Do webinars need to be dull?

In the book ‘Webinar Master’ I use the word ‘webinar’ to mean a particular type of event – an online presentation where the speaker(s) and audience are connected through computers, linked together over the internet.

The presenter almost always has slides to show, and will sometimes also be visible over video. There is usually at least one other person involved – often an MC or host, who introduces the speaker and who may also handle a Q&A. Typically, the audience can use the webinar chat function to communicate with each other and with the speaker; sometimes they can also speak.

Get engaged
There is nothing in this rather wordy description requiring that webinars be dull. Nevertheless, that is their general reputation, and for one very simple reason: most events involve no interaction and no attempt at engagement. The audience is expected to sit, listen and look at slides.

Sometimes, this is not an issue – the subject matter itself is compelling enough. For most, however, it is a recipe for the audience quietly dropping out of the event, or perhaps half-listening while catching up on email.

Unless you have something to say that is utterly compelling, you will need to engage your audience and interact with them to make your webinar a success. Fortunately, that is exactly what the book is about: from using your voice, to structuring your story, to asking and answering questions.

Why bother with webinars?
But if webinars have a reputation for being dull, it’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the the real benefits they offer.

First, they are convenient. Unlike face-to-face meetings, they involve no travel, and unlike telephone conferences the availability of visuals and text chat makes them a rich medium.

Second, if you are speaking on a webinar you can have all your notes, including a script, immediately to hand. In other words, if you are sufficiently prepared, it is a very low-risk event.

Everyone’s involved
Finally – and this is a point I cannot emphasize enough – the text chat offered by webinars provides a unique opportunity. In a face-to-face event you cannot have everyone talking at once, but online anyone who has something useful to contribute can do so, quickly and without interrupting the speaker, just by writing a short message in the text chat area. Everyone can see these contributions, and they are available for reference after the event.

Time and again over several hundred webinars, I have seen audiences add insight, thoughts and resources to a discussion in a way that I cannot imagine happening face-to-face. I do not say this to denigrate in-person conferences or workshops – I have chaired scores of them – but rather to highlight an important fact: webinars are not the poor man’s meeting. Use what they have to offer and you can create memorable events with great impact.

This post is based on an extract from my ebook Webinar Master. Click to buy the book.

2 thoughts on “Do webinars need to be dull?

  1. Thanks Don. I love your last point, about the chat being a killer component. Used well, that’s where webinars could really add value, and fully engage people too.

    I’d also add 2 more points:

    I believe far too many webinars do attempt interaction. But they use pointless polls to do it, like “How much experience do you have in this topic?” To me, they’d be better if they cut out interaction altogether rather than waste time like that. (Polls are much more useful to ask a question like this that actually affects how the webinar unfolds.)

    I’d say presenters should be wary of using a script as such, for 2 reasons:
    — Most people don’t write how they speak, so the wording often sounds terrible.
    — That tends to be made even worse by the act of reading aloud.

    All the same, nicely put. I’m starting to see how helpful the chat can be, and hope to use it even more in future.


    • Craig – excellent points. I’d say you’d read the book except that it wasn’t out when you posted this! Let’s keep chatting about this and sharing thoughts on what makes a really great webinar.


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