18 Tips on How To Conduct an Engaging Webinar

by Olivia Mitchell

I’ve just completed my first large webinar as part of Ellen Finkelstein’s Outstanding Presentations Workshop Webinar Series. Before doing my own webinar I attended webinars by webinar experts Ken Molay and Roger Courville. In particular I wanted to get to grips with the difference between a face to face presentation and a webinar. Here are the tips and tricks I’ve learnt on how to conduct an engaging webinar:

1. Use more visuals

This is the major difference between a face to face presentation and a webinar. In a presentation, the audience can see you and if there’s no visual slide, their attention will be focused on you. But in a webinar, if there’s no visual or you have the same visual for an extended length of time, their visual attention will wander.

I used twice as many slides as I would for a face to face presentation – I had 85 slides for a 30 minute presentation, and most of these slides had some animation. Keep things moving visually.

2. Highlight what you want people to look at on the slides

In a face to face presentation, I physically point to the item on a slide that I want people to look at (laser pointers are for wimps!). Most webinar software does have drawing tools that you can use to draw attention to items on a slide, but I decided to keep things simple for myself by building highlights in my animation. I did this by creating a grey rectangle set to 40% transparency and having it cover everything on the slide. Then I selected the items I wanted to highlight and clicked “Send to Front”. Here’s an example:

Key Message higlighted

3. Avoid slides that you only want to show for a few seconds

I had some slides which I only needed up for a few seconds. Unfortunately because there was a slight time lag between me clicking on the slide and attendees seeing the slide, some attendees only saw it for a microsecond. Here it is, in case you missed it:

Stalin slide

In a similar vein, don’t build a sequence of slides that is reliant on exact synchronization between the slides and what you say.

4. Have a photo of yourself near the beginning

This allows people to visualise you talking to them during the webinar. Ellen’s title slide for the webinar had a photo of me, and then I also used a photo for the slide where I put my webinar into the context of the previous webinars in the series by Rick Altman and Nancy Duarte.

Me, Rick, Nancy slide

5. Show a slide while you’re taking questions

In a face to face presentation I never show an “Any questions” slide. But I realised that unless I had a special “questions” slide I would be stuck on the slide I was showing just before we paused for questions. And that slide might be irrelevant to the question I was answering. I created this slide to use during question time:

question slide

6. Have a printout of slides

This is good advice for face to face presentations too! I made a printout of my slides by doing a screenshot of 15 slides in the SlideSorter view. This is better than printing out your slides in the Handout option because the slide number is shown next to each slide. That means that you can jump between slides by keying the number of the slide and pressing “Enter” on your keyboard. This came in useful when an attendee asked me about a previous slide. I was able to quickly click to it, without clicking through multiple slides.

screenshot

7. Use headphones

I’ve used skype for years because I have family in the UK and I’m in New Zealand. With skype you don’t need headphones. But it seems with webinar software you do. Otherwise your microphone picks up the sound coming out of the speakers and you get a very disconcerting echo.

8. Use a remote control

Although I was sitting at my computer to deliver the webinar and I could have clicked on my space bar or used the mouse to navigate between my slides, I decided to use a remote. It reminded me of the feeling of presenting to a face to face audience!

9. Turn off all your phones and dogs

OK, it’s hard to turn the dogs off, but I did shut the door so that if they did start barking at a rabbit on the lawn, they wouldn’t intrude too much. And you’re probably used to turning off your cellphone before delivering a presentation, but remember to turn off your landline as well.

10. Have a clock

I don’t have a clock in my office as I normally rely on my computer to tell me the time. And I wasn’t wearing my watch as I only put that on when I go out. So I had no way to tell how the time was going. Luckily I had rehearsed my presentation multiple times and knew exactly how long it would take. And Ellen was in in charge of managing the time I spent answering questions. But next time, I’ll have my own clock!

11. Rehearsal

An extra rehearsal is required for webinars compared to face to face presentations. There are two layers of technology involved: your slideware and the webinar software. So once you’ve got your basic presentation well-rehearsed, then rehearse using the webinar software.

