The wacky world of webinars

I’ve done a few webinars now with the Learning Pool posse and am planning to do a lot more as both a marketing thing for Kind of Digital and as a part of the training work we do.

Webinars are going to be a really important part of the training and communications mix, as they provide a lot of the benefits of face to face learning without the travel expense and time lost of traditional events. The only thing that really sucks about webinars is the name, but I guess we’re stuck with it.

Here’s some lessons I’ve learned from my experiences of running a webinar.

1. Have a wingman

By this I mean someone sat behind the scenes, not talking but just keeping a watching brief over what’s happening. Someone to ping the odd message out to the chatroom, help manage the questions, and to remind you to do and say stuff.

Presenting a webinar can be a bewildering business and having someone to keep you on track is vital.

2. Have a co-presenter

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it turns out people don’t want to sit and listen to me talk at them for an hour down the phone. Madness!

Having somebody else involved can make a real difference to the dynamic of the webinar, especially if it brings multiple perspectives to the session. Also, it means that witty banter is on the cards, which improves things for delegates no end.

3. Practice

Always have a run through an hour or so before the actual performance. It improves flow, points out any obvious problems that might happen and gives everyone a chance to rehearse what they will say.

Never skimp on practice!

4. Keep talking

As I found out when doing webinar this morning, stuff either goes wrong, or at least goes slowly – especially when you are demonstrating a website or online service. If you’re waiting for something to happen, or if you are having to have multiple goes at getting something to work, don’t go quiet!

Keep chuntering on – not just moaning about how the technology never seems to work, but go over some of the stuff you’ve already said, which will probably be a fairly useful refresher to the attendees. Not saying anything can make attendees think that everything has broken, including the sound, so even if you aren’t exactly setting the world alight with your commentary, keep it coming.

5. Interact

Webinars without audience participation can be pretty dull. Set up a couple of polls to run during the event. One great feature of GoToWebinar, the software both Learning Pool and Kind of Digital use, is that it shows you who is paying attention – ie those who have the webinar window in focus on their desktop.

If someone has flicked to check their emails while you are talking, you know about it, and that’s always a good time to launch a poll! You can also get people to type in questions and comments throughout the webinar which keeps participation up and people concentrating.

6. Follow up

When people register for the webinar, they leave their email address – so use it! Send them a link to a recording of the webinar so they can share it with their colleagues and other resources. You can also get attendees to fill in a quick survey at the end which is another great way of grabbing a bit more information from delegates.

Do you have any tips or experiences to share about webinars? Leave them in the comments!

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Caryn Wesner-Early

I haven’t been to any meetings/Webinars that use this, but it sounds exciting: make a Twitter hashtag for the event and include it in publicity, registration forms, etc. Then, during the event, have a screen or monitor window showing the Tweets. I’ve heard that fabulous parallel discussions can result, weaving in and out of the official presentation. I’d really love to see it in action, and think it would liven up Webinars (as well as being another way of telling if the natives are getting restless!).

Bill Brantley

1) Keep ’em short if possible. I do a number of webinars as class lectures and I always keep them under 10 minutes. If you have a longer lecture, break it up in ten minute increments.

2) For live webinars: I fully agree with the wingman and also would have pauses where you answer questions from the audience at points in the webinar. Ten minutes of content, question, repeat. Here is one webinar I did which used this model quite well – Navigating the Federal Hiring Process (Media File).

3) Rehearse, Rehearse, and (Full Technical) Rehearse!

Debbie Gwaltney

Great Best Practices! Another one is KEEP THEM SHORT. If longer than an hour, the content better be a ‘must have’ and the audience is engaged through chat, polls or opportunities for audience to ask question through audio.

We have been doing Webconferences at the Federal Highway Administration using Adobe Connect Professional for the past 5-6 years. Our agency does 200+ Webconferences per month. The most successful ones follow your advice.

Pat Lockett

Great post! For newbies I would add “have a plan.” For example: write a design guide when developing your materials (matching learning objectives to the content and activities in the session); Develop an agenda for the event (timing, content, and who does what). To increase engagement perhaps throw-in some stuff that addresses principles of adult learning like: ask participants why they are attending; include action planning activities (planned behavior increases likelyhood of application); Allow folks to use chat or other tools to share some of their own experiences (without throwing off the agenda). Any other ideas? This is a great topic!

Doug Mashkuri

Great post and associated comments.

Dave – I could not agree with you more webinars are great but the actual – word not so much. Let’s come up with a new name! At GovLoop we refer to our sessions as “training” as that is essentially what they are. Here are a few other best practices to go along with the awesome tips already posted:

1. When planning a session, try and think of 1-3 key takeways your audience can start immediately

2. Allow at least 25% of the allotted time for Q&A. I have found that the Q&A sessions are usually the most informational and useful part. When running a Q&A, coach the speakers to give short but informed responses. A long response will have viewers logging off quickly.

3. Post webinar follow-up – make sure to send out a post webinar follow up email with link to the archive and any additional information to keep the discussion going.

4. Twitter hashtags are a great idea. At GovLoop we use a hashtag for each session and will generally share related tweets live to the audience.

David Kuehn

Good advice. I also find it handy to have a poll or two in the background to assist with transitions and to keep people’s attention.

Jenyfer Johnson

I have to agree with the comment about keeping them to less than 1 hour. I’ve attended a number of webinars that lasted longer (2-4 hours) and ended up checking email, or proof-reading copy, etc, in my other computer screen because I lost interest while I listened to the webinar. I listened but it just wasn’t enough to keep me glued to a computer screen for 2-4 hours while someone droned on and death-by-Powerpoint set in.

Wendy L. Frederick

Some other suggestions from our experience doing these – prepare an opening script for the host that lays the ground rules for participants. Especially important if the audio is via phone is to let people not to put their phones on mute if they have to leave the session. Create a test session and send the link to it out ahead of time so people can check they will be able to connect well ahead of time as there is always one in a group that has issues. Use the chat function to allow questions even when you prefer to take them at the end. That way participants can ask when the thought is in there head and you can control when to answer. Monitoring questions is also a good job for the co-host. Use the markup tools in the product to add movement to even really boring text slides – most have checkmarks, highlighters, etc that will give participants a feeling of movement even if you are on the same slide. Always do a practice run with new material – it is especially good if you can get a few people to join that know the content so fixes can be made before you “go live.” Be careful when using video – it streams at different rates to people so not all participants may see it finish at the same time. If you want to show the presenter in video let them say hello and the beginning (and end) but otherwise having them on screen is more distracting than helpful. Finally – one thing I learned is that app sharing really slows down performance of some platforms – it is probably better if possible to create a simulation and load it into the tool so the natural capabilities of streaming help with delivery (this may be unique to the platform we use and I haven’t verified this yet but can say I have noticed slow performance on app shares).

Doug Tharp

All good points, Number 5 is especially important. Just like the classroom, you need to know when you are losing your audience and do something to bring them back and keep them engaged. Learn how to use the tools and keep the virtual eye contact and read virtual body language.