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Tips for Effective Webinars

By Maria H. Andersen / January 2010

TYPE: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
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Comments (16) Instapaper
Icon image Giving an effective webinar requires some presentation redesign and technology skills that you don't necessarily need in a face-to-face presentation. A great speaker in a face-to-face environment can easily crash and burn in a webinar setting if he or she isn't prepared for the unique challenges and needs of that environment.

Here are some tips to help you pull off a webinar that will get you asked for an encore!

Before the Webinar
Recording and distribution. Before you design your presentation, you need to know whether the presentation is going to be recorded, and if it is, where it will be distributed. For example, when I give a webinar that's not being recorded, I feel more at ease showing "live" shots of my personal information (like an email inbox or a Facebook page). When the webinar is recorded for general web distribution, I want to make sure that I don't accidentally release private information for general public consumption; so I take screenshots of these types of pages instead, making sure there are no privacy issues with the pages I capture.

You should always think about issues like copyright, but you should be even more careful if your webinar will be distributed to large audiences on the web.

Presentation design. This should go without saying, but the rest of these tips only matter if you start with good presentation materials in the first place.

Just to give you some kind of time investment benchmark, it takes me between 10 and 20 hours to build a decent slide deck to accompany a new presentation. That doesn't include researching the content or writing the accompanying paper—it's just time spent designing the presentation!

Sample text-based question in a webinar You may even consider using an alternative to slides, like an online mind map, or threading live demonstrations between a few good slides.

Engage often. Plan to ask the audience a question every 6 to 10 minutes. This is not the time to ask, "Are there any questions?" Rarely does that question engage the audience in face-to-face presentations, and it doesn't work in online presentations either.

Ask very direct questions that every participant can respond to and that are meaningful to whatever topic you're covering in your talk. Make it clear that you expect every participant (or site) to respond.

For example, suppose I have just demonstrated the latest and greatest web tool. I could ask participants to "Give me an example of how you could use this in your professional life." Give participants sufficient time to respond, summarize, or discuss one or two responses, and then move on.

When I give an in-person presentation, I can read the attendees' faces to gauge their level of engagement and interest. Online, these frequent "engagement" questions give you a chance to do the same thing.

Sample of how to use animation in webinar Another quick way to ask questions is to poll the audience using multiple choice or true/false questions. Almost every webinar platform has some type of feature for polls. Often, I use a poll questions to lead in to a new topic and let the responses shape the level of detail for the next 10 minutes of the presentation. Again, it's vital that the polls be integrated with the webinar topic, rather than a series random questions that sidetrack the attendees.

Animation. Animations in slide programs (for example, transitions between slides, dissolve in, fly out) can be problematic in some webinar platforms. Animations that work in one program may not work in others.

The safest way to design a set of slides for webinar use is to remove the animations and use extra slides to simulate the animations. For example, if you want an image to "appear" on a slide, create the slide without the image, and then make an exact duplicate that includes the image. A word of caution: You may find that your slide deck has a large file size after you make these changes, and some webinar programs will limit the size of file uploads. If your presentation file is larger than the upload limit, simply split the file into two files (parts 1 and 2) and load the presentation that way.

Hyperlinks. Even if hyperlinks are "clickable" in your normal presentation materials, they may not be clickable inside the webinar platform. If you want participants to actually follow a link, you need to be prepared to place the link in the text chat window. Even if your slide links are clickable inside the platform, you may still want to place them in the chat window.

While you can type the links one by one, you'll find it is much easier if you can just copy and paste the link from a text file. If the web address is long, consider using a URL-shortener, like TinyURL sampleTinyURLBit.ly. If you're going to include a lot of links, consider packaging them in an online mind map, a simple web page, a multi-URL site like ZumLink, at the end of the webinar.

I encourage presenters to send participants on short visits to outside websites. It engages the participants nicely; but give them clear instructions about what to do there and when to come back, or you may be speaking to an empty room for the rest of your presentation.

Videos clips. If possible, I'd avoid using video during the presentation. You only have a short period of time with your audience and I have yet to see a webinar where the video-share worked properly in a live event. Are you willing to sacrifice 5 minutes of presentation time if that's what it takes to get the video working?

Consider alternate ways of sharing that content. Would a series of 10 images yield the same effect? If you must share use the video, consider sending participants to a site where the video is hosted instead of integrating it into the webinar directly.

Trial run. There is no way for me to overemphasize the importance of a trial run.