12. Let people know when you’re going to be silent

In the webinar that I attended on giving engaging webinars, Ken Molay made the point that your voice conveys your presence. He recommends that if you’re going to be silent, for example, you’re going to take a sip of water, you let your audience know. That makes sense but I struggled with how to manage showing slides with quotes. In face to face presentations, I often introduce a slide, click onto it and then stay silent while the audience reads it. After some thought and getting some advice from Ellen, what I did in the webinar situation was introduce the slide by saying “I’ll let you read what Bill Clinton has to say about Kiva”:

Clinton

13. Use micro-pauses

Ken Molay also made the point that the long dramatic pauses you might use for effect in a face to face presentation don’t work so well in a webinar context. Attendees might be concerned that they’ve lost the sound! Instead of long dramatic pauses use micro-pauses. You can build micro-pauses into your speaking by chunking. Chunking is speaking in short bursts of words with silence in between. A chunk of words can be a phrase or a short sentence. Chunking has three  additional benefits which you can read about in these posts:

How to look authoritative when you feel anything but

How to eliminate filler words

You don’t have to slow down to be an effective presenter

14. Break for questions

In face to face presentations I recommend taking questions throughout. In this situation, I couldn’t see the questions coming in, only Ellen could. So we arranged that I would stop at the end of each section of my talk and she would ask me the questions that attendees had asked. This worked effectively. Attendees could type in their question at the time that it occurred to them, and they didn’t have to wait too long to get the question answered.

15. Have someone else ask you questions

As I couldn’t see the questions, I had to have Ellen ask me them. However, I think this is the best arrangement. As I’ve argued in relation to monitoring the Twitter backchannel, it’s very hard to present and monitor what the audience is audience is saying or asking via Twitter or other chat application. Ideally, giving a webinar should not be a solo affair.

16. Have a spotter

Ellen had wisely organized a colleague to act as a spotter. The spotter’s task was to let Ellen know (via the chat pane that only Ellen could see) if anything went wrong from an attendee’s point of view.

17. Have a Plan B

I had sent my PowerPoint slides to Ellen the night before, so that if something went wrong with my computer the slides could be shown from her computer. Luckily we didn’t have to use this. An alternative is to have another computer ready to go, should your primary computer crash.

18. The fundamentals stay the same

Planning your presentation  so that you provide value to your audience is just as important in a webinar context. For more guidance on this, download my guide “How to Make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation.”

Those are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up. As well as Ken Molay’s and Roger Courville’s websites, here are some other resources I found useful:

15 Tips for Webinars: How to Add Impact When You Present Online

Webinar Tips for Presenters and Attendees

I’d love it if you could add in the comments what you’ve learnt about giving webinars – whether it’s as a presenter or as an attendee.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Moore October 1, 2010 at 2:39 am

Olivia, I couldn’t tell that yesterday’s webinar was your first big one. You did an excellent job.

In response to your request for webinar lessons learned:

I usually use a platform that includes a public chat (the ability of participants to type comments or questions at any time for everyone else to see and possibly respond to). While the chat can be chaotic, it has helped me learn a lot about my audience, and I think the interaction helps the participants think more deeply about the material.

In case anyone is considering using chat, here are some approaches that have worked for me:

Start the chat ball rolling: Ask a an open-ended but simple question at the beginning of the webinar so people who are new to chat can practice using it. This question could be anything from “Where are you now?” to “What’s your biggest challenge in (your topic)?”

Ask open-ended questions throughout: Most of my webinars are designed to get people to challenge common assumptions and to encourage them to try a new perspective and process. Instead of telling attendees what to do, I try to get them to identify it themselves by asking them questions that nudge them in the right direction.

Display the question on the slide: For example, instead of telling them the advantages of doing X instead of Y, ask, “What’s the advantage of doing X instead of Y? Please type your answer in the chat.” Then in your response to the comments, highlight the points you want to make.

Allow lots of time throughout for discussion: I usually prepare what would be 25-30 minutes of one-way presentation for every hour of an interactive webinar. I typically ask 8-10 open-ended questions during the presentation; obviously all of this could vary widely.

Pause for digestion: Say, “I’m going to pause for a minute to catch up with what has been going on in the chat.” The pause also helps participants catch up.

Explain how to hide the chat: Not every participant wants to see the chat, so it can be a good idea to remind everyone how to hide it.

Repeat the question or comment: When you respond to something in the chat, you’ll need to repeat the question or comment just as you would when presenting in person, because some people haven’t seen it.

Read the transcript: After the presentation, it can be helpful to look at the recording and read the chat more thoroughly, to learn more about the audience and get ideas for tweaking your presentation.

A chat that’s built in to the webinar platform is way easier to keep track of than a Twitter back channel, and it’s a lot more likely to turn into a real discussion among participants.

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Thank you Cathy for your feedback, and for the great additional tips you’ve added.
Olivia

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Stephanie Dedhar October 1, 2010 at 4:31 am

Hi Olivia. I only recently discovered your blog but am already finding it a really useful resource. I’ve only delivered a few webinars so far, so am very much a novice still. I was nodding as I read many of your tips (either because they were things I’ve already put into practice or because they were things I learnt too late!), and many others are new ideas which I’ll definitely keep in mind for next time. The same goes for Cathy’s tips above too – some of the webinars I’ve delivered have included a public chat area and while I think it’s a great tool for engaging all attendees, I would definitely advise having someone else on hand to keep track of the chat and then pull out any key questions for discussion. One other tip I might add is to stand up and/or walk around as you present, just as you would in a face to face presentation, as I’ve found this helps to make you sound natural and relaxed.

