The art of the webinar

So you want to run a webinar?

How do you teach people you can’t see? I’ve been running writing workshops for years and have always relied on the power of being able to observe people, address them directly and engage with them. But it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re running a webinar.

A webinar is essentially a presentation where you can’t see the audience, so you can’t pick up on their body language to find out how they’re reacting. You can’t wander round and look people in the eye or address them individually. You have no idea how much they’ve taken in or whether they agree or disagree with what you’re saying.

So webinars require a different approach. I’ve run a few online writing workshops recently, and here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up. Please do let me know what you think. (Full disclosure: am technical numpty. Do not expect whizzy tech advice.)

How to run a successful webinar

  1. Do a trial run. Preparation is everything in a webinar. It has to run smoothly so you must check the technology in advance. (Or, in my case, ask someone else to do it.) Does the software work? Have you got the right version? And what’s the internet connection like in the room you’re going to be using? You don’t want to discover there’s a dodgy connection two minutes before the start. Have a trial run several hours before the webinar, even the day before, if you can.
  2. Send reference material beforehand. If you’re going to discuss particular documents or ask people to look at websites, send out that information the day before the call. That way, even if people don’t have a chance to look at it before the webinar, they can go back and check the materials out later.
  3. Ask for questions / comments about the session. Before the webinar, send out a call for questions or comments. Or you could even do a quick survey on the subject you’re going to be discussing. Make sure people give their names. Then you can make people feel more involved during the webinar by sharing their comments or mentioning issues they’re concerned about.
  4. Ask participants to put themselves on mute. When you have dozens of people on a call, it’s confusing and distracting to hear background noise from people who’ve left their microphone on. Cut out any distracting sounds of colleagues talking and doors banging by asking everyone to mute their microphone at the beginning of the call.
  5. Give people audio signposts. With presentations, we’re always told: ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them.’ This rule is even more important with a webinar. With a presentation or in a traditional workshop, people are sitting in front of you. During a webinar, who knows what they’re up to and how much of their attention you actually have? So, for the benefit of the person who’s just popped back from getting a coffee, give frequent updates on where you are in the process.
  6. Treat it like a radio show. One voice can get monotonous for people listening on the other end. If you have a couple of presenters, you can get a bit of banter going, take over from each other and add comments when you feel like it. It makes the whole thing more lively and engaging.
  7. Keep it short. A workshop that lasts a full morning, afternoon or day is fine when you’re face to face. Less good when you can’t see each other. Personally, I think 1.5-2 hours is about as long as you want a webinar to be.
  8. Talk s-l-o-w-l-y and clearly. You can’t rely on participants interpreting your meaning through your body language and, in any case, they’re probably listening to you on a line that’s less than perfect. As the communicator, you’re responsible for getting your message across. So be kind and be clear. Don’t mumble, mutter or indulge in quick-fire exchanges with people sitting in the room with you.
  9. Filter questions through one participant. When you’re running a webinar, you’ll probably be far too busy talking or checking the next slide to read lots of messages from participants. Instead, ask one person (maybe your chief client contact) to act as a filter for the messages so you only receive the ones that are the most urgent or pertinent.

What do you think? Anything I’ve missed? And do you have any tips to share? Please get in touch and let me know.


Photo credit: Ed Dunens