Top tips for effective webinars

Denise was recently the presenter in a webinar, and as usual it was a mix of interesting (in a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of way) and fun. Reflecting on her experience (plus the recent COVID-19 pandemic) made us realise that we needed to share some tips for being a presenter in a webinar, as well as running webinars as enablers of change. So this episode is all about effective webinars. And it just so happens that John is an old hand at webinars. So we can learn from the best! 

We are going to start with John’s number one piece of advice for webinars.

John’s top tip is to run a practice session exactly one week before the live performance. Doing it at the same time overcomes any confusion about different time zones. And more importantly it gives you a chance to test the technology and also to ensure that the presenter is well prepared with their presentation. It is essential you do this in the same environment that will be used for the live session. Same location, same computer, and same audio device. It is all about seeing what might go wrong, so you have a few days to get it right for that all important live session. We can assure you there is not much worse than trying to run a live webinar and discovering just minutes beforehand that the audio isn’t working, or some other technological difficulty! 

Our next tip is for those of you who are going to be presenting on a webinar. You need to expect that you will be missing all the normal cues you usually rely upon. Depending on the type of software being used and the way in which the webinar is run, you often cannot see who you are presenting to. Perhaps at best you might see a selection of people – usually the ones who look the most bored – or the ceiling and a few arms or legs (getting webcams set up can be tricky!).  

So you need to think about what cues you can set up for yourself. Do you need a watch that you can glance at to check the time? You might think you’ve been talking for ages but actually it has only been all of five minutes! Do you need a picture of some people that you can imagine you are presenting to? Will you write out what you are going to say or have some bullet points to talk to? Denise realised that she tended to rely on seeing people when she presented, so she focuses on slowing down, having some bullet points written down to use as points to cover and have a watch or phone handy to keep an eye on the time. 

John always suggests to people that it’s like giving a radio interview, and so warns them not to expect any visual feedback from the audience, such as nodding of heads. You just have to carry on assuming everyone is hanging on to your every word. John says he did unfortunately have one presenter stop midway in their presentation to say “How do I know anyone is even listening?” and he had to jump in and assure them and the audience that everything was going well. Awkward! 

Our next tip is to engage with the audience early and regularly. Even before the official webinar session begins, we suggest you open the webinar say five or ten minutes early and encourage people to join early in case they need to set up their system. During that time, use the chat box to welcome people individually and ask them a low risk question, such as what is the weather like where they are. Sometimes John has shown a special slideshow of flowers in his garden or murals in his local city. That not only helps settle the audience but it is comforting to know the technology is all working fine before the big presentation. Plus it sets a lovely tone for the webinar and people feel engaged from the get go. But do not stop there. Use polls during your presentation as a way to get quick feedback from the audience about what you’re talking about and if you do that, make sure you then share the results with everyone. 

When preparing for a webinar, take the time to write out a list of questions for the audience. These questions can be very handy if you have scheduled in some breaks to allow for questions from the audience. If there are no questions, or only a few questions, then use ones you have prepared earlier to get feedback on what people are interested in and get some engagement. John says if you are organising a webinar, ask the presenter to send some questions beforehand, particularly about things they might have liked to talk about during their presentation but thought they might run out of time to include. These “Dorothy Dixers” help answer the questions that most people are probably quietly thinking about anyway. A tip is to not say “We don’t have any questions from the audience, so we’ll now use the ones we prepared earlier”, as I’ve heard some people say. Instead, just say something like this to introduce the question “Here’s a question for you [name of presenter]…”.  

Photo courtesy of iamhenry, Flickr

Our last tip is… as a presenter be like a duck paddling on the water. It may feel as though your head is spinning (and it probably will for the first webinars you do), but you need to smile and make out as if you are gracefully gliding over the water! John still remembers the very first big public webinar he did, and that morning a car ran into a power pole and took down all the phone lines in that location. Fortunately he quickly realised he could still use his mobile phone to dial into the webinar and so he did not even mention the trauma going on inside his head to the audience. 

A bonus tip from an attendee’s point of view, is for the presenter to always start and finish on time. Respect those who are punctual and stop rewarding the latecomers by saying “We’ll wait just a few more minutes for everyone to be online”.

Denise says her very first Zoom call with a group of people she wanted to impress (to get them on board with virtual meetings) almost ended as she got messages saying “you have used up your free time allocation”, and “you need to pay to continue this meeting”! She did pay (while the webinar was happening!) but she should have thought about this beforehand!

So you’ve read our thoughts about running and presenting webinars. Technology is wonderful, but like anything, a bit of preparation is the key! Now we’d like to hear your tips for webinars! What’s worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you? We don’t want this just to be a one-way conversation so join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. Add a comment below this blog post and share your experiences with us.

Resources

A small shameless plug… if you’d like to host your first webinar and are feeling a bit nervous, or don’t even really know where to start, we’d be happy to help you with our webinar coaching service. We can host the whole webinar experience for you and be in the background to help fix any glitches along the way, so you look like a webinar superstar!  

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Linda Peacock
Linda Peacock
6 months ago

A thanks for this timely webinar as all move to a place where we upskill ourselves to keep contact in this amazing world.

Jane Graham
Jane Graham
6 months ago

Some awesome suggestions in here, thank you. Very useful article.

Roy Murray-Prior
Roy Murray-Prior
5 months ago

Well done Denise & John. Excellent.

Naser
Naser
5 months ago

Thank you for sharing your tips

David Jago
David Jago
5 months ago

“Proper preparation promotes positive performance.”

All good stuff here. I like Zoom software, not least because it also (mostly) works in China. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on what hardware to use: webcam, microphone, lighting and so on.

David Jago
David Jago
5 months ago
Reply to  John James

Thanks John. Forthcoming is fine. The most highly recommended webcams are already sold out…

Paris Ilami
Paris Ilami
5 months ago

That is a good challenge for not seeking other response, it is also need in life I think, same as the opposite way so that to practice listening others.

Paris Ilami
Paris Ilami
5 months ago

Presenting as if radio presentation is a good and helpful word. Thanks John.

Olivia Ross
Olivia Ross
5 months ago

Very timely tips and tricks as we change our world of extension to farmers in NZ thanks Team!

Laurie Kellt
Laurie Kellt
5 months ago

I have run six webinars now and have done this from a great NBN connection site where I could live stream and use embedded videos polls and chats however with the lock down I am now having to webinars from home with ADSL. The upload speed is not great so will be looking at other ideas to make the webinar interactive. I have been asked to use MS TEAMS regularly for one group so need to master this. They say that you can use break out groups and other features so am on a steep learning curve. Thanks for this… Read more »

Tony Watson
5 months ago

Hi Denise and John, most helpful tips, also like how you used some of your own real life examples of when things didn’t go to plan – thanks for letting us learn from your ‘experiences’

Looking forward to giving this a go – the idea of a practice run doesn’t fit with my personality, but I’m taking that on board and will definitely do that (if only to respect the audiences time!)

Tony Watson
5 months ago

Hi team
I know its kinda ‘how long is a piece of string’ but do you have any thoughts/rules of thumb on duration of webinar when working with farmers?

Or another way – your thoughts on, say, 2 shorter webinars vs 1 longer one?

And do you have any observations re timing/time of day etc

Tony Watson
5 months ago
Reply to  John James

Thanks John, sounds like solid advice. Will no doubt have better questions for you once I’ve run a few webinars myself :).
Keep up the great work
cheers