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Hi Stephanie

Your tip about standing up is a great one. I would have liked to – again to try and recreate the feeling of face to face presenting, but I need to get an extension to my headphone cord before I can do that.

Olivia

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Dave Paradi October 1, 2010 at 5:36 am

Olivia,

Great list! Here’s what I’d add from doing a number of webinars:

- Have a glass of water nearby with a straw to drink from. Trying to tilt a glass of water to your mouth when wearing a headset under pressure can lead to a very wet keyboard/computer and subsequent challenges.
- Have a second PC close to you connected as a participant. This way you can see if there are any problems (you can’t always get someone to be watching for you) and you can time your words based on what the audience is seeing.
- Practice with the webinar technology. I’ve had two instances recently where the technology converts your slides and whenever there is conversion involved, you know there will be issues – as there were in these cases.

Looking forward to hearing more from others as they chime in.

Dave

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Hi Dave

Thank you for adding your expertise. Your tip about having a second computer which you can use to time your words based on what your audience is seeing is excellent.

Olivia

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Greg Wiley October 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

I completely concur with this comment Dave. I had to give a webinar (my second ever) last week and I had the misfortune of having my Powerpoint 2010 slides lose formatting in Webex which resulted in badly scaled graphs and tables with no content:-(

I could have used these tips a week ago. I have them bookmarked now;-) Thanks Olivia.

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mary langan October 1, 2010 at 5:54 am

Thanks Olivia, this is really useful. I am sometimes asked by course delegates for tips on giving webinars, but as I haven’t done any myself I can only give feedback from an audience perspective.

Mary

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Hi Mary
Giving tips that you’ve developed from an audience perspective can be very useful. After all the audience impact is the end result.
Olivia

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Laura Roeder October 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

This is the best post I have ever read on webinars. I do them a lot, but I really need to add more animation/interest to mine. Thanks for the great post!

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Hi Laura

Thank you for your lovely comment [beams]. Having faster-paced visuals is the most important difference between webinars and f2f presentations.
Olivia

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Michael Cowen October 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Hi Olivia

Thanks for these 18 points. There are some really useful tips here that i had never thought about and makes a very good check list before you start. Thanks .

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Olivia Mitchell October 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Hi Michael
Having a checklist is really useful. I’m so used to presenting externally that I no longer need a checklist – I don’t have to think about turning off my cellphone or getting myself a glass of water. But in a different environment, there are different things to think about.
Olivia

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Mike Slater October 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Olivia

I attended the webinar on Wednesday and thought it was the best of the “Outstanding Presentations” series so far.

I think that probably the biggest challenge with webinars is keeping your audience engaged. This is true with any presentation but with a f2f its much easier to interact with the participants to keep their attention. And with webinars, there are plenty of distractions (e-mail, phones, people coming in and out etc) I thought you overcame this problem really well – partly because it was an interesting talk which was well presented, but also because you included interaction with your audience at regular intervals via the poll and the two breaks for questions. So although you have “break for questions” as point no. 14 in your list, i think its one of the most important.

With smaller groups, its easier to get a conversation going via audio link, but that isn’t so easy with a large audience like you had on Wednesday where the audience’s microphones are muted. I like Cathy’s ideas in her comment, which would increase the interaction with the audience in this type of situation.

The other thing that impressed me on Wednesday was that you timed your talk well. The pacing was good- fast enough to keep my attention but not too fast that I couldn’t make notes. You also finished before the end of the session so that there was time for questions. This is important for any type of presentation, not just webinars, but I guess its particularly important that you plan timings well for the latter – with an f2f you can get an idea whether you need to adjust your pace by observing your audience, which you obviously can’t do when you can’t see them.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been running tutorials over the web for a University course, which are a type of webinar. It’s been a steep learning curve. The points in this post (an in some of the comments) are really helpful but I’ve also picked up some good points by participating in your session.

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Olivia Mitchell October 2, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thank you Mike [beams]

I really appreciate your comments because the issues that you mentioned (breaking for questions, pace) were things that I was working on! I’m delighted you found the webinar useful.

Olivia

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Randy Cantrell October 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Can’t tell you how many times I wish the presenter had a spotter. Great advice.

Thanks,
Randy

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Marlene Hielema October 6, 2010 at 2:13 am

Olivia, This is such a great resource. Thank you!