Every webinar platform is slightly different. Some can handle it if the presenter has dual monitors, and some can't. In some platforms, all the poll questions have to be entered manually prior to the live session (cut and pasted in from a document file). In others, you can just put the poll questions on your presentation slides and the polling functionality can be set up on the fly. A headset might sound crystal clear in one system, but Darth Vader-like in another. The only way to know how any of your components will work for sure is to do a trial run.

Whomever is hosting the webinar should be more than happy to test the system as a participant while you present your materials. Use the same webinar connection, computer, webcam, and headset as you will on the day of the live event. Do not use a stand-alone microphone, as this will cause an echo effect when you are interacting with participants.

If your computer has dual screens, test them to make sure that there are no issues in the webinar when you share your desktop. Some platforms will ask you to choose which monitor to project, while other systems will force you to use the primary monitor.

Load your slides and click through them, testing any add-on features, like animations, video clips, and links. Test the desktop sharing, and play with the various options: full-screen browse, allow participants to browse separately, and so on. Know how to change the poll format and how to activate and clear the polls. Learn how to turn the audio on and off, and how to lock the audio on for long periods of time. Take a screenshot of the interior of the platform so that you can annotate it later and use it to give participants directions at the beginning of the event. Learn how to turn the webcam feed on and off. See if there is any noticeable lag when the webcam feed is on when you are clicking through slides or sharing the desktop.

Throughout your tests, make sure to ask your stand-in participant if he is able to hear, see, or follow your slides and materials.

Moderator duties. Many logistics can be delegated to your moderator, but you need to make it clear what those duties will be.

First, make sure your moderator is comfortable troubleshooting technical difficulties, like participants who can't hear you. If the moderator can't handle technical problems, ask who will be doing it. Your moderator can also reset poll questions and set the proper polling format for the next question (number of multiple-choice options or true/false), which will save you from being distracted during the presentation. If the webinar will be recorded, your moderator should be responsible for starting and ending the recording. The presenter has enough to think about without forgetting to do that!

The Day of the Webinar
Arrive early. On the day of your webinar, show up early! How early? No less than 30 minutes early. This may seem extreme, but if there are any technical problems (for example, if you are unable to log in to the site on the day of the event), it may take you 10 minutes to track down someone who can fix the problem, 10 minutes to wait for him or her to solve the problem, and 10 minutes to calm yourself down again. If it happens, 30 minutes will not seem long enough!

As soon as you're logged in, place a note on the screen that says, "Loading files, temporarily unavailable," and go ahead and load all your files. In every platform I've used, users are unable to use the text and audio chat while files are loading, so just wait patiently until it's all done before asking, "Are you able to hear me okay?" Until the files are loaded, assume that no one can hear you clearly or respond to you.

Sample of showing clear directions in a webinar

During the Webinar
Clear directions. At the beginning of your presentation, provide a screenshot of the webinar platform and use this to point to the various features that you plan to use. Point out where the response buttons are for polls, or the selection box for yes/no or true/false questions. Explain how participants can give emoticon feedback: hand-raising, smiley faces, and so on.

Point out the text chat window and ask participants to introduce themselves there, which will break the ice on using the text chat window, too.

The most important direction you can give participants is how you want them to ask questions. The most common methods are raising their virtual hand, asking for the microphone, or typing the question in the chat box. If there are questions during the presentation, I ask participants to use the text chat. At the end of the presentation, I take audio questions.

Keep in mind that some of your participants may be at a site where several people are participating using a single connection. In your directions to participants, make sure to address how you would like these sites to participate.

Desktop sharing. If you are demonstrating skills in live desktop sharing, you need to watch out for lag. If there are a lot of participants, if your Internet connection slows, or if the webinar platform site slows down, you may experience a phenomenon where the video lags behind the audio. If you notice a lag, you can simply pause between statements: "So you see that when I click on this [pause, leave your mouse in place, count to three silently], this window opens." How will you know if there's a lag? Ask occasionally if participants are seeing what you describe&mdahs;have them text you a response.

Webcam sharing. My advice is to use webcam sharing, but use it sparingly. It's nice for the audience to connect the image of you with the webinar content. On the other hand, streaming live video can suck the bandwidth away from the functionality of the platform and hurt the rest of the presentation.

As a rule of thumb, I always keep the webcam on prior to the start of the presentation and after the presentation is over. During the presentation, I leave it off, turning it on only for short periods of time when I ask the "engagement" questions. This connects me to the audience visually during the times when they are most likely to pay attention to my talking head—one would hope that for the rest of the presentation, they are more interested in the content!

