7 Secrets for a Successful Webinar: How to Keep Your Audience Watching to the End
The pandemic has caused businesses to shift online en masse. Concurrently, there has been a massive boost to online promotion methods: in particular, we have seen a rise in popularity for webinars where market experts share their advice on what businesses need to do to survive. In light of these circumstances, Valentina Drofa, founder and CEO of Drofa Communication Agency, decided to share her secrets for conducting successful webinars.
I remember when I was starting out with my first webinars 11 years ago, when I founded a platform to teach people how to trade. At the time, the online education format was just starting to gain popularity, and no one understood what to do or how. But through trial and error I was able to figure out a few secrets to success, and in time my platform was successfully hosting 300–400 webinars a month. Today I would like to share some of those secrets with you.
Preparation is half the battle
When you’re preparing a webinar, you need to have a general plan in your head of what’s going to happen and how it’s going to go. Start with your topic: after all, you want to hold a webinar so you can tell people about something. Right now, all sorts of companies are holding lots of webinars, and their topics are often similar. If your topic overlaps with what someone else offers, pick out and focus on the aspects of it that you think other people are covering inaccurately or incompletely. Keep in mind that your time in the webinar will be limited, so don’t try to cram everything in. Prioritize. If you already have something ready to use, that makes things easier.
Plan on 30–45 minutes, the golden mean of webinars. Statistics show that only 10% of listeners want to sit through presentations of over an hour. Plus, 10–15 minutes have to be set aside for answering listener questions. You’re left with 30 minutes. If something doesn’t fit in that timeframe, you can always leave it for a future webinar.
Write out an agenda for your presentations, not just for yourself, but also for your listeners, so they know what you’ll be talking about and in what order. Display the agenda on your website and show it at the start of your presentation. Let participants know whether they can ask questions as you go or wait until the end. Prepare answers to potential questions, both related to your webinar’s topic and technical questions like “Will this webinar be recorded?” and “Could we get your slides?”
You should, of course, do a practice run before your actual presentation to make sure that everything can be done exactly as you planned.
Bread and circuses
It’s important to understand that a webinar is not the same thing as presenting in front of a physical audience. You can’t see your listeners or get a sense of them, and all they can see is your face in a small frame on their screen. You can’t establish an emotional connection. In this environment, no matter how engagingly you talk, people quickly tire of listening to a talking head. It’s typically hard for someone to keep their attention on something for more than 20–25 minutes.
This is where colorful slides come to your rescue. By providing visuals to support what you’re talking about, you not only make it easier for your audience to understand, but also create variety, giving your listeners a chance to occasionally switch their attention to the content of your slides. That, in turn, helps hold on to their attention through the end of the webinar.
Don’t overload your presentation with a lot of textual information. It’s not meant to be notes. No one wants to read walls of text off your slides. Highlight just the most interesting and important information, with one thought per slide, expressed briefly and concisely. People go to webinars primarily to gain useful information.
Make your slides original and vivid, because the visual appeal of your presentation has a tangible effect on the webinar’s overall feel. People remember information better if they associate it with positive experiences. If the webinar is on behalf of a company, don’t be shy about using company colors and logos.
You can also put up flowcharts, graphs, photos, and videos, but remember that videos have to be short (no more than 30 seconds) and the sound level should be close to your speech. A sharp change in volume evokes negative emotions in listeners.
What about engagement?
No matter how interesting your presentation is, there’s a limit to how long people can sit and listen. Sometimes you need to cheer your audience up, and there are many ways you can do that. Mix interactive elements in with your presentation, make jokes, hold contests in the chat and ask for your audience’s opinions, and promise interesting surprises at the end of the presentations.
Ask your listeners periodically to remember or imagine something: this causes them to form a more detailed conception of what you’re talking about. Engage your webinar participants and make them feel like they have something to expect.
