The Six Elements of a Webinar

Hannah Hoch
(Hannah Höch, Collage 2. c.1925)

A webinar is made up of six elements. In order of importance, they are:

1. Content
2. Voice
3. Interaction
4. Structure
5. Anecdotes
6. Visuals

While each of these is necessary for a successful event, none is sufficient by itself; a webinar without visuals is a radio show, without anecdotes it’s a lecture, and without good content it’s useless. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to assume that you have content useful for your audience, and we’ll concentrate on the other five elements.

Not everyone will agree with this ranking, so let me explain why voice is at the top and visuals at the bottom.

I’ve hosted webinars where people have done a great job engaging with the audience using their voice alone. With very simple slides of just a few words, they initially set out a point of view, then answered questions and engaged with the audience, who were entranced and left delighted with how they’d spent that hour. Voice and interaction, then, have to come first.

Visuals are the least important for two reasons. First, bad visuals can break a presentation, but adequate visuals will get you by. Adequate content won’t, and an adequate voice will only work if your content is stellar. Provide only adequate interaction and you’ll lose a substantial part of your audience. Your structure can be basic, but it must be well thought through, and your anecdotes must be carefully selected, honed and rehearsed. Visuals, then, are forced to the bottom of the list.

Secondly: it’s easy to spend a lot of time on visuals, persuading ourselves that we’re working on making our presentation better, when in fact all we’re doing is being busy. Get the visuals good enough, then work on the rest of the list and come back to the visuals once you’re sure everything else is okay. If you find you can’t polish the visuals to your satisfaction, that part of your presentation can always be subcontracted. Working on your anecdotes, content and voice can’t.

As I say, however, all six of these elements are necessary, and the richness of a well-prepared, well-delivered webinar comes through their interaction.

This is an extract from Webinar Master, a free 44-page guide to great online delivery.

Click to download it.

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The six key roles in a webinar

Delivery is only one of the roles essential to a successful webinar. I reckon there are six key roles. It is possible, even usual, for one person to fill more than one of these. It’s even possible for one person to fill all of the first five:

1. Presenter – creates and delivers the content
2. Host – facilitates the event, does introductions, Q&A, watches chat
3. Producer – chooses topic and presenter, schedules rehearsals, may edit content
4. Marketer – ensures sufficient delegates turn up, and with the correct expectations
5. Administrator – deals with technical issues
6. Attendee – needs clear expectations and an understanding of webinar etiquette

Delivery is crucial, but if the other roles are not fulfilled, even the best presentation will fail.

This is an extract from Webinar Master, a free 44-page guide to great online delivery.
Click to download it

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The ONE thing essential for a successful webinar

No 1 c

Let’s start at the beginning.

The essential point about online sessions is this: the audience’s only interaction is via their computer screen and speakers. Obvious? Yes, but precisely for that reason, it is easy to overlook how wide the implications are.

Because the audience members are separate from one other and from you, three lines of non-verbal communication are removed, lines that we take for granted during a physical presentation. The audience cannot communicate with you non-verbally, nor with each other, nor can you communicate non-verbally with them. The result is that online presentations require you to think very clearly about how you will build rapport with your audience, engage their interest and maintain it.

When presenting online, without recourse to non-verbal communication, your voice becomes a vital tool. It must be clear, varied and well-modulated. Using a set of wordy PowerPoint slides as a script for ad-libbing is a poor approach when you are physically in front of people. Online it is a disaster. To succeed at presenting online you need compelling, well-structured content that involves the audience.

There are three things here: compelling, well-structure and involving. Each of them is important, but the first is the most important. Your content needs to be compelling. And the most important part of being compelling? Your audience wants to listen, because the find the content meets a need they have.

And that’s it. THAT is the one crucial thing for any successful delivery of online content: be useful.

There is not a great deal that is new to learn, but any online presenter will have to remember not to use many of the habits, tricks and instincts built up over years of face-to-face delivery. The good news is that anyone can present online, and it enables you to do things you cannot easily do in the physical world.

