare, prepare (and have a moderator)
Yes, and get a moderator for your webinar. You need to prepare slides and materials, check that you have the software and hardware required, and you need to set up a time for practice. Having a moderator will reduce the amount of work for you and will let you concentrate on your task: delivering an engaging webinar. It will be helpful if you could get somebody well known to be the moderator or the speaker (then you can be the moderator). This will draw a good audience to your webinar.
You need to be ready for the webinar, don’t try to wing it because you think it looks easy to do, believe me, it is not easy at all. Don’t think that because you have given countless of live presentations in front of audiences, a webinar will be easy pie. It is not, believe me. It doesn’t matter if you are a good speaker in a room, a webinar is a totally different animal. Having said that, it is helpful that you are a good speaker but the second key component is that you prepare a powerful slide presentation to show to your audience. Just you speaking with a blank page (or even just one slide) will put them to sleep, many will bolt out in a minute. It is important that you work in this presentation so that it has a visual impact, which has second importance next to the core of the content. Adding meaningful images, cartoons, or short phrases does help in conveying your message. Remember that they only have two things to assess how good your webinar is: your slides and your voice (although some presenters like to show on webcams, I find this distracting).
- Practice with the moderator
One day before the webinar run a small test with the moderator and maybe a couple of volunteers as audience members. Technology does fail sometimes and you have to be prepared for any eventuality. Make sure that you are in a room free of interruptions and external noise. Make one run to make sure you do not go overtime, it is OK to make mistakes but take notes of them. Your slides might need tweaking, this is the best time to make note of them. Create a short bio that your moderator can use to introduce you. This is the perfect opportunity for the moderator to practice your introduction, you both can make adjustments to come to an agreement that satisfies both of you.
- Check your hardware
Invest in a good headset and microphone, if you use the integrated microphone in your computer, bring it as close as you can to your mouth and test your volume by recording your voice.
- Stop, breathe
In between the webinar you should make some time to stop and breath. Is the audience engaged? Has the audience grown since the webinar started (by paying attention to the attendance record), are people bolting out the doors? Have you had questions so far? While you ponder these questions, you could create a two minute recess by asking your audience to answer a short question related to the webinar content and why it is important to them. Maybe you create a short game mechanism that engages your audience in thinking about a topic. They will also appreciate the break to move around and do something to recharge batteries. This works if your webinar is actually an hour long or more.
- Make it interactive
If you are planning on talking for an hour non-stop, think again. You need to make your webinar interactive. Ask questions to the audience. If you systems allows it, prose the question on the screen so that they can answer immediately. If not, pose the question on a slide and watch the chat system for the answers from the audience. Do this at the beginning of your session, some time in the middle, and maybe one at the end. Of course, you have to pause when somebody asks questions. Unless the subject is short, don’t take questions yet (but make your audience aware of this) until the end, otherwise, tackle questions during the presentation.
Present a slide with some kind of inside joke (any profession has one) that conveys a message related to your presentation. This will make them smile and be more attentive to what you are saying.
Don’t try to show videos, the time delay (because you are sharing your screen) and connection issues will derail your effort. Instead, provide the link to the video and let them watch it later on.
Take a quick poll on some issue to calibrate on which side your audience is leaning on. Or maybe you would like to know what is their line of work, their occupation, their position, their college degree (if applicable) and so on.
- Field questions
Be on the look out for questions. Most webinar systems will have some kind of chat feature that will allow attendees to type a question, if you don’t pay attention to the feed you might miss those questions, your audience will be frustrated by your lack of attention. Some other systems allow attendees that have microphone and camera to speak. I don’t recommend that, unless your moderator (it comes handy at this time) is willing to grant the microphone to any in your attendance. The webinar will have distracting background noise if you let everybody with the microphone open.
Don’t go over more than two minutes in answering a question. Be succinct, if the answer is actually long, make the promise to answer by e-mail to all attendees and take a note of it. But be sure to at least give some nuggets they can take with them, then expand on it in your email. Don’t just say you will respond by email.
- Some Web-etiquette
You have to be at least 15 minutes in advance to the the scheduled start of the event. Do not come late to your own webinar, even if you are the presenter and somebody else is the moderator. It is disrespectful to your attendees to show 10 minutes after the supposed scheduled time of the webinar. Make sure you answer all questions that they may ask during the webinar, encourage them to ask questions at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the webinar. Encourage them to send you questions by e-mail later on if you run out of time. Likewise, if time runs short and you still have questions to answer, send an email with your answers immediately after the seminar has ended. Do not wait till next day to complete this task. Be courteous all the time, treat your audience with familiarity and make them feel welcome by thanking them for attending the webinar, it also helps if you share something personal with them (like a picture of your pet, your children, your house, your office, and so on).
- Follow up, recording
The very next day (or even a few hours after the webinar) make sure to send out a follow-up e-mail to all of those that register to the webinar (even if they did not attend but registered anyway), thanking them for their attendance, inviting them to the next event, and maybe promoting that the visit your website to watch the recorded session. If you slides are valuable to your attendees, share them, it won’t hurt.
If you have an editing software, you may want to convert the video to a universal file type such as MP4, if you don’t have any copyright or other restrictions, upload the video to a sharing service (such as YouTube), and share the link. Embed the video in your blog or website so that they come back to your site, this will drive traffic to your site.