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Ten tips for producing good [policy] webinars

Here are ten tips to help you produce useful and engaging webinars on policy issues.

A webinar can be a great tool in your content or communications toolbelt. Conducting a webinar enables you to transcend location and time zone, and gives you the capability to reach a potentially large audience without having to worry about event space and travel considerations.

But a successful webinar doesn’t just happen. Alistair Taylor, our Director of Strategic Content and Presentations, and Cliff Johnson, Practice Leader for National Journal Membership, recently shared their expertise in producing high-quality webinars.

1. Have a clear goal

Cliff and Alistair both echoed this sentiment: there must be a clear purpose for the webinar. What do you aim to achieve by producing a webinar? Answering this question and developing a solid purpose for a webinar will help you as you determine content, format, distribution, and as you plan for webinar management.

2. Make sure ‘webinar’ is right for the goal

Once you have identified your purpose, it’s then important to validate that a webinar is the right vehicle for reaching that goal.

From Alistair: “If you know that the webinar’s topic will be interesting to a large swath of people, then it fits.”

Cliff explained that webinars are good venues for educating big groups of people at a summary level. They are not, however, very good for two-way conversations between the speaker and members of the audience.

3. Know your audience

As you get closer and closer to your webinar date and time, pay attention to your list of registrants. Are they all experts in the topic of the webinar? Are they all from the same industry? Does the registrant list consist primarily of executives or heads of office? Or is there a wide array of industry verticals, levels of expertise, and job functions represented in the audience?

Knowing these details can help you tailor your content and your presentation approach.

4. Treat it like a radio broadcast

Although you will likely have something visual to display during your webinar, that doesn’t mean that every member of your listening audience will know exactly what’s happening at every stage in your webinar.

However, if you use your voice to provide clear descriptions of who is speaking, what stage of the presentation you’re in, and which visual or graphic is associated with what is being said at each moment, then you’ll improve the overall experience for the listener.

Cliff suggests telling the audience who is speaking anytime the speaking role changes. This is only a concern for multiple presenters, but it may still be useful to reiterate identity from time to time when only one person is speaking.

He also recommends guiding the listeners/viewers to the appropriate visual element being presented by providing directional specifics. For example, ‘Take a look at the pie chart in the lower-left corner of the screen;’ or, ‘The middle two bars in the right bar graph show…’

Don’t just assume that your listeners can figure out what visuals they should be looking at, nor that they always know who is talking. Use your voice to make it plainly clear what’s going on.

5. Share a roadmap of your presentation

One great way to let all your listeners know what’s going on and what to expect in your webinar is to create and describe a roadmap. This will help manage their expectations for the webinar, and it will also help you stay on track to keep your webinar focused. Think of it like a table of contents, but time-based.

Describe the flow of your presentation, who will be speaking, how transitions will be indicated as you move from one stage of the presentation to the next, etc.

Also, be sure to give the audience a clear picture for the duration of the webinar. But, if you say it won’t last more than thirty minutes and end up going an hour, you may just have lost potential audience members for your next webinar.

Here’s an example of what the roadmap could sound like:

First, I’ll describe the format of this webinar. Then, I”ll describe the purpose of this webinar, and what you can expect to learn from listening in. Next, I’ll introduce data regarding home ownership in rural areas with populations under 50,000. I’ll show three supporting graphics as I conclude. Finally, I’ll open it up for questions, which you can submit using the text field on your webinar screens. We should wrap everything up at about the 30 minute mark.

It’s also useful to create a visual timeline to show the audience as you talk them through the roadmap for the webinar.

6. Consider enlisting a dedicated support team

According to Cliff, it would be ideal to have a support staff to handle the mechanics of audience response and platform management. This would allow the speaker(s) to stay focused on presenting.

It’s not always possible to have a team on-hand to take care of all the pre-event and day-of logistics. If yours is a case where it’s really just you managing the entire webinar process from development to execution to follow-up, then it’s a good idea to be as familiar with all the technology ahead of time. (We’ll cover this tip later on.)

7. Display only what’s absolutely necessary

A great point from Cliff is that in a webinar you have limited ‘real estate.’ If an audience member is joining your webinar on a desktop or laptop computer, the amount of space you can use for visuals isn’t expansive. And so much more limited is what you can effectively display on a mobile device.

The takeaway? Show only what is absolutely necessary. Don’t fill your slides or images with lots of intricate detail. Don’t try to cram three individual graphs or pie charts into the same slide or screen display. Bottom line: be cautious not to overwhelm your audience. In Cliff’s words, ‘Avoid the visual mugging.’

For mobile, it’s especially important to be wary of how much text you include on a slide. Too much text