Whether it’s for holding a company-wide global meeting, conducting a lunch and learn, or launching a remote learning and development session; the value of webinar technology is undisputed. Without dissecting the conveniences web technology affords its users, when used and used effectively, your webinar should be a value-add to your business and the dissemination of material in a way that is insightful, engaging, and efficient.
If you are of the mindset that webinar technology and user experience is a lesser option to a best-case scenario—the in-person meeting— it would behoove you to adjust that mindset. Webinars are not a replacement or stand-in for traditional facing classroom learning environments, but rather another way of saying what you want to say and having it be heard in multiple places at any time. Depending on the context, you can consider a webinar the trimmed-down portion of your main course; the abridged version to your novel; the express train that gets you to the same place as the local one… you get the idea. Webinar technology does what you need it to do if you know how and when to best to utilize it.
1. Understand your audience. Before anything else can happen, you have to understand who your audience is and what you want them to walk away with. Knowing who your audience is (as best as possible) includes:
2. Create a captivating deck. Most of what your audience will be looking at while they listen to you is the slide deck you have created to accompany your presentation. Your deck should be aesthetically appealing and not overrun with text; it should emphasize and strengthen the points you intend to make without being a script from which you are reading. The best slide decks I have seen are those that take on a minimalist approach: an image and/or a few words of text. You are the script—not your slides.
3. Check for engaging content. A large part in running a successful webinar is the utilization of engaging content coupled with the opportunity to engage—you cannot have one without the other. I always set the tone from the beginning that the “most bang for your buck” occurs when you actively engage in the webinar instead of treating it like a lecture. Ensuring that there are many opportunities to stop and reflect, to respond to others and share opinions, and to participate in real-time project work; should be a standard for every live webinar.
4. Do a tech-check. Testing 1-2, 1-2. Yes, before you dive deep in the content, give a quick run-through of the application features your audience will interact with, and set the expectation for how they will engage using these features. Most webinar software has the same features (whiteboard, hand-raise tool, chat capability, ability to speak and share video, etc.) and by highlighting where these tools are and how to use them, you are setting the expectation that they are to be utilized and are effectively setting the stage for maximum engagement.
5. Be clear in your objectives. Anyone who knows anything about the way people learn knows that if you are not clear and intentional about what the session goals are, your audience will be confused. Communicate to them what the takeaway is, and what they can expect from the session. Doing so will set the tone for the experience and pave the way for optimal learning.
6. Call for questions—often. Take the opportunity to engage your audience by posing questions and checking for understanding throughout the webinar. Participants can respond by “raising their hands” to speak or respond in the chat tool. I have found that if at the beginning you do not clearly state that there will be times in which people are expected to speak rather than type in chat, they will default to typing when asked a question. That said, suggestions to frame your questions for each scenario are as follows:
7. Include a Q&A at the end of your webinar. This is non-negotiable. If you’re new to webinar hosting, it might be tough to anticipate the questions you’ll get, but you do not need to anticipate them—and you may not get any questions at all. Many times, questions will be a clarification of or elaboration on what has taken place in the session, so that is information you already know and know well. If you do not get any questions, you may want to take this opportunity to summarize the session and mention questions other people have asked in the past that the current audience may not have even thought of.
To treat webinar hosting as a process that is adaptive and intentional is to maximize the learning experience for all. Utilizing the best practices checklist above is a great way to hold yourself accountable in navigating this process.
Christina Loffredo, M.Ed.
Instructional Designer and Training Consultant