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Summary:

I spent the last week attending webinars. The topics were compelling enough that I carved out an hour at a time to attend. Each webinar used different technology solutions, and they were all “interactive” via emailed or IM’ed questions. Every single one of them was awful.

I spent the last week attending webinars. The topics were compelling enough that I carved out an hour at a time to attend. Each webinar used different technology solutions for delivery, and they were all “interactive” via emailed or IM’ed questions. And every single one of them was awful.

What made these webinars — most of which were put on by very big and reputable companies — so very bad?

  • The sales-y delivery. One session had a presenter who could have stepped right out of a used car lot commercial. Maybe it’s just me, but that overly solicitous boisterousness just doesn’t translate well to a webinar setting.
  • The “ummer.” I don’t know about you, but I am more forgiving of a speaker who says “ummm” and “ahhh” when they are in person. But when I hear “ums” and “uhs” on in a webinar, I suddenly cannot hear anything else. I would much rather hear silence or natural pauses than empty filler.
  • The comedian. Humor is a great quality for a speaker. But during a webinar, when you don’t have a live audience to feed off of, some presenters come across awkwardly when they don’t get that laughter. They end up seeming flustered because they’re going for the laughs, and all they get is crickets. Of course you’re getting crickets — it’s a webinar, not a comedy club!
  • The verbose. I’m not often put off by someone who talks a lot. However, a webinar is not the time to ramble. Worse yet are the webinars with slideshows where the slides are vying to be wordier than the speaker. Too many words doesn’t mean you are offering a lot of great content. It often means you’re too lazy to focus on the good stuff.

So what should you do if you are looking to produce webinars that not only provide great value for the participants but leave them empowered, impressed and interested in more? Here are some tips of my own, combined with a few from some great webinar presenters:

  1. Hone your message. You need to know exactly what you are trying to communicate to your audience before you start your presentation. And while you’re at it, keep your main takeaways — those memorable points — to a handful or less. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink for good measure.
  2. Polish your delivery. Not everyone is a great off-the-cuff speaker and when you have limited time, you want to make sure you can deliver your message clearly, succinctly and smoothly. Don’t over-rehearse to the point of sounding mechanical. And please don’t read your slides.
  3. Clean up your slides. How cluttered are your slides? How many words are there to read? Having to read your wordy slides will distract me from listening to what you are saying. Images do speak much louder than words, and better accompany a disembodied voice than a lot of words on a screen.
  4. Think beginning, middle, end. “A webinar, lecture, seminar, class… they are all part of the storytelling discipline,” explains Michael Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build. “A great storyteller understands this and engages the audience whenever possible, creates a rhythm, and knows how to raise the engagement and excitement over the course of the story.”
  5. Understand pacing. “Many people don’t harness (the) live energy (of webinars),” says Laura Roeder, a social media marketing expert. “Although it’s a bit harder to gauge the room online, it can be done by noticing the questions that come in and when people are dropping off from the webinar.” Roeder actually monitors when people are leaving the webinar. She then raises the energy, or switches gears.
  6. Be willing to be flexible. “Be prepared to go off-script and off-presentation,” says Leah Jones, founder of Natiiv Arts & Media, who is also good at switching gears midstream. “While I make the presentations available before the webinar and provide a recording after, I think it is my ability and willingness to go off-script during the ongoing Q&A that makes the webinars really work.” Leah cites that during a recent Twitter lesson, participants let her know that her presentation was too basic. She moved her presentation from slides to the Web and answered “bigger picture” questions.
  7. Give action items. “We are all sick of theory,” says Keith Burtis, Director of Client Strategy at New Marketing Labs, LLC. “If you can give people action items and homework, they will be more excited than having you preach theory. Life is experiential. Impact is felt when the words you say become something that changes someone’s life or business.”

What are your best practices — or pet peeves — for webinars?

Photo by stock.xchng image user alxsanchez

Photo by stock.xchng image user arinas74

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By Aliza Sherman
  1. Some great advice for anyone producing OR attending a webinar. In many webinars I’ve participated in in the past, presenters have neglected to take advantage of the interactivity features available. While a live voice back and forth may not be practical with large numbers of attendees, many webinar solutions feature live chat modules, options to “raise your hand”, or other feedback mechanisms. Presenters should emphasize that they want user participation at the beginning of their presentation, and outline the modes in which users can participate.

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  2. Aliza, I’ve been listening to AND “studying” webinars pretty intensively of late and think your advice is Spot On.

    Just listened to one where experts had only 8 minutes to deliver, and when they took the last minute to pitch their product, I just tuned out.

    Yesterday someone just read her script to get everything into her 8 minutes. She may have gotten everything IN . . . but not “in” to me.
    :-(

    When it comes to the Q & A, this may be under-utilized. Sometimes participants don’t have good questions, etc. But, really, this should be a HUGE benefit for attendees. And presenters can help.
    How?
    They can have some Q & A ready in case the audience doesn’t.

    My question to you [and one I asked on a recent blog post]: Do you do Webinars yourself? If so, what’s your ROI?

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    1. Great question about ROI. I’m starting to do them myself, and have several business models:

      • paid training webinars for my company’s clients
      • larger paid topical webinars (commissioned work)
      • smaller unpaid webinars for marketing/exposure

      I’m also starting a webinar series that will range from free to fee offered through my company.

      I’ve looked at webinars from the start as an IP product to sell, but I make strategic choices based on opportunity (and relationship) on how to structure the deal.

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  3. “I spent last week attending webinars… and every single one of them was awful.”

    Aliza, I’ve been doing that, too. I’ve been amazed by the mediocrity out there.

    At the risk of sounding like a self-promoting weenie, let me encourage you to add yourself to my mailing list so you get alerts about the how-not-to-suck-in-a-webinar tips I’m going to be churning out shortly. Sign up at KillerWebinars.com.

    Thanks for the article!

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  4. Great list! A couple things that may also further engage audience (which I’ve seen work in the past) is:

    a) Within your invitation, invite pre-questions from your audience. Responses could be integrated into the message of your preso slides. This could help further lock-in the attention of those who submitted questions (they see you are listening to them).

    b) If you cannot completely respond to all questions within the timeframe of your preso (coming in through the webinar chat tool or verbal), capture the questions and follow-up with summarized responses to the group in an email (eg. a post-Webinar Frequently Asked Questions document). This gives them an additional take-home of the discussion and shore’s up your message.

    Again, great post. thx.

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