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Webinars 101: Successful Execution During a Pandemic

It’s been more than two months since schools, large and small businesses and state governments took operations from in-person to online. For the time being, social distancing is the norm and as we all seek opportunities to stay in front of our audiences, webinars are a natural solution.

With a quick Google search, you’ll find there were more than 80,000 webinars this past month, on any topic you can imagine. At Stratacomm, we’ve helped several clients put on one-time webinars and also supported long-term webinar programs for others. If you’re new to the webinar game, the following are important considerations to keep in mind when planning your own webinar.

1. Content, Visuals & Length

Before thinking through the technical aspects of a webinar, identify your desired content, visuals and length. Webinars can be about anything, but clearly defining the topic helps potential attendees know exactly what to expect and increases interest in signing up. It is also helpful to develop two or three objectives, or takeaways the audience can expect, to support the goal of the webinar, keeping a clear vision of what you want for attendees.  

While the golden rule of in-person presentations is reducing text and focusing more on imagery with slides, the rules can be bent when it comes to webinars. Since the audience won’t have the benefit of seeing your face (unless you opt to use video), your slides are the focal point. Thoughtful information coupled with engaging, complimentary imagery creates a visually appealing experience and offers a reference material for attendees to use once the webinar is over.

From a timing perspective, the most successful webinars are between 60 and 90 minutes. According to GoToWebinar, 67% of registrations are for 60-minute webinars, so the more succinct the better. A best practice format is 20-30 minutes of presentation time per presenter and then always allowing 20-25 minutes for the audience to ask questions. If you have one presenter, an hour will be more than enough, but if you have three speakers, going the 90-minute route makes more sense.

2. Platform

Hosting a successful webinar could be as simple as creating a Zoom meeting or Google Hangout, if you’re a small business, non-profit or professional organization. We’ve seen some really successful ones that have been simple conversation with a very short number of slides to kick-off the discussion. However, for larger entities looking for a more polished and structured approach, using a webinar-specific software that separates panelists from attendees, allows the broadcast to go “live” and houses a space for questions and answers is what you’re going to need. While Google, Facebook and other tech giants are entering the space, the two main players are GoToWebinar and Zoom. GoToWebinar has a few more bells and whistles and streamlines the question and answer portion. Zoom is a bit easier to use for beginners and makes the process of going live and chatting with the audience simple. Both platforms are easy to learn with minimal time investment and provide smooth user experiences for everyone involved. However, they are paid tools. Doing a demo with both to find out which one you prefer is the perfect way to choose what best meets your needs and which price point makes the most sense for your organization.

3. Audio Quality

The key to a successful webinar is having high-quality audio from all presenters, moderators and organizers. A webinar will go downhill quickly if your audio connection is staticky, muffled or unintelligible. If the audience can’t clearly understand you or if the audio is unpleasant, they’ll give up and sign off. To ensure success, anyone who will be speaking should invest in headphones or a headset for the highest audio quality. Computer speakers and speaker phone just don’t cut it.

4. Engaging Attendees

Part of every webinar’s goal should be engaging with attendees. Engagement can come in the form of emails, polls, handouts, surveys and of course the question and answer session. You want attendees to sign on and feel like they are a part of the experience, not just mindlessly listening to someone drone on. Sending emails ahead of the webinar with reminders, materials and steps to using the software are always helpful, and of course a follow up thank you email continues your engagement with the audience beyond the 60 minutes. Polls throughout the presentation help gauge where the audience’s interests lie and how you can better tailor your talking points in real time. Surveys allow attendees to give their immediate feedback and help you understand what you can do better for the next webinar. However, the ultimate way to engage with your attendees is the question and answer session, which is a beast to conquer but extremely impactful.

5. Questions & Answers

Holding a question and answer session can be intimidating in the webinar medium, but it doesn’t have to be! The number one key to success is having a moderator whose sole job is to monitor incoming questions and tee them up for the presenters during the Q&A. Depending on the size of the webinar, questions can come in rapidly and it is near impossible to keep track of them while presenting. The other key is utilizing the tools the software offers to manage the process. In GoToWebinar, you can prioritize questions using flags and assign questions to the appropriate presenter. In Zoom, all panelists can view the questions and claim the ones they’d like to answer. Many webinars will opt out of doing a live Q&A, but in my experience, attendees always find the sessions insightful, informative and valuable.

6. Always Wear Pants

Finally, dress the part … even from home. This may seem like an obvious one, but for some it isn’t (see Will Reeve on GMA). Whether your webinar shows your video feed or not, it’s important to approach it professionally and prepared. You never know if your slide share could swap in for your webcam at a moment’s notice. The way you dress will also impact your presentation performance, getting you in the mindset to be engaging and dynamic while presenting. Treat a webinar like any in-person meeting and you’ll be set.

Amber Garnett is a senior account executive in the Washington, D.C. office. She supported the Transportation Research Board’s webinar program and provided guidance to other clients as they do webinars of their own.