The echo. Chances are, if you've ever attended or given a webinar, you know exactly what I'm about to say. One of your participants produces an echo-effect every time she or he speaks. Usually, echoes are caused by participants using speakers and a microphone instead of a headset. Their own voice comes back through the speakers and gets fed into the microphone in a kind of infinite sound loop. You know how radio announcers are always telling callers to "turn off their radios"? Inside a webinar, the "radio" is the computer speaker and the "phone" is the participant microphone, creating the same kind of feedback loop.

If a participant is causing an echo, use your moderator! Ask the moderator to turn off the person's audio access and explain the problem privately using the radio-analogy.

After the Webinar
When the live event is over, prepare a short email to send to the participants that

  • thanks them for attending,
  • reminds them about the main points (no more than three), and
  • gives them another copy of the hyperlinks that you shared in your presentation.

Rather than including files in this email (a handout or a file with your slides), consider hosting the documents and slides directly on the Internet and linking to them rather than adding more bulk to your email. Send the email to the moderator (with a thank-you note) and ask them to forward your thanks (and resources) to participants. As your final act, remember to add the details of your presentation to your website and CV. Hopefully, you've just given a webinar to be proud of!

Additional Resources
Slide decks
Recorded Webinars
Presentation Mindmaps



Comments

  • Sat, 04 Jul 2015
    Post by Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss)

    Sorry, I reposted the old link by mistake!

    This is the link to the 10 webinar tips: https://bitly.com/1RaZzQk

  • Sat, 04 Jul 2015
    Post by Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss)

    You mentioned checking for lag (in the Desktop Sharing section). To do that, I recommend setting up another computer on your desk and logging as an attendee.

    In fact you might like these 10 tips for webinars, which I just published: http://j.mp/19u1hGu

  • Tue, 22 Oct 2013
    Post by Craig Hadden

    Wow! Thanks for such a comprehensive article. Theres lots of great advice here.

    I especially like your tip about not just asking Are there any questions? (Few phrases are more likely to be met with stony silence!)

    Heres an idea for a polling question I think is one of the best. Id love to hear your ideas for others: http://j.mp/19u1hGu The best webinar polling question ever?

    (If you prefer not to click obscure links, you can copy and paste it into the box at longurl.org to decode it.)

  • Tue, 01 Jun 2010
    Post by Nicky Hockly

    Thanks for your very useful webinar tips, Maria. I agree that it's not a good idea to try and share video in the web conferencing platform (sound rarely works either) but I have given webinars in which I've sent participantsout to look at a short video clip of no more than about two minutes. That seems to work fine, and by asking everybody to type 'Back' in the chat window when they have finished and come back into the conference, it's easy to then focus the participants and move the talk along again.

    You might be interested in my blog posts on this very topic from last November: one post has tips for webinar moderators (http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=32) and the other has tips for webinar presenters (http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=3). There are also some additional tips from readers in the comments on these two posts. The comment about presenters not wearing stripey shirts made me smile :-)

    Nicky Hockly, Barcelona

  • Sun, 28 Feb 2010
    Post by Sara Fuller

    I have a background in technology and education. I had to give a webinar for the very first time recently and noticed the differences between in person presentations and online presentations. The advice about engaging the audience was very useful. Thanks for taking the time to write the article. I am sure that it will help me improve my webinar presentation skills.

  • Tue, 26 Jan 2010
    Post by Andreas

    Hello Maria, we posted a link to your article in our weekly news survey. It contains very valuable recommandations. In our e-teacher community in Switzerland we found that the most difficult part of webinars is engaging your participants. We have therefore collected some advices which are partly similar to yours. But anyhow, perhaps this adds some ideas: http://tinyurl.com/ye5t4ko.

  • Thu, 21 Jan 2010
    Post by Carol Cooper-Taylor

    Great advice Maria. I can't emphasise the turn up early enough. I have supported a number of e-presenters who don't try out the software before and then expect it all to work well on the day. I now do a 30 "rehearsal" with speakers and go through all the "buttons" of the platform a few days before the event. Makes life much easier.

  • Thu, 21 Jan 2010
    Post by Nancy Sattler

    I appreciated all of the tips that you gave Maria. I hope that faculty who are considering creating webinars take the time to read your tips! Nancy

  • Thu, 21 Jan 2010
    Post by Robert Foth

    Thanks for this article Maria.

