Behind the Scenes: Designing and Presenting a 55-minute Webinar

Recently I presented a 55-minute webinar on the topic Say Yes Less: Why it Matters and How To Do It.  To help others who plan similar online learning experiences, this post goes behind the scenes of the design process. I highlight decisions made, the reasoning for them, and lessons learned.

Determining the content 

Having done keynotes and workshops on this topic in recent years, as well as some extensive (as of yet unpublished) writing, I had ample content from which to select.  I spent about three hours reviewing it to produce an initial draft of about 50 possible content points and quotes, initially organizing them into five color-coded sections.

A solid first pass, the five categories soon felt somewhat limiting.  To free myself of my initial categorizations, I created a text-only slide for each point or quote.  This fresh look at the content helped me spot a few gaps, and I did additional research and reading to gather more insights.  With these additions, the slide deck swelled to about 90 slides.  

Total prep time at this point was approximately five hours. 

Reviewing other webinars 

I reviewed six archived webinars, three that colleagues recommended and three previously presented by LeaderShape, my webinar's host.  While watching, I noted the timing for a few key elements: (1) welcome, logistics information, and presenter introductions, (2) when the presenter started sharing substantive content, and (3) every interaction opportunity (chat, polling, Q&A, et al).

I discovered that on average, each webinar spent 6-8 minutes initially on logistics and introductions.  This may partially have been a strategic buffer for people arriving after the official start time.  Overall interaction generally was less than I would have anticipated with Q&A or chat often saved until the end of the webinar.  These chronological assessments greatly informed the design choices I subsequently made. 

Six hours of webinar viewing brought my total prep time to 11 hours. 

Getting out of the blocks faster 

One overarching goal for my design was to accelerate participant engagement and the presentation of substantive content.  With LeaderShape’s blessing, we moved the start time to five after the hour in order to allow people to arrive on time from meetings just ending on the hour.  

Given that most webinars seem to start on the hour, I assumed some would show up then.  For their viewing, I created a five-minute slide show that rotated logistics information, chat questions the session would pose, and content-rich quotes. The quotes were pulled out of my draft content slide deck and also were provided in a downloadable handout. This “arrival” deck ran in silence until the final 45 seconds when an upbeat music element was introduced to get people’s attention that we were about to begin.

In collaboration with my LeaderShape host, we dramatically reduced the amount of time spent on logistics, as well as my intro. To support her verbal explanations, I created a slide illustrating the various webinar functions participants could use. My complete bio was available as a handout from the start of the webinar, and the host kept her intro of me very brief while we displayed a single slide highlighting my entire job/career history.  

LeaderShape’s previous webinars also included 2-3 minutes of organizational promotion on the front end.  To support my desire for a faster immersion into the content, we relocated this to about 20 minutes into the session and designed it as a commercial break.  A 90-second promo video coupled with the LeaderShape host offering a bit of commentary for three promotional slides I created made this a nice change of pace. 

Creating the arrival show and the additional visuals required two hours of work, increasing total prep time to 13 hours. 

Designing the main content flow and visuals 

From my draft content slides, I identified about a dozen to offer a quick overview of my key points.  To accelerate participants engaging with the content and each other, I interspersed three purposeful but brief polls and one chat question.  I wanted to quickly model a more active learning experience.

The draft slide deck now contained about 80 slides, far more than what I might use in a face-to-face presentation of the same length, but appropriate for the more frequent visual shifts a webinar can use to reengage participants’ attention. I organized the slides into several different combinations before deciding on three sections after my opening: rethinking your beliefs, refreshing your behaviors, and how to say no.  Several hours were then spent ordering the slides and honing text and images to only the essential and compelling.  During this process, I eliminated a few duplicative content points and combined a few slides for more powerful messaging.

Finally, I identified logical polling and chat question opportunities in each segment and built them into my slide deck and the webinar platform’s polling function. I used a uniform color, iconography, and layout for the polling and chat question slides throughout my deck to distinguish them from the other content. 

I invested three hours on this final slide design, bringing total prep time to 16 hours. 

Two offline content rehearsals on my own and two online tech rehearsals consumed three hours total, and the three experiments below involved two additional hours of work.  Final total prep time? 21 hours. 

Three other design decisions 

1. Eliminating polling dead air 

I find dead air during polling (or the presenter narration of responses coming in) to be lacking.  My solution was to first introduce the polling question and options on a slide and let people quickly scan their choices.  I then opened up the actual polling function for them to cast their votes while simultaneously playing a 20-second lively music clip in the background.  

I purchased these royalty-free clips from 123RF, a stock image and audio website, for about $50 total, including the music used in the arrival slide show. They required a bit of conversion to work on the Big Marker webinar platform.  I do not know if it felt better for participants, but I liked it. 

2. Soliciting participant input 

Ideally, the registration process allows for asking participants to share questions about the webinar topic or what they hope to learn.  Big Marker did not, so the registration confirmation included a link to a separate two-question online survey. To entice contributions, we informed participants that upon completing the survey they would receive a link to a Dropbox folder with a few resource articles I had selected.  Only 10% of the registrants responded, but their contributions helped shape the webinar content. 

Increasing evaluation response rate 

Low evaluation completion for webinars is common, and this was true for LeaderShape’s past efforts. To try and increase the response rate I: made an evaluation plea in the arrival slide show displayed prior to our beginning, offered a verbal plea at the end of my presentation, and added the incentive of entry into a leadership book drawing for every evaluation completed.  Happily, we improved the response rate to slightly more than 50%! 

Key lessons learned 

Participant evaluations were strong on the metric that matters most to me: how much value they received from my webinar compared to others they have attended. I had planned for an even more powerful learning experience, but ran into a few hiccups.

Despite no problems during two tech rehearsals, my microphone and webcam failed to connect with the webinar platform on the presentation day. This led to last-minute conversations with the tech folks, resulting in me using a telephone audio connection for speaking.  Live time on camera was not possible. Sigh.

Some additional minor tech issues caused a slightly later start than planned.  Losing these minutes on the front end coupled with the initial chat conversations running longer than I had planned meant I was pressed a bit for time.  This forced me to eliminate the final two chats, something that lessened both participant engagement and the overall impact a bit.

I also failed to allow time for the host's wrap-up.  Duh me. As a result we ran over our ending time, something I hate doing.  I still am upset that I did not build that content segment into my flow and timing. 

Bottom line? 

This effort felt like two steps forward, one step back.  While the overall experience seemed to deliver strong value and some of the new ideas worked fairly well, I know I could have avoided some miscues and plan to do so in the next webinar I present.

I hope you found this behind the scenes tour to be informative.  I welcome your questions in the comments and will definitely respond to them.

A recording of the webinar can be found here.  I believe you will need to provide a name and email simply for tracking views of the recording.

If you would like me to present Say Yes Less: Whit It Matters and How To Do It in keynote, workshop, or webinar format, please complete this brief inquiry.