Delivering Better Webinars

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176891779I recently participated in a webinar facilitated by a large elearning group that was delivered to about 1,000 people. It’s been a while since I sat in on a webinar of that size, and given the group’s industry and audience, I expected a really polished session that I could learn from. What surprised me most were just how many easily fixable issues still pervade webinars, even at the top levels.

The problems started during the introduction. The facilitator was clearly reading notes from a script and stumbling through them as admin activities were taking place in the background. For scripted content, why are people still not prerecording everything to ensure a polished performance? If there’s no video and no audience interaction, the people on the webinar will never know the difference; they just get a great delivery.

With the introductions out of the way, the problems shifted to the presenter and her interaction with the moderator. First the presenter had trouble gaining control of the webinar to show her materials (wasn’t there a run-through?). Then the lack of an audio check meant that the moderator had to interrupt the presenter to see if abandoning the headset and going with a different microphone would yield a better result. This is all, of course, while 1,000 people listened and waited. And, once again, the presenter fumbled between reading a script, showing materials onscreen and talking through what she was doing. Periods of scripted demos could have easily been prerecorded to make things better for everyone; it’s only when there are interactions with the audience that live teaching is needed.

There were, fortunately, such opportunities for interaction. And, unfortunately, they went poorly too. There were awkward delays while the moderator took back control to enable voting and then waited for more than a handful of people to participate. The technology platform, GoToWebinar, was also annoying during this time; I work on multiple monitors and had the webinar on my 2nd monitor in the background, but every control change moved it back to my primary monitor. The opportunities for audience interaction also didn’t make any difference to the session; the results didn’t affect the session flow (responses were easily predicted) and it could have all been prerecorded.

Maybe there are some people who appreciate a haphazard webinar more because they know it’s at least live and it’s potentially more relatable. For me, I’d rather see the polish and people who execute well. I also see it as something of a market problem. There are great tools that make webinars easy, but there seems to be a lot less interest in how to do them well. Users fend for themselves and, all too often, come up short on delivery.

So what can you do deliver better webinars? For starters, I think a lot of the guidance we have over on Grade Hacks about delivering presentations comes into play. Try to practice the session in its entirety at least 3 times before you deliver it, preferably on the same equipment and platform as you’ll use for the live session. Sign in early and test the audio, changing control and presenting interactive elements. Record things that don’t necessarily need to be live if you can get away with it. Get a few other people to sit in on the practice session and give you feedback. Record it and watch it yourself to see how everything comes together for the audience. For important webinars, put the time in up front to get things right.

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