In our webinars, we always interact with our audience: we ask questions, solicit opinions, and share interesting anecdotes from our experience. This makes our guests feel like their presence matters to us. But make sure not to overload your webinar with interactivity, either, as that risks getting in the way of getting your main content across.
What do the experts think?
Another reliable way to attract your audience’s interest is to invite a famous expert (or several) on your webinar’s topic. Sure, you’ll need to spend time working it out with them and training them, but it has its effect.
Bringing in industry leaders and influencers will undoubtedly boost your webinar’s standing and enrich your content: audiences are always interested in an alternative viewpoint. The presence of a famous expert improves your event’s status. Plus, the interview, dialogue, or roundtable formats are more dynamic and interesting to the audience, than one speaker droning on at length.
If you choose this path, obviously don’t forget to mention the expert’s name in announcements and the webinar agenda on your website. You can even record a short video teaser for greater appeal. Also ask the expert themselves to write about the upcoming event on their social media and blogs. That helps to attract an audience from among the invited expert’s subscribers, which just might include new potential clients.
Prepare questions you want to discuss during the webinar in advance and share them with your experts. This is not a time for any improvisation that might stump your invited guests. No one likes surprises like that, and you won’t have any takers next time. You can also email a survey to registered participants about what questions they would want to hear answers to. All of this adds variety to your content and makes your webinar as useful as possible for your listeners.
You will be judged by your cover
This may seem trivial, but it’s important. Even though you aren’t physically in front of your audience, they can still get a sense of your mindset coming into the webinar. So keep it businesslike, both in your appearance and your surroundings. Make sure you look and dress your best. For women, consider styling your hair and putting on makeup.
Set up a neutral background for your presentation. If you plan to hold the webinar from your home, a bookshelf is a good option; it’s definitely inappropriate to show your audience any clutter or pets. If the setting is your business office, don’t set up your webinar in front of glass walls looking out on to constantly moving people. Glass also causes glare. As a last resort, you can use one of the virtual backgrounds offered by many webinar-hosting platforms, or turn off your video entirely.
Make sure that everything stays quiet for the next hour. Warn your family or colleagues and avoid any unexpected deliveries to ensure a good work environment. This may not always be easy to do (especially at home), but it’s best to try. It will help you get in the right headspace and focus, and you can be sure your audience will notice.
Tech support on the ready
It’s important to understand that even though a webinar may seem to be easier to set up than an in-person event, that doesn’t mean you can easily handle everything by yourself. It’s extremely difficult to follow everything that’s happening once you’re in the midst of your presentation and focused on it.
This is why you should enlist the help of at least one or two people and distribute roles:
- the primary speaker, responsible for audience interaction;
- the moderator, responsible for monitoring the chat;
- the tech expert, responsible for making sure the broadcast isn’t interrupted due to technical issues.
An experienced moderator can also fill the tech expert role, but if you have the chance, it’s best to separate those responsibilities and let each person focus on their portion.
Another useful role for a third person is observer: they enter the webinar as a participant, watch for any problems on the listeners’ side, and inform the other team members.
Don’t start without a Plan B
No matter how well you prepare yourself and your presentation, there are always factors outside your control: issues with the platform where you host your webinar, internet or power outages, a tough room — the list goes on.
That’s why you have to have a backup plan in case everything goes south. Check your internet ahead of time, turn on any temporary high-speed options to increase your channel’s throughput. And still think through what you’re going to do if the internet does go out. One potential way out is to set up a hotspot on your phone and keep it nearby. Have an extra laptop or tablet on hand that you could present from. Send your slides to colleagues so they can present instead of you.
He that would eat the kernel must crack the nut
All the above leads us to the conclusion that conducting webinars is no easy feat. And in some aspects it’s even harder than presenting offline. To be successful, you need to invest a fair deal of effort, patience, time, and creativity.
Whether it’s worth it is up to you. But if you’re set on trying it out, start by attending other people’s webinars. That’s a way for you to get into this format and see what methods you like and want to try out, and which ones you don’t.