Presenting online isn’t very hard: I estimate that it’s about as difficult as driving a car. If you can do that, you can present online. Of course, if you drive, you’ll also remember how impossible co-ordinating everything seemed at the beginning: looking at the mirror, controlling the clutch, watching your dashboard… You’ll also remember how you overcame all that to become the confident driver you are today: through practice.

What about keeping people engaged? Do we need to pull a rabbit out of some presenter’s hat every seven minutes? No, absolutely not – people can deal with distraction. They won’t put up with being given information they can’t use.

Our noisy, multi-stream information culture

From watching TV to interacting with friends, the way we live reflects our noisy, multi-stream information culture. People are increasingly habituated to using Twitter while they watch TV, or seeing multiple streams of information alongside the sport or business news. Whether it’s live voting on talent shows, or TV screens simultaneously showing the results of three different sports while discussing a fourth, information-rich culture is now mainstream and – consciously or not – your audience expects it.

This profoundly affects the way people attend webinars. Many participants are used to dealing with plenty of information at once. Some even feel cheated or under-stimulated without it. Unlike their counterparts 20 years ago, almost none of your attendees will feel comfortable sitting quietly and listening to a presentation for 40 minutes.

People have learned to deal with this information overload with short bursts of highly focused attention. We typically focus on something, and if we don’t find it worth our attention, shift focus to something else. When that attention shifts, it takes a lot to bring it back.

This does not mean that presenters should resort to snake oil, blarney and theatrics. On the contrary, it means that when the attendee is focusing on the event, she must find something useful in it. That could be what they hear the presenter’s saying, what’s on display, or the text the attendees are reading on screen or in the text chat area.

In other words, in this busy age, the secret to a successful webinar is simple: provide compelling value.

That is the one thing you need for a successful webinar, before anything else. To be useful.

 

This is an extract from Webinar Master, a free 44-page guide to great online delivery. Click to download it

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Do webinars always need to be dull?

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[Taken from Webinar Master, the free, 46-page ebook on online delivery.]

What are webinars, and need they be dull?

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.

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 this book is about: from using your voice, to structuring your story, to asking and answering questions.

But rather than starting on this slightly negative note, it’s worth reminding ourselves of three real benefits of webinars.

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.

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, and spoken at far more – but rather to highlight an important fact: webinars are not an inferior substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Use what they have to offer and you can create memorable events with great impact.

This is an extract from Webinar Master, a free 44-page guide to great online delivery. Click to download it

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Webinar Master is now free

 

Today, I’m making my book, Webinar Master, available for free. It’s 46 pages of hints and tips collected over 13 years of hosting and delivering webinars.

This website is no longer my main focus. If you click the image, it will take you to a post on my main website, DonaldHTaylor.co.uk. Click the image there, and you can download the PDF for free.

Donald H Taylor
London
March 2020

What makes a webinar master?

LPI-WebinarMasterClassGraphicSomething went wrong.

Webinars were supposed to be the low cost tool that would make meetings easier, span the globe and spread information across your organisation like wildfire.

It hasn’t happened quite like that.

Instead, webinars have become the reviled, bastard step-cousin of Microsoft PowerPoint. Widely disliked, seldom fully attended and only grudgingly accepted in most organisations.

This is a great pity. It doesn’t have to be that way. With just a little effort they could achieve their potential and be a great way to meet and share information quickly.

On 11th May I’ll deliver an LPI Webinar that explains how: What makes a webinar master?

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How to ruin your webinar – with bad timing

birdnestImage © Simon Adams, used with permission

A good webinar is built piece by piece, with each piece fitting together like a bird’s nest. When that happens, it looks elegant, runs smoothly to time and everyone benefits. All because you prepared it properly.

By the day of your webinar, you will have have already trimmed your presentation and rehearsed it. You’ve put a lot of work into getting it right – for goodness sake, don’t ruin it at the last minute by not allowing time to present it right.

There are three places to ruin your webinar – before you start, in the middle and at the end. The bit in the middle you’ve already dealt with by prepping right. You’ve a slick presentation with plenty of interaction.

Good.

How can you ensure you shine at the start and finish on a high?

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