Five Principles for Better Webinars

It’s a Webinar World. We just live in it. 

It sure feels that way, right?

Current conditions have led organizations to exponentially increase the volume of webinars they present to members and customers. As you might expect, the value provided varies widely.

As someone who presents (and participates in) a lot of webinars, I have some simple tips that might help make yours better. My advice is not comprehensive; rather it reflects a few key principles I find helpful as a Webinar Warrior (that’s a thing, right?). 

1. Don’t make presenters multi-task. 

When attention is divided; value is diluted. Few presenters can simultaneously deliver quality content, attend to informal messages from the webinar host, and engage with the participant chat. No one should have to do so. 

Solution: Prerecord the presentation segment(s) of the webinar. This has several advantages:

  • Speaker(s) focused only on presenting great content.
  • You can re-record a segment if something isn’t right.
  • Graphics and other enhancements can be added in post-production, if desired.
  • It reduces challenge of speaker tech problems when presenting live.

2. Create greater content clarity. 

Do freely brainstorm all of what you COULD present, but then edit ruthlessly to distill the specifics into a handful (4-6) overarching themes or branches upon which you’ll hang the rest of your content. 

A simple structure—exploring a limited number of key points—helps participants follow along and reinforces what you most want participants to remember. 

Like the old five-paragraph essay, having your webinar preview the content, deliver the content, and review the content can increase the value it delivers.

Finally, federal law does not mandate webinars must be 60 minutes in length.  Shorter webinars (30-45 minutes) with concentrated content also work well. And for a one-hour webinar, I always start at five minutes after the hour to allow people coming from commitments ending on the hour to arrive.

3. Involve more people in the webinar management. 

Whether or not your prerecord content segments, you should involve more people in webinar management. Instead of one or two webinar generalists, consider a team of webinar specialists, each having one specific function: 

Marcus: Moderator 
Marcus is the primary liaison to the presenter(s) and helps open and close the session. 

Terry: Tech Support 
Terry’s sole job is to answer participants; tech-related questions. This should be done via participant messages to Terry, not in the main chat window. That window is reserved for content-related chat. 

Wendy and Wesley: Welcome Wagon 
This duo is the engine for warmth and community, greeting people by name when they arrive for the webinar and inviting them to get ready to learn. 

Carmine, Chris, and Coby: Conversation Catalysts 
Conversation Catalysts ensure your webinar has no dead air. They are on alert to pose questions if none are asked, engage early in the chat in response to presenter questions posed, and build on other participants’ chat contributions to extend the conversation.

Rob, Rhianna, and Rhen: Reactors 
Reactors are "insiders" from your profession, industry, or community who you have invited to share 2-3 minute reactions to, and applications of, the content from your main presenter(s). Draw on individuals who reflect the diversity of those you want to reach.

Each of these roles is a great micro-volunteering opportunity for members of your organization. 

4. Make it easier for participants to engage. 

Webinar design must effectively facilitate understanding, learning, and application.

At its root, facilitation means one simple thing: actions that make it easier.  Effective webinars intentionally design a learning experience that makes it easier for participants to get what they need and put it to use.  Consider doing the following:

  • Draw on diverse voices and perspectives in the sources drawn from, the examples shared, and the voices amplified. I like to include short video segments featuring individuals with different backgrounds or perspectives sharing a quick case study or featuring a brief Q&A.
  • Toggle content between theory-practice, ideas-action, strategy-tactics, and general-specific. You’ll likely have participants with varied learning preferences and needs. Ensure your content and presentation covers the spectrum.
  • Use the poll function to assess learning. Polls can be used effectively in several places: at the start as a “pre-test,” throughout the webinar to assess needs or facilitate content application, and/or at the end as a review. Announce a response rate goal to prod recalcitrant folks to engage.
  • If your platform allows, use breakout rooms to let participants go deeper. Use breakouts to allow all participants to explore the same question in smaller groups, different groups/rooms explore different questions, or for "like-minded" participants (organization type, role or responsibility, et al) to freely discuss with each other.
5. Use information wayfinding in your design. 

Web sites create clear content architecture that makes it easier for site visitors to find what they seek and know where they are. Your webinar design should do the same.
  • Use the same font, colors, and/or images or graphic icons to distinguish different content segments.
  • Consider adding musical alerts or transitions to introduce chat, polling, or other participant engagement opportunities. Very inexpensive sound files ($5-$25) can be purchased from sites like 123rf.
  • Provide in advance a learning/notetaking worksheet to facilitate engagement. It could be a text outline, a mindmap, or a visual facilitation summary. If possible, use your color and image wayfinding choices here as well.
  • Provide time/topic bookmarks for your archived webinars. 

Need help designing or presenting webinars or face-to-face learning experiences?