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Preparing for a successful webinar

While there have been many tips shared about running a successful webinar, in today’s episode we’re going to share with you some best practice tips for preparing for a webinar. It’s not good enough to just turn up at the webinar you’re delivering and hope it’ll run smoothly and that you’ll have a crowd of eager viewers. So we’re going to cover the essential steps to preparing for a successful webinar. 

If you’re good at preparing for physical events, you will probably be good at preparing for virtual ones. The basic steps are more or less the same. Maybe it is just that we’re not as comfortable with the online space yet, but that is rapidly changing. Many of us have been attending far more webinars than we ever did before. An interesting fact for you… in April 2020, Zoom announced that it had over 300 million participants attending their Zoom meetings in just one day! That’s a lot of people sitting through online meetings! So it’s important we do them well. 

Allow time to plan

Most people don’t allow enough time to adequately prepare for a webinar. I’m talking about the sort of event where you might expect 50, 100 or 150 online attendees. That’s a sizable crowd for any event. If it were a physical event, you wouldn’t leave yourself any less than six weeks to pull it all together from the beginning to the end. And it’s the same for a good webinar. Six weeks enables you to design and promote the event, giving plenty of lead time. 

Now we all know that sometimes we are asked to pull together physical events with less lead time than that because something needs to be completed in a hurry. And that’s where online events excel, as the attendees don’t need to plan and book any travel arrangements. So it means you could virtually run a webinar the next day if you had to. Imagine that something like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), a really serious disease in sheep and cattle, was detected. You might want to run a webinar within 24 hours so as to get the basic information out to industry members. 

Sometimes it’s better to get a small amount of true information circulating, before the rumour mill runs riot and creates its own stories. So you could do that with webinars, plus you can easily record them and make them available to those who weren’t able to attend live. 

Plan the event

When you’re planning any event, Simon Sinek would tell us to begin with the why. What is the outcome you’re wanting to achieve? Why would people be interested in attending? It’s the old WIIFM… what’s in it for me, from the attendees’ perspective. If we can be clear about that from the start, it’ll help us deliver an effective event, whether it be online or physical.

And we need to be clear about our target audience. Using the FMD example, we could design one webinar for graziers in northern Australia where they’re more geographically dispersed and another for those in the southern half of the continent, where properties tend to be smaller and closer together. Plus you might run a separate webinar for veterinarians and another for meat processors. This means you can be really targeted with your messaging and meet the needs of each segment of your target audience.

Then, just like for a physical event, you’ll need to think of an enticing topic that’s going to draw your target audience to register for the event. The style of writing we need to embrace is similar to that of clickbait headlines! We are not advocating the use of clickbait headlines here, just the style as the difference is that when people click to read more about our content, it’s evidence based and hopefully useful, not just a way to falsely lure people to your news site or online store. 

What techniques should we use to craft a great headline? Focus on people’s pain points or headaches. For example we could call our event “The biosecurity implications from FMD for small to medium cattle enterprises in Australia”. Technically that’s correct, but we think we would get a lot more people attending the event if we called it “Five easy ways to prepare your property for foot-and-mouth disease”. 

Headlines are so important that some content creators generate a list of 20 possible headlines for each article. This forces them to be creative and find different angles that might appeal to their audience. They then select the best option and run with it. Sometimes they will run with the top two options and then do some A/B split testing, and see which one appealed more to their audience. That’s where some email marketing software, like MailChimp, allows you to send one message to half your mailing list which is randomly selected, and a slightly different message to the other half. You then track to see which option generated the most clicks, likes or perhaps sales. That’s how important it is to get the headline right!

The final area you need to focus on during the planning stage is to design the engagement you’re going to have with your audience. This shouldn’t just be left to chance during the live event. Like many important tasks, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. 

John says he likes to start engaging really early, in fact as people register for the online event, which is often three or four weeks before the live event. Many webinar programs allow you to add custom questions in the registration form. So John will often ask the question “What one burning question would you like answered during this webinar?”. He then regularly checks the responses, and incorporates the answers during the live webinar. If you are a reflector, it’s a great way of being able to think about the questions for a while and determine the best response, especially if you feel you cannot do that during the live webinar if people were firing off their questions in the chat panel! 

Talking of the chat panel, while it’s good for ad hoc chatting and the like, John prefers to use a dedicated polling software tool, such as Poll Everywhere or Slido during the live event for people to ask their questions. The beauty of that is that they can not only add in the question they want answered, but they can see what questions other people are asking and upvote them. It’s a democratic process and at the end of the webinar you just start answering the most highly voted question and work your way down the list until you run out of time. 

Most webinar platforms have a polling function too, though they are somewhat basic. While you can craft a poll question during the live webinar, it’s best done beforehand so all you have to do is launch the questions at the appropriate time. These are particularly good for simpler questions and particularly towards the beginning of the webinar. They can help you gauge where people are coming from, their existing knowledge about the topic or their level of experience with the topic material. That then helps you as the presenter to better target the message and hopefully make it a more worthwhile event for the attendees. 

On the day

On the day of the live webinar, start it about five minutes early and let in the earlybirds. That helps them get their video and audio settings fixed if need be, and provides a means of checking with them that they can see and hear clearly. That gives you extra confidence, knowing that the system is working correctly. Plus it helps warm up the audience by asking them to type in the chat box where they’re located and perhaps what’s the weather like there. That’s particularly helpful if you want them to use the chat box later during the webinar, as it helps them become familiar with it in a low risk setting.

Finally, some platforms such as Zoom allow you to use breakout rooms. These are magic for allowing your attendees to chat with other attendees in small groups. At the allocated time, you just click the appropriate button, select the number of people you would like in each group, and the clever software does the rest. You can also pre-assign those who have registered for your event beforehand into specific groups, if that is important to you. As host, you can send a short message to all the groups. In the same way you’d walk around and check-in with each small group at a physical workshop, you can do that during the webinar. As host you’ll see who is in each group and there’s a button that allows you to join them.

And that brings us to the end of our post today. And we would like to hear your thoughts! Add a comment below the episode and tell us about your experiences with preparing for webinars, including any tips and further ideas about it. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change blog post. Remember to subscribe if you would like to know when new posts are available. And if you liked what you heard, please tell your friends so they can join the conversation!

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Sandra Baxendell
4 years ago

After the bush fires in early 2020, the Australian Veterinary Association and others arranged webinars to train vets in the latest techniques on treating burns both in wild-life and in livestock. It was very timely and useful. Great tips in your video as I am planning to do training soon on Zoom.

Graham Harris
Graham Harris
4 years ago

Thanks John and Denise – a great set of tips. Very topical at the moment.

Wendy Wilkins
Wendy Wilkins
4 years ago

What are your thoughts on turning off the video of participants during the presentations.

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