Over the course of my career I’ve facilitated hundreds of webinars, ranging in length from 1 hour to an entire day. In the beginning, the very thought of a webinar would make me feel nervous, and to be honest, slightly sick, but now I quite look forward to them. In fact, I’d even go as far saying that I enjoy them!
While every webinar is different these are my personal tips to help you get ready for and run webinars and maybe even get you to the point of enjoyment. Or, if not quite there, at least to the point of calm in time for your next session.
- Make a “Nightmare List”
A “Nightmare List” is a list of all the things that could possibly go wrong on the webinar. You know – the kind of things that keep you up at night. And then, plan for what you’ll do in case they come up. Now chances are that very few of the things you list will happen, but it does help you focus on getting backups and fail safes in place. Preparing in this way also helps you the facilitator feel calm and in charge – ready for whatever may happen.
- Test your Tech
It may seem like common sense, but I’ve seen this step skipped way too often with detrimental results. Testing just before the webinar may be too late if the issue needs time to resolve. Software or plug-in installation is one thing on the day, but faulty hardware is another especially if you don’t have a backup to hand. Testing in advance can help identify and resolve issues before the webinar itself.
- Practice makes perfect
Many of the webinar tools currently on the market, both free and subscription-based allow you to launch a practice session in advance so that you can not only test your tech as above, but practice using the controls in your chosen webinar solution. This is especially useful if you’re new to webinars or the software package in use.
- Log in early and have a welcome slide in place.
I cringe when I log in to a webinar just before the start time and see “The presenter has not yet logged in”. If participants are invested enough to log in early you should be as well. As a guide, at least 15 minutes before the webinar is scheduled to begin, it is good practice to start and display a holding slide. The holding slide should contain the webinar title, start time and a welcome to participants. Even if you aren’t actively talking during the minutes before the webinar starts, the slide at least in lets the participants know that they are in the right place. Just remember to mute your mic until the webinar starts and to un-mute when you are ready to begin – otherwise you’ll be talking to yourself!
- Log in to the webinar as a participant
I typically use my iPad or phone for this- and it has proved invaluable. Because as facilitators, no matter how experienced, we’re only human and things can sometimes fall through the cracks. For example, I have had the welcome slide up on my machine, but forgot to start the webinar so participants weren’t seeing it. I’ve also left the audio on after a sound check, and if I didn’t catch it – participants would be able to hear all the things I was doing in the background before the start time. Just remember – once the webinar starts, mute the sound on the test device to avoid echoes. You can easily turn it back on if there is a reported issue with sound.
- Set the Scene
Yes the people attending your webinar did sign up for it, and were invested enough to log in – but to keep them on and engaged from start to end, it’s important to remind them what’s in it for them. Be sure to communicate at the start, what they get from devoting the time to the session, why the session is important and what is being covered.
- Let the participants know how you intend to tackle questions
This becomes especially important if you’re intending to leave them to the end. Otherwise you risk participants feeling ignored or getting angry if their questions are not being answered – they may even drop off as a result.
- Don’t take your eyes off the ball
Even if you’re taking questions at the end of the session, check chat or questions periodically – because if there are issues you’ll see the signs of trouble there first. You can then use your nightmare list and solutions to troubleshoot.
- Keep your energy levels up
Webinars can be strange – especially ones where the participants are muted. Because as facilitator you’re talking, but almost in a void because you get nothing back. So – it’s very easy to lose your energy and get monotone. What helped me, especially initially was having a mirror close by. Because if you glance in the mirror and notice you’re not smiling or you’re slouching you’ll take steps to correct it, which brings energy back to the session. Having a mirror also strangely makes you feel like you have company and makes it easier to have a more conversational style.
- Be mindful of time, but flexible
Aim to cover the communicated agenda in the communicated time. But at the same time, it’s also important not to log off abruptly at the end of the scheduled time, especially if there are unanswered questions. If you overrun, by the end of the allocated time you should be in a position to say thank you to all attendees, and give the option to those who have additional questions or who need more information to stay on, with those who have sufficient information being free to drop off. I promise you, many more people will stay than you anticipate – and they’ll be happy you were respectful of their time.