When it comes to webinars, many of us are familiar with the following scenarios:
- The session started well, but after the first 10 minutes, you couldn’t hear much.
- There was a lot of background noise during the session.
- The webinar was OK, but the Q&A session was bad, as there was a lot of noise and some cross-talking.
- You quietly dropped off during the middle of the session, as it was excruciating to listen to.
- The facilitator behaved as if no human beings were present.
In a globally distributed corporate world, webinars and virtual meetings have become commonplace. However, many people treat webinars like monologues. The facilitator may have a swanky speakerphone and great connectivity, but he or she cannot assume all the participants do. Even if they do, the session might still be boring or noisy, benefitting few of the attendees.
The answer lies in planning. Here are some tips to plan webinars that leave a positive impact with your distributed teams.
Capture the interest of your participants before the session starts by helping them clearly identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Build their curiosity by sending a teaser email, such as an interesting illustration that might pique their interest.
Pre-session activities also help. Send interesting prework for participants; for example, if it’s a session on writing successful sales emails, ask them to critique the last email they wrote to a prospect. Then, use the activity as the first point during the session. If it’s a large group, ask them to send their responses ahead of time, and you can discuss a few of them during the session.
Prework is not just for the participants. It’s for the facilitator as well. Keep in mind these tips:
Give participants the option to sign in from any device without losing out on any information. Use a reliable web application to ensure your session is accessible to all, and consider your batch size, the accessibility and reliability of the platform, and its screen-sharing and online chat capabilities.
Make sure you have a good internet connection. If connectivity is going to be an issue, inform your participants ahead of time to turn off videos and close bandwidth-hungry applications so that the webinar can use all the available bandwidth.
No matter how good a trainer you are, it’s always important to practice before you conduct a session. It builds your confidence and helps you time your session and identify where to add activities, give breaks, etc. Practice with a friend or colleague who can join from a remote location and provide feedback.
If the session is too long, you may want to consider trimming it or splitting it into two parts. You can’t have a three-hour webinar — not without making participants mute you and turn on a YouTube video to watch instead.
You have done your prework, your participants have joined the session … now what?
Build a connection. This group will be with you for the next 30 or 40 minutes (hopefully not longer). You want their full attention to be on the session, not Instagram or Candy Crush.
The start of the session can make or break the audience’s attention. Begin with an energetic welcome, introduce yourself and (if the group is small enough) ask for an introduction from each participant. For a personalized approach, ask them to send their introductions and some interesting tidbits about themselves before joining the session. Then, in the introduction, mention a few interesting points:
“We have a published writer among us! Congrats, Kevin!”
“Raj is an organic farmer committed to reducing his carbon footprint! Give him a big hand, ladies and gentlemen!”
Don’t start on the first topic the moment the session starts. Tell participants about the session, its agenda and its objectives. Ask them to think about what they expect from the session and to write it down so that they can reflect after the session is over.
Even if it’s a short session, it’s important to give participants some time to ponder what you’re discussing by providing them with breaks but leaving them with a question. For example: “Let’s break for two minutes. When we resume, I want each of you to tell me what you can do differently in your sales calls based on what we’ve learned so far.” You can even create small groups and ask participants to discuss among themselves in the chat and then share with the rest of the group.
Ask for feedback. It doesn’t matter how confident you are that your session went well; you can always improve. At the end of the session, ask participants for their honest feedback. Is there anything that is still unclear to them? What can you do to improve the session?
If needed, provide them with your contact information so they can reach out to you with questions in the future.
Virtual sessions are like classroom trainings that happen remotely. The rules that prevail in a classroom session also prevail in an online session; the only difference is that you can’t control what your participants are doing during the session. You can create an environment where they don’t want to do anything else — where they feel engaged and immersed in learning.