Practical Guide to Engaging Webinars
Over the last 2 years, we ran over 100 webinars for companies large and small. And we also attended a lot of webinars - some better than others. So we asked ourselves, "what makes a webinar engaging?" We brainstormed, looked through the feedback from learners, and put it all together in one article.
Today, we'll look at:
What is the difference between a webinar and online training
The pros and cons of webinars
What to do BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a webinar.
Without further ado, let's dive in.
The difference between a webinar and online training
While both webinars and online trainings are done online and cater to geographically dispersed audiences, this is pretty much where the similarities end. What makes the two different? We put it in a table (because we're organized like that!):
Live or recorded
Unlimited number of speakers or panelists
If more than 1, usually one person acts as an interviewer, the rest - respond to their questions
1 to 2 trainers
Number usually only limited to the software capabilities
From all walks of life
Small groups of up to 20 people
Usually from the same company or with similar roles
One-way interaction: speaker to audience
Speaker shares their webcam, audiences - do not
The audience is usually muted
In live events: Asking questions or commenting in chat, answering poll questions
In recorded events: no interaction
Two-way interaction: both speaker and audience members share their cameras and have their microphones turned on
The audience can ask questions via chat, off mute, participate in polls, raise their hands, or use other interactive tools, like whiteboards
The audience can be broken into smaller groups and work on a task or project
Although there isn't a limit to how long an online training can last, a good practice is to not exceed 3 hours per sitting. If the content requires more time, then it should be broken into several sessions (of no more than 3 hours-long each).
Pros and cons of webinars
Now that you know what a webinar is let's consider the pros and cons.
Pros of webinars:
The session is short and delivered just in time
Content is delivered to a large audience at the same time
Practical when the audience is in different geographical locations
Can be recorded and distributed to a wider audience for later viewing
Reduces travel for both the presenter and the audience
Cons of webinars:
Limited interaction with the audience
People sign up and then don't show up, relying on the recording
People log in but do not participate or are distracted by other things
Speaker needs to be highly skilled to engage the audience despite the limitations of the format
Before the webinar
Find out who your audience is
Not knowing who your audience is, is like writing a love letter and addressing it "To whom it may concern." Your audience is unique - they come from a particular background, have specific challenges, and are looking for distinct advice or tips. Before you even touch a webinar software, your role is to figure out who your audience is, what their pain points are, and what solution you can offer them.
(Webinar) Content is king
One of the most challenging tasks of any speaker is to condense their knowledge to a short period of time. The more time you have, the easier it is to go into details. But when you are limited to an hour, how do you choose what stays and what goes. Here's a quick checklist you can use to structure your own content:
Explain the WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)
Present the problem (as experienced by your audience)
Offer a solution, followed by an explanation or evidence of why this works
Provide opportunities for practice immediately back on the job
Review by creating triggers to help the audience recall the information you presented quickly
Make the content visual and interactive
It's well known that some of our energy dissipates on camera. The same is true for our content. Online, we need more images, more sounds, and more feelings. Your presentation should be filled with visual cues (not your script!), like single words on a slide, an expressive image to illustrate a feeling, dramatic colors, etc.
Check your technology
9 out of 10 times, technology will fail you. We haven't researched this, but we can testify to it from our own experience. That's why it is super important to check, double-check and triple-check all the technology you will be using. This includes your presentation, camera, microphone, computer, internet connection, and webinar software. Our expert advice - have a backup or plan B for each of those. And make sure you can switch mid-way with little to no interruptions. This leads us to the next tip...
Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. Especially if this is the first time, you will be delivering the webinar. We've said it before, we will say it again. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Usually, even just running through the contents once, can be enough to make you feel more confident and ensure that you are saying the things you want to say in the way you want to say them.
Some situations call for engaging with the audience before the webinar itself. For example, you could ask them to answer a question, send a photo, bring some kind of object, prepare a video or audio clip of themselves, etc. This will create a buzz and entice people to participate. But do not rely too heavily on this preparation - not everyone will have done it before the session.
During the webinar
Create an engaging environment
Introduce some ground rules and enforce them throughout. These don't have to be your typical boring rules. Stretch your creative muscle. Here are some of our favorites:
make your thinking visible
attack the problem, not the person
bring me a problem, bring me a solution
ask for clarifications
speak your truth
be here and now
be focused and comfortable
be bold about asking questions
Value the strength of diverse input
Mind the verbal gaps
Avoid filler words and sounds. Those can be distracting and ruin the effect of your message. If you are prone to using filler words, practice recording yourself on camera or rehearse in front of someone and have them give you a sign every time you use one of those undesirable sounds.
Use your body language
Like in a live presentation, you need to use your body to enhance your message. But what happens when you are limited to a small box on the screen? You still use it, that's what! First and foremost - smile! Way more than you think you need to. The camera takes away a lot of our real-life energy, and we may look disengaged or disinterested. Equally important - fill the camera frame (don't leave too much space above your head) and use your hands to amplify your points.
Get people's attention
There are many ways to get attention. Here are 10 recommendations (in no particular order):
Vary your voice and pitch
Change the visuals often and quickly
Make (dramatic) pauses
Challenge common stereotypes
Use people's names regularly (where appropriate)
Use different interactive approaches, like polls, chat messages, stamps and annotation, whiteboard, etc.
Use active voice ("I will", "you did", "they act")
Chunk the content into quick and manageable pieces
Use multi-sensory language
Everyone uses their senses to understand the world differently. Some prefer visual content, others - kinesthetic. Use language that invokes different senses. For visual effect, use phrases like "painting a picture" or "bird-eye view". For auditory preferences, use "tuning in" or "sounding out". Kinesthetics prefer phrases like "getting a feel for it" or "scratching the surface".
Utilize your voice
One thing a webinar cannot exist without is the audio. You can do it without slides or even your camera (it won't be engaging, but it's doable). But without audio - you don't have a webinar. Our expert advice - just like you would study any other instrument, learn and practice with your voice. Play around with the volume, pace, pitch, and articulation. Your personality will come through with the tension and the resonance you use, the way you breathe, and even the pauses you make.
After the webinar
Ask for feedback
The only way you can be sure that your webinar has been engaging and (more importantly) useful is to collect feedback immediately after the session. Ask about the audience's satisfaction, whether the objectives were accomplished, and how likely they will recommend this webinar to their colleagues and friends. Our preferred tool for collecting feedback is Survey Monkey. But you can use any other tool, including a Google Form. Simply share the link and then review the responses.
A follow-up is a great way to remind your audience about yourself, the topic, and actions they can take to further their knowledge, skills, or behaviors. In your follow-up, you should include the slides, answers to questions you couldn't get to during the live session, links to additional reading or videos, and a reminder to respond to your survey.