How Preparation and Practice Can Make Your Webinar SO Much Better!

Webinar showing laptop and three speakersThere’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t get an invitation to attend a webinar, especially from social media experts.

I’ve attended many of them over the years and learned a lot.

But today’s webinar typified all the mistakes that presenters make.

Prepare and Practice

You don’t have complete control over the technical part, and I feel for presenters when the webinar doesn’t work – that happens too often. Today, I received several error messages and had to log in more than once. Hopefully, the technology will continue to improve so that becomes less of an issue.

Still, you shouldn’t wing the presentation. This is particularly important when you’re discussing a topic that’s technical, like how to navigate Google Analytics or how to build a website. Too many presenters assume the audience knows more about the topic than they do. No, that’s why they’re attending your webinar.

They want clarity and not a display of your technical prowess.

Joyce Newman, who coaches top corporate executives on presentation skills, advises, “A webinar is like any other speaking engagement. You’ve got to organize your key messages and practice out loud beforehand. Your audience will tune out if you seem disorganized or you speak so rapidly that they can’t understand you.”

Follow These Tips

Nobody says you have to be perfect. But you need to understand your audience’s needs and communicate in easy-to-understand terms.

  • What is your topic? Clearly state the topic of your webinar and book the expert speakers, who may be with your own company or from outside. Be sure each speaker has a designated role to play and you don’t step on each other’s lines.
  • What are the information needs of your audience? Is this an audience of beginners or they knowledgeable about the topic and looking for more advanced content? Consider including a survey with your invitation to ask what they want to know. Discuss the content with a few people in advance to be sure you’re on track.
  • Stay on time. The ideal webinar is 60 minutes or less including time for Q&A. Don’t use up the entire time and then tell people you can’t answer their questions. Have someone monitoring the question box, and identify the most asked questions to start the Q&A. The speaker(s) should not waste time fumbling through the questions when they’re finished talking. That just wastes time.
  • KISS. Keep the slides simple, no more than 4-5 lines of type. Use graphics to illustrate how something works. Instead of citing the name of a reference book, use an image of the cover. When you’ve finished creating the PowerPoint, go back and replace as many text passages as possible with images. It’s deadly for the audience to read all copy slides.

Dog barking during webinar

  • Practice and then practice more. It’s quite obvious the speakers haven’t practiced when the facilitator introduces them for the first time on the webinar! Book time with the webinar provider and have a practice session for the all the speakers, who should be sitting in a quiet room, away from distractions like barking dogs. In today’s session, the lone speaker sounded like he was speaking at the end of a long tunnel. He spoke rapidly and swallowed his words. I can guarantee I’m not going to listen to the recording to try and pick up what I missed.
  • Provide a link to the presentation. At the conclusion of the webinar, send attendees (and people who registered but didn’t attend) a link to the presentation and recording. Your audience will love you if you also provide a written transcript, especially if the speakers spoke too fast or were indistinct.
  • Ask for feedback. Send a follow-up survey to the attendees so they can evaluate the seminar. Then use this feedback to improve the next webinar you sponsor.
  • Don’t sell too hard. It’s OK at the beginning of the webinar to give brief bios of the speakers and their companies. But don’t do a big long commercial either at the beginning or end of the program. We know why you’re doing the webinar and don’t need to be reminded with the whack of a 2/4.

Your audience has given up precious time in their busy day to tune in to your webinar. They deserve your best. Treat the participants as respectfully as you would your best client. Then maybe someone in the audience will become one.

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Comments

  1. Hope you get a lot of readers for this one Jeannette…I’ll share it around. Because I’ve attended more bad webinars than good ones and for all the reasons you cite. The hard sell is hard to swallow:) And I have often wanted a written transcript but wasn’t provided one. And my pet peeve is hearing that they can’t answer all the questions…and saying it repeatedly! Unless, of course, you buy the product!

    • Thanks, Jacquie. I was planning to write about something else this week, but the webinar today convinced me I had to write something now! And my question didn’t get answered. The SEO expert said not to join guest blogging networks and I wanted to know why. Oh, well.

    • Jacquie — I think my pet peeve is the lack of a written transcript which you can read much more quickly than listening to the recording. I love that about TED talks.

        • Jacquie — I will view a TED video and then if I want to quote from it I can quickly zip through the transcript without having to find the quote in the video. I honestly think that’s why TED talks are quoted so often in blogs and in the media.

  2. I haven’t given a webinar yet, but I’ve attended plenty. I learned a lot, so those presenters had both knowledge and preparation. On one occasion, a presenter hardly let the others talk, which was a first.

    • Deidre — I’ve also attended webinars where the first speaker hogged all the time and left the other speakers with hardly any time to talk. That’s another tip I could have mentioned.

  3. Oy! It is most definitely the hard sell at the end that makes you gag a little. If I wanted to visit a car salesman I would have gone to a car yard. I agree with you about not assuming the audience knows more than it does. You are right…they don’t know and that’s why they have come to see you. I used to give seminars on travel when I lived in Europe and I loved them and I think the audience did too. I say that because they laughed at my jokes and stayed. Simple, entertaining, informative, and visual. All good points.

    • Tim — you make another good point. Presenting is a lot like entertaining. You’ve got to keep your audience engaged. Your travel blogs are so entertaining that I’m sure your seminars were too!