  • Thu, 21 Jan 2010
    Post by Mary Beth Orrange

    This set of Tips For Effective Webinars will be very useful to me and others who are planning webinars in the near future. They are organized, well-thought out, and show us how to avoid many problems associated with webinars. The ideas in this article will assist us to smoothly make the transition from teachable moments in the classroom to professional presentations to webinars.

    Thank you Maria.

  • Fri, 11 Dec 2009
    Post by Colleen

    Great story, with so many important themes running through. Most interesting to me is that the writer went to a traditional brick and mortar school for an online degree, hoping this would make sense somehow. So far, stories I've heard seem similar...traditional faculty struggling with the concept, but teaching online anyway. Haphazard course development, little support in design or making use of technology for learner-centered use.

    I think this will change and a number of institutions will step up and excel at online programs. I think it's happening now, but the traditional/public/state government schools are doing what they can to stop students from noticing. It won't be long before the combination of engagement+excellent content+design+flexibility+good teachers+cost will drive new learner decisions about the HE experience desired. Times change, so do markets.

  • Sat, 16 May 2009
    Post by Eileen Callejas

    I hold advanced degrees and certifications in education, but was working outside of the industry for about 10 years when I decided to attend a preseigious brick and mortar school to work on an MBA degree. The experience helped me more with getting back up to speed with the use of technology in education than it has with business management... so far. (I taught students in middle school how to use Powerpoint 97, in 1999 to make "gameshow" presentations, as one of my many assigned subjects at the time.) The Private MBA school used a hybrid format, providing notebook computers for each student at the beginning of the program, in addition to the required texts - which many students then re-purchased in audio format. Classes consisted of teacher lectures and powerpoint presentations or computer application demonstrations, and discussions, and could have easily been presented online with voice-over. Students who were absent would "Skype-in" via a classmate to listen in and follow along with the slideshows. Tests were taken in class, and professors had the option to use hard-copy or paperless formats for exams. Students were required to meet and present many group projects, and while some chose to work together in person, other groups met and worked almost exclusively using skype video conferencing technology. The group work often accounted for a good portion of the grade, and the "problem solving" nature of many of the tests in class would have made cheating difficult, I would think. I took a leave from the degree program for pragmatic reasons -to study independently in finance and stock market trading, charting my own course using seminars and online presentations provided by some of the leading commercial instructional companies. It was there that I experienced what e-learning could really be... webinars and virtual trade shows held in virtual reality conference centers with avitars and video conferencing, chats and information sharing... all the bells and whistles that kept me wanting to learn more, read more, and purchase more up-to-the-minute books, keynote speaker sessions, and whitepapers to continue my own "research" with my favorite "mentors" in that field. I am still working on my real-life exam, with my goldleaf edged "Stock Trading Academy" certificate already in hand- the reality of whether I succeed or fail based on my own financial goals in the stock market, and with the expansions I am currently implementing in my management consulting business. I think e-learning is clearly here to stay, and will, most importantly, transform what and how academia "tests" students, or whether students begin to learn for the sake of learning, and are tested by their ability to apply new learning to the real world instead. Regardless, I am enjoying the journey.

  • Wed, 17 Dec 2008
    Post by Scott Delman

    Just testing the system

  • Tue, 25 Nov 2008
    Post by Niall Watts

    I was disappointed to read about the professor''s reaction to plagiarism. There are tools such as Turnitin and Safe Assignment which can detect plagiarised content

  • Sun, 26 Oct 2008
    Post by MC

    I''ve recently moved into online teaching from a conventional classroom. I more or less designed the courses on my own around Blackboard''s technology. After some thought, I decided to have open-book exams that are available for a number of days. Yes, the students can look up the answers, but the advantage is that they then learn the answers. Of course, this works best if the questions are at a high level of Bloom''s taxonomy. The essay questions are rather specific to the course, so it is not usually that easy to plagiarize answers from the web. I deal with any cases of plagiarism the way I would in a regular class. Not many students get 100% on the exams. I don''t quite understand why all that proctoring is necessary. What do others think?

  • Sun, 27 Jul 2008
    Post by Ada Kemp

    my area of major concentration is instructional technology and distance education with minor in adult ed. I specifically decided on being a completely virtual student so that I could experience everything from a student''s point of view since I intend to be an instructor in a distance education situation once I''ve earned the degree. I am participating in this RSS feed as an assignment for my current class and came across your article. It never occurred to me that other students would copy fellow students discussion text and try to pass it off as their own ---- yeesh! Thanks for sharing your experiences. They have opened my eyes to some additional aspects ---- however, this delivery mode is pretty well here to stay so what I''d like to do is make it the best it can be.