What makes a webinar great? - a Q-and-A with Ann Handley - SmartBrief

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What makes a webinar great? — a Q-and-A with Ann Handley

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Brands & Campaigns

This Q-and-A is with MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley, author of “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business.” For part one of the interview, which focuses on the marketing justification for hosting a webinar, click here.

How is presenting a webinar different from speaking in front of a live audience?

It’s much harder to present online, to an invisible audience, than it is to present in person. You can’t look people in the eye or feed off of the room’s energy; you also have to have exceptional content, because the content itself is what will engage your prospects.

And in a webinar, you can’t compensate for boring slides or a mostly monotone voice with your winsome good looks and personality. If your content isn’t great, your attendees will quickly start checking what their friends are up to on Facebook.

What can presenters do to make their webinars more social and engaging — and less like death-by-PowerPoint?

Three things:

  1. Write the story. A really good webinar needs foundational structure and support. Don’t start by firing up PowerPoint; start by mapping out an outline of both your story and quick ideas for the accompanying charts and photos. You can use [Microsoft] Word, a notebook, a whiteboard or chalk on the sidewalk. The point is to write down key points and assemble them into some sort of structure. Presentation Zen author Garr Reynolds calls this “planning analog”: You might deliver the presentation in a digital format, but the act of speaking and connecting with an audience is nonetheless analog.
  2. Show; don’t tell. Webinars allow you to marry voice, images, and sound to create something that teems with life. This is a boon especially to business-to-business companies or service firms, which are often selling an intangible thing that a buyer can’t easily connect with. So to quote a content rule: Show; don’t tell. Use case studies, client stories or colorful anecdotes to express your ideas and thoughts. Show your products or services in action as they help customers do their jobs better, run faster, jump higher or whatever. Doing so makes your business human and accessible, because it explains your business in a way people can relate to.
  3. Encourage audience interaction. You might have attended webinars that feel one-way: An attendee types a question or comment into a tiny box, then wonders whether anybody on the other side noticed it. Today, Web-conferencing tools allow everyone attending the webinar to chat live during the presentation by using a window alongside the main presentation screen. This kind of webinar has a whole different feel, because it gives participants a sense of community and a shared group experience.

Also, encourage speaker-attendee interaction by building that into the presentation itself, too. Stop to answer incoming questions instead of saving them for the end. Add a relevant attendee poll or two to get some audience feedback.

If it sounds a little scary to share everyone’s comments and questions, that suggests a fourth point: Choose your moderator wisely.

A good, responsive moderator can make the difference between an awesome and an awful webinar. A good moderator keeps things moving at an energetic, brisk clip; pays attention to feedback or audience chat (and responds publicly and privately to specific audience comments); and manages the questions from the audience (knowing when to interrupt the speaker to ask a clarifying question, for example, or to post relevant links in the chat window from resources referred to during the presentation). That person also moderates the Q&A period at the end or throughout the presentation. (And by the way, all that isn’t as easy as it sounds!)

Are their any common technical hurdles first-time webinar hosts need to be aware of? What can hosts do to make sure the event runs smoothly when it’s showtime?

As with anything: Practicing and rehearsing are key. Schedule a rehearsal ahead of the live webinar date to run through procedures, and go over the flow of the webinar itself. Specifically, make sure the speaker and moderator are comfortable with the platform and controls; they should also test that their Internet connections and hardware are stable, and check whether the speaker’s slides look and perform as expected.

You don’t have to run through the entire presentation, but it can help to have your speaker at least start the presentation—to ensure he or she is comfortable both advancing slides and speaking in a natural, conversational tone with that invisible audience. Be sure to avoid the dreaded “bedtime-story” webinar, in which a speaker reads the words on the slide rather than telling the story in his or her own words.

If you are doing the event live, remember these basics, too: Get your speakers’ cell phone or emergency numbers in case they don’t show; be sure they have their slides printed out so they can present from paper if they lose their Internet connection; have a message prepared in the unlikely (but still possible) event that there’s a total crash of the Web-conferencing platform.

You can also opt to record the webinar. That’s definitely a less nerve-wracking approach than doing it live, but it’s also a trade-off, as it does blunt some of the advantages I mentioned above. I’ve presented both live and pre-recorded webinars, but I prefer live. Yes, it’s more risky. But the energy is hard to duplicate in a recorded webinar, especially when you are able to experience the live audience chat.