I’ve attended a few webinars recently and all were very text based – bullet point presentations with very few images. I found the presenters got “stuck” on bullet points for a long time while they conversed together and I found it annoying and wanted them to move on. They needed more slides.

All your tips are great, but your tip about doubling the amount of slides is one that I shall not forget.

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Olivia Mitchell October 6, 2010 at 6:33 am

Hi Marlene
Yes, I think this is important for a lot of people. If there’s not something visually interesting on the screen, I have to concentrate very hard to stay focused.
Olivia

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Dale G. Klein October 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Well done, Olivia. Since you’re asking for other tips, I would add to remember to turn off your screen saver when presenting a webinar.
Thank you.
-Dale

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Olivia Mitchell October 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Thanks Dale – that’s a great point – and anything else that might pop onto your screen!
Olivia

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Olivia Mitchell February 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I just did another webinar. Thanks to all the comments here and what I learnt the first time round, here’s what I did differently:

1. I had a headset that I could stand up with. I felt like I had far more energy presenting standing up rather than sitting down.
2. I had a big clock just below my computer screen so that I was always aware of how time was going.
3. I had a laptop logged in as an attendee so that I could monitor any time lag between my clicks and new slides or animations showing up for attendees.
4. I paused for questions every 10-15 minutes and I had given the host a few possible questions to ask me if there weren’t any questions from attendees. This was really useful during the first question break and helped attendees get into asking me questions.

Olivia

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Jeffrey Cufaude March 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

Nice set of tips.

I’ve also taken to standing when presenting webinars (primarily f I’m not on live webcam) as the muscle body of how my body engages when I presented face-to-face kicks in and keeps my energy and vocal intonation strong.

In addition to asking for questions, I often ask for takeaways and have people type them in the chat window or Tweet them.

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Olivia Mitchell March 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Hi Jeffrey
Yes, I love your point on how standing up engages your muscle memory (I think that’s what you meant to say?).
Olivia

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Shirley Corder October 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Olivia, I’ve just found this site, but I’ll definitely be back. Living in S.Africa is a time challenge for attending Webinars, but I attended an excellent one yesterday. I would love to try running one, but when I looked at a couple of optional sites it appears these are conducted via a phone line. Does this mean you pay for an hour-long phone call? Or does it work via your Internet connection? Sorry if this is a stupid question, but phone costs to an American site would put this out of the question for me.

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Olivia Mitchell October 10, 2011 at 8:11 am

Hi Shirley
I’m glad that you’re finding my site useful. Living in New Zealand I definitely understand the time zone challenge for attending and running webinars. In terms of how webinars are run, they can be run totally over your broadband internet connection. Do a search on “webinar software”. Well-known providers are Webex, Adobe Connect and GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar.
Olivia

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Shirley Corder October 11, 2011 at 1:04 am

Thanks so much. I’ll follow this up. And I love your site!

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Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities February 2, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Extremely useful and succinct list – thanks Olivia!

I’d add an idea I had when listening to a 10-minute Q&A session at the end of a webinar :–
Rather than showing a slide that says “Questions” or similar (causing people’s eyes to glaze over), make photo-only slides for the THEMES you’re likely to be asked about (like money, time, etc.) and jump to those. For details, see
http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/stop-qa-hypnosis/

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Olivia Mitchell February 2, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I love this idea, Craig, thanks for adding it.

Olivia

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Terence Pritchard May 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm

A wonderfully informative website – thank you so much for the excellent and practical resource.

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Alla May 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm

My co-worker and I are preparing to give a set of webinars this year to enhance the services our company provides, and this article is an excellent resource for newbies! Thank you so much for all the information.

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JoLynn Braley May 20, 2012 at 3:57 am

This is a great article, thanks! I was concerned in putting together my first webinar that I might be using too many slides but when I read that you used 85 for 30 minutes, wonderful!

I’m also going to see about using the highlight feature you mentioned, to “send to front”. Excellent!

JoLynn Braley
The F.A.T. Release Coach

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jeannette Alsing January 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Some of you are talking about a f2f. Which I think is a face2face. How do you get that for the webinar?

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Rommel Anacan May 11, 2013 at 3:46 am

Hi Olivia,
Thanks for sharing these tips! My training/speaking business is starting to include more webinars and I have to admit that it is still a foreign place to someone used to speaking in front of a live audience where I can see and hear immediate feedback and connection. Great tip too on increasing the visual content!
Thanks!

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I use on premise RHUB web conferencing appliance for conducting business meetings and webinars. It is easy to use and best part is, it has only one time cost as compared to hosted services.

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