Survey Says! Top 10 Tips for Better Webinars

Conducting a webinar looks easy. But there are a lot of potholes you can fall into if you don’t prepare properly. Here the top 10 problems and how to avoid them, based on an informal survey of one webinar audience.

1. Text-heavy slides. The number one thing audiences hate is text-heavy slides especially when the presenter reads them out. The answer is to think visuals instead of text, break text-heavy slides into several slides, or just put the keywords on the slide and elaborate on each one verbally, or provide a handout with text the audience can read themselves.

2. No interaction. Rather than lecture your audience non-stop for 60 minutes, mix it up by giving them chances to be involved. Webinars have great tools like polls and chat windows to keep your audience interacting with you. Or, give them a one-minute offline writing exercise and then bring them back to debrief on it.

3. Not prepared. A presenter will lose the audience if they fumble with the tools, or seem to be struggling to explain each slide, or open or close awkwardly. Audiences particularly hate “dead air” when the presenter starts fumbling with something on their computer and the audience is left wondering “what the heck is going on?” The only way to avoid this is to practice with the tools. Several times. Having an assistant is also helpful so you can continue the presentation while the assistant trouble-shoots issues.

4. Managing time. Closely related to point #3 is webinar leaders who start late, run too long, leave no time for Q&A or rush through (or linger too long on) activities. Being prepared is one solution. The other is to practice “accordian teaching” which means you know which content you can cut if you need to, and you have a back pocket full of additional stories and activities you can use if you find your webinar moving faster than expected. 

5. Vocal quality. Be careful of a monotone voice, or speaking too fast. Think of a webinar, not as a presentation, but as talk radio. Stand up, pace around, put a mirror by your desk so you can remind yourself to smile. A webinar is competing with email and web browsing and shopping on eBay, so use your voice to keep ’em interested!

6. Audio quality. Crackling audio, background noises or too-quiet videos that need to be replayed can sour a webinar experience. When you conduct a webinar, invest in high quality microphones and conduct the webinar in a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted by ringing telephones or barking dogs.

7. Boring content. Sometimes presenters cover a topic in a way that is not useful to the audience. An audience of busy business professionals want tips they can use immediately, not long plodding theories or tips that don’t apply to their situations. The answer to this is to explain your content as clearly as possible so the right audiences attend and prioritize giving your audience what they want (not what you want to talk about). Consider sending a short survey in advance and asking people what they are most interested in learning.

8. Bad graphics. including pointless animation. Farther down the list of top 10 peeves is artless use of images and animation. The answer is to be honest with your own graphic design abilities. If you’re not so good, don’t go overboard on graphics. And consider spending some time with books like The Non-Designer’s Design Book and my video channel to improve your own design skills.

9. Technical glitches. Some glitches are easy to avoid just by practicing with the tools in advance. Some glitches are caused by the users, so ask people to arrive 5-10 minutes early if possible, put a slide upfront reminding people how to call in and plan to start 5 minutes late to sort it all out. Consider having an assistant who can answer user questions and trouble-shoot issues while you keep the audience engaged.

10. Too long. As mentioned in point #4 above, learn to practice accordian teaching. Practice your presentation and plan to finish earlier than your allotted time. Then decide which activities you could stretch if you’re moving through the webinar too fast (eg. if I have time, I can show that video about the blind man) or what you could cut if needed (I don’t really need to do that polling exercise here). Leave enough time for thoughtful openings and closings, and not a rushed “Thanks for tuning in! Bye!”

Conducting a webinar looks easy, but it takes preparation to make it look that way. Now you know the top 10 potholes you could fall into, and how to steer around them.

I will be writing more about smart webinar techniques like how to open, how to build rapport, ways to make webinars interactive and how to design strong closes. Subscribe to my blog to receive these articles in your inbox.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

Is a Webinar More Like a Presentation or Talk Radio?

A webinar is just like a presentation but without the eye contact. Right?

Well, maybe not.

A presentation is the wrong metaphor for a webinar because there are so many things you can do in a presentation that you can’t do in a webinar. The “presentation” metaphor is limiting.

Instead, think of your webinar like talk radio but with pictures. That was the advice of one workshop participant at Lisa Braithwaite‘s 2009 PresentationCamp (see 20:35-22:00 of this video) and it was an enlightening moment when I heard that comment.

Thinking in terms of talk radio opens new ideas for you; ideas you wouldn’t have thought of if you were locked in the presentation metaphor. Rather than limiting, the “talk radio” metaphor is empowering. What makes talk radio interesting? And what secrets of talk radio can you borrow to enliven your next webinar?

1. Dialogue, not monologue. Instead of a single speaker, try having two presenters who talk back and forth. Or interview a guest during the webinar from a prepared list of questions. This dialogue, like the banter of morning show dj’s, is more interesting to listen to than a long monologue.

2. Invite callers. Invite lots of questions from the audience. Stop frequently and make it as interactive as possible. Consider asking a question at the beginning of the webinar and taking guesses throughout the webinar until someone finally gets the answer right, like a talk radio host.

3. Stand. Stand up when you conduct the webinar. It will help increase airflow in your lungs and increase your energy levels, giving you a stronger radio voice.

4. Look. Have a mirror nearby and look into it occasionally. Smile! Your audience can hear the smile in your voice and smiling will give you energy to power through your webinar with gusto.

5. Personal factoids. Share mundane personal facts about yourself. Where you live, what kind of car you drive, that you like (or hate) cats, your favorite sports team. Plan these factoids in advance. Give your audience many reasons to identify with you.

Give that a try. Then leave me a comment letting me know which tips worked best for you, and what other tips you have for approaching a webinar like talk radio.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Get your own copy of Speaking PowerPoint, join my LinkedIn group or subscribe to this blog.