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10 steps to make your webinars more effective

Sue Weekes

A connected brain

Want to run a webinar that actually engages your audience? Sue Weekes has 10 top tips for more effective webinars that you can use now

Technology hasn’t just freed learning and development (L&D) from the classroom but completely democratised the creation of training materials. Whether it is in the form of a podcast on giving an appraisal, accessed on a mobile phone, or a YouTube video on a technical skill, viewed at the desktop, learning takes many different forms and can be far more timely and relevant. Towards Maturity, the not-for-profit organisation which aims to help individuals and organisations improve the impact of learning technologies at work, has been tracking the use of live online learning for several years. Of the 600 L&D leaders around the world who participated in its latest Benchmark programme, 86% are using some form of live online learning and three-quarters (77%) use virtual meeting spaces to connect learners with each other and with experts. “We found that top-performing L&D teams are using these tools strategically to solve a business problem,” says Laura Overton, Towards Maturity managing director, and who has two decades of implementing learning technologies.

Webinars form part of this mix of live online learning and can be a powerful tool for delivering information to a geographically dispersed set of learners. Set-up is relatively low maintenance since the audience will already have the required technology of a PC/laptop, broadband connection, microphone and webcam in place. “Live instructor-led training can be set up, engaging participants with high-definition video, screen-sharing and interactive tools so there’s no need to travel or set up a venue, meaning you can keep costs to a minimum,” says Andrew Millard, senior director of international marketing at Citrix, which owns the GoToWebinar and GoToTraining platforms. “Plus the ability to record training means that content can be shared with those who have missed the live event or with those that simply want to review the content.”

The six second attention span

As many people will testify though, webinars can be dull and boring and audiences can quickly become disengaged. There is even a case of the host of a legal learning webinar who fell asleep during the session and the average online attention span now sits somewhere around six seconds. So how do you ensure your webinar is compelling and delivers value to the learner?

The starting point is to familiarise yourself with some of the software and tools used to create the webinar. It is likely that you already use some of these for virtual meetings/video conferencing and there may be a preferred tool used by the organisation. As well as the Citrix products, popular tools include Adobe Connect, Cisco Webex, FuzeomNovia or collaborative learning platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate. Familiar tools such as Google+ Hang-outs and Skype can also be used. The choice comes down to personal preference and as well as consulting with IT, find out what other departments such as sales and marketing are using. 

As with any training activity, the starting point should be to identify the goal of the learning. “Apply the technology in the right way to address the business problem,’ says Overton. “Don’t jump on a technology bandwagon. Make sure that a webinar is the right tool to help you do the job you need to.” Millard agrees and as well as the objective you should define target audience, desired outcomes and success factors upfront. He adds: “Be sure to answer the WIIFM question, ‘what’s in it for me?’ that will undoubtedly pop up in the minds of your target audience as they decide whether they should register for your virtual event.”

Get your support staff in place

While there will be a lead person running the webinar, which may or may not be yourself, it is also a good idea to have other people on-hand to answer questions or monitor a Twitter feed related to the webinar. Ensure the team has the skills to deliver the webinar. Towards Maturity’s Benchmark survey found that 86% of respondents were using such tools but only a third (34%) believed they had the skills to do so. Don’t under-estimate the need for or value of training as the learning will lose credibility if there are technical issues. “So don’t even contemplate winging it,’ says Millard. “You should be familiar and comfortable with the technology you’re using, but you’ll need to ensure you have a Plan B in case of a technical problem.”

Decide on the content of the webinar and consult with subject matter experts. Think carefully about the elements you want to include. Obviously there will be slides, but perhaps there is also a place for video? Steer away from too much text on each slide. While there must be substance to the learning, Millard warns that too much to read will distract the audience’s attention away from the narrative.

Once your webinar has a title and a time and date, communicate this to potential participants well ahead of the event and then send diary reminders nearer the time. If participants are joining from around the globe, make sure all your communication adjusts for any time zone. Your communication should market the event and spell out why the individual would benefit from taking part in the webinar. Also send your message to their managers and explain the webinar’s relevance.

What to prepare on the day of the webinar

On the day before the webinar, talk to the individuals running it with/for you and ensure they understand the purpose of the learning and their audience. Encourage them to be enthusiastic during the event to keep the audience’s attention as there is no bigger turn-off than a monotone voice and someone with low energy levels. You wouldn’t put a person like that in front of learners in a classroom and it is the same for a webinar.

Opinion varies as to the ideal duration for a webinar. Some experts recommend limiting it to 35-40 minutes, others a maximum of 90. Build in time for interaction and questions and Millard recommends providing a #hashtag for the event to encourage discussion. “Multitasking is a major temptation for your webinar attendees,” he says. “Provide a Twitter hashtag and you will encourage multitasking in a good way; your attendees will be talking about the training itself, which is better than them checking their email.” He recommends setting up poll questions for use during the webinar and preparing seed questions so you can kick-start the Q&A immediately. “Plan for interactions with the audience such as asking them to raise their hand or submit a comment to make sure they stay engaged,” he says.

After the webinar, seek input from the participants to find out what they liked and what turned them off. As with any training activity, try to measure its impact by following up with individuals and their managers. Keep a log of each webinar so you can make improvements. Webinars are here to stay and if used properly can evolve into an extremely valuable and cost-effective L&D tool.

10 top tips for a great webinar

  1. Define the objective and desired outcomes of the learning and plan and prepare thoroughly
  2. Consult subject matter experts on the content. Ensure content is substantial;it has to be more than a slide show
  3. But don’t overload the audience with information and text-heavy slides
  4. Ensure whoever is presenting/running the webinar is confident about their skills for using the technology and when it comes to presenting
  5. Allow for technical hitches and put a Plan B in place
  6. Send invites to the webinar out in good time and follow-up with diary reminders
  7. Communicate why the individual will benefit from the webinar
  8. Provide a Twitter hashtag to generate discussion but ensure there is someone to monitor it
  9. Do not overrun – keep the webinar to between 30 and 90 minutes
  10. Collect feedback from users and learn from your experience


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