Unfortunately, most people aren't using them yet, and even those who are using them aren't using them effectively. Here's a typical comment I saw on a blog about e-learning and webinars:
"While I've seen dozens of inspirational or motivational speeches, I can honestly say I've never attended a webinar that was anything better than ho-hum. Heck, I'd even settle for one that made me feel like it was time well spent."
So why is this such a problem? I think it's because presenters - even experienced presenters - don't know how to adapt their presentations to the webinar environment. So here are my top seven tips for making your webinars more engaging and effective.
1. Solve their Problems
This is the most important tip I can give you. It doesn't matter if you have scratchy audio, poor slides, a slow Internet connection, or anything else. If you know your audience's questions, challenges and problems, and you can answer them in the webinar, you can get away with anything. That's not to say you should fail at other things, of course. But solving their problems is the most engaging thing of all; and conversely, even the smoothest, slickest presentation will fall flat if you're not addressing their problems.
2. Get Them Doing Something Soon
Ask them to do something early in your presentation. This forces them to take notice, involves them right from the start, and demonstrates that this isn't just another boring presentation. For example, you could:
- Conduct an on-line poll
- Ask them to draw or write something on a blank sheet of paper
- Leave part of your handout blank, and ask them to fill it in
Design something that's easy but engaging. It doesn't have to involve them sharing anything personal - in fact, it shouldn't, because that's too early in the presentation for them to share with others - but it should involve them doing something.
3. Shift Energy
As with any presentation, design segments that shift the energy during the webinar. For example, instead of just speaking and showing slides, you could:
- Conduct on-line polls
- Show a video
- Ask them to write or draw things
- Stop talking for 30 seconds of "reflection time"
- Show a list and ask them to mentally pick their top 3 priorities
- Ask for live questions
- Answer questions sent in advance
- Hand over to a guest presenter
- Ask somebody in the audience to share a story or case study (ask for their permission in advance)
- Switch from a slide show to a Web page or some other software
- Use the webinar's whiteboard facility to draw your diagrams during the webinar, rather than just displaying a slide showing the completed diagram
4. Get Comfortable With The Technology
Just as there's nothing worse than a presenter in a face-to-face presentation struggling with PowerPoint, there's nothing more off-putting in a webinar than a presenter struggling with the technology. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. So get good!
You don't have to master all the technology the first time. Your first webinar might be just a PowerPoint presentation. The next time, you might add interactive polls. The next one might include switching to a Web browser or other application. Then you could add a session for group discussion. And so on...
5. Start and Finish On Time
One of the benefits of webinars is that they are very time-efficient. Your audience doesn't have to spend time travelling to a venue, battling traffic, finding a parking spot, hanging around before the event starts, and doing it all again at the end. They have high expectations that you'll respect their time - even more so than in a face-to-face presentation.
So be sure you start on time and end on time. Sure, technology problems can sometimes delay you; but if you log in early and test the technology, you won't be delaying others. And there's really no excuse for you, guest presenters, interview guests and panellists to be late.
6. Deliver Great Content
You might have heard that a presentation can have one of four purposes: To persuade, to inform, to educate or to inspire. Most webinars fall into the "inform" or "educate" category - not "persuade" or "inspire". Your attendees are expecting to hang up at the end with some useful skills or knowledge. You can persuade, motivate or inspire them as well, but don't make that your main aim - unless that is really clear to them before they register (for example, you've clearly advertised this as a sales promotion).
Be clear in your own mind about what you want your audience to learn during the webinar; and tell them these objectives right at the front of the webinar - or perhaps even in the promotional material.
7. Start Before You're Ready
Webinars can be unsettling and nerve-wracking, even for experienced presenters. You can't see your audience, you have to manage lots of new technology, audience members themselves might be struggling with the technology, and you don't have as much control over the "room".
The only solution to this is practice. You don't have to throw yourself in at the deep end; but if you're not even willing to try the shallow end, you won't learn how to swim.
Don't make your first webinars high-risk events. Start with small groups, not large audiences. Offer no-cost webinars first, before you start charging money. Get somebody else to manage the technology for you. Write a script for what you're going to say.
Do whatever it takes! Webinars aren't going away, and they are fast becoming a key delivery method for experts to connect the world with their material.