  4. Jeannette- I have to tell that I have stopped visiting webinars because they look like my grandchildren put them together. I have found some so boring I couldn’t stand it any longer. While there are some out there that are worth while, I feel more should read your article and get it right before wasting others time.

    • Arleen — when I first started blogging and getting involved in social media, I attended a ton of webinars and learned a lot. But I rarely attend one these days unless it’s a subject where I feel deficient or think I’ll learn something more in depth. Also, I find topics for posts. But I’m much more choosy these days for the reasons we both state.

  5. The same can be said about making videos, book trailers, etc. 🙂 Practice makes perfect!

    I’ve known people to spend hours making a 57-second video!

    As with writing, speaking is a form of “editing” and it’s important to realize that you should always prepare yourself as best as possible.

    • Lorraine — So true. Speakers need to practice and then edit, just as they would edit a written presentation. This is especially important if the speaker is primarily a technical expert. His expertise in his subject doesn’t necessarily translate to being an expert speaker.

  6. Great post, Jeannette – i am clearly missing something as it seems this post was inspired by a particular webinar but you don’t say what it was. Nevertheless, great tips – like Jacquie said, I will share the post around as more people need to see this to better their webinars 🙂

    I’d add to your tips a couple more… in the section about feedback and user engagement. Hosts can ask polling questions during the webinar itself (I know some platforms support that feature).

    And also, hosts can look through the attention retention stats – how many people attended, who stayed all the time vs who left and when exactly they left; who stayed until the end but did other stuff during the webinar (e.g. when they listen to the webinar in the background but do not watch the presentation because they were purging their email, for example – some platforms catch that as well as information for user engagement).

    Great post – thanks for writing and sharing 🙂

    • Diana — you’re quite right, many webinars conduct polls during the webinar and also allow participants to ask questions so you can hear them. The problem with that is that too many people ask questions that are totally off topic or take the opportunity to make a speech. So I haven’t seen that feature utilized lately. Thanks, too, for mentioning the ability to check retention stats.

  7. I have been invited to a number of webinars but since I still have so much to learn about the basics I have declind. I’m going to bookmark and later print this post so that I can read it again before attending one. Thanks for letting me know what I have to look out for.
    Lenie

    • Lenie — I don’t want to criticize every webinar I’ve ever attended, but webinars are mainstream. Presenters have a lot of examples to watch to learn what they should do and what mistakes to avoid. The webinar I attended is not the first by a well-known organization that shall remain nameless out of courtesy!

  8. I have not yet given or attended any webinar. But I attend so many workshops and seminars. I feel that I have attended all sort of presentations some with a lot of information and interest and some opposite.The reasons are mostly the same that you have mentioned. Thank you for nice tips and I have also tweeted.

  9. Excellent advice for how to succeed with a webinar, Jeannette. It’s actually even more important to do what you suggest onine than in real life because it’s so easy for someone participating to just click away. It takes more guts to walk out in real life:-)

    • You make a good point, Catarina. It’s easy to drop off a webinar but if you’re seated in the first row of a panel at a seminar it can be awkward to leave.

  10. Hi Jeannette,

    I am glad to come back here after long time.:)

    Sorry for being so late in the party.;)

    I agree with you that if people want to make their webinar better then they should use graphics because they can attract others.

    Using the perfect lines are important. It’s not about crowding.

    Perfection is the main thing to think about.
    All the points you have included are worthy to follow.:)
    Great post indeed.

    ~Ravi

  11. I’ve both attended and given many. On the ones I’ve given, I can say my 20+ years as a paid speaker and corporate trainer has helped my avoid these errors you mention.

    But as you say, you cannot control technology. Who can?

    When we don’t provide a written transcript and only rely on the recording, we are unappealing to those of us (like me) who get more out of reading (visual) than listening (auditory.)

    All great tips Jeannette.

    • Pat — I don’t listen to podcasts for the same reason. I can read more quickly and also highlight the important points in a written summary. I’m a city dweller and don’t use a car but I’m sure suburbanites who live in their cars do appreciate making productive use of their time by listening to podcasts.

  12. I would add to this that when you’re scripting your webinar, go through each and every single piece you’re planning to share and ask yourself “Why is this important to and why would they care?” It’s the best way of keeping it relevant from beginning to end.

    • Eve — excellent advice. Another question to ask yourself is “What’s in it for them?” meaning why would the audience want to hear about this topic?

  13. you shared several excellent points Jeannette!

    And as you mentioned, is there anything worse than a speaker trying to wing a presentation? That all but totally sucks out loud!

    granted, as you pointed, we can all forgive the occasional technical glitch. Things definitely happen from time to time!

    But the other really big pet peeve that you warned against!

    If you’re using Power Point, don’t fill every slide with only six or seven lines of uninspiring text only!

    What a complete snooze fest! BTW, I really like your suggestion of including a PDF of the presentation as well.

    Just in case, as you mentioned, certain portions of the audio presentation were not totally understandable!

    Great tips and I’ll definitely pass them on as well!

    • Please excuse my delay in responding, Mark. Your comment got past me. I’m co-presenting from a PP presentation next week (not a webinar) and it’s very much filled with images and very little type. I hope the presenting organization not only records it but creates a PDF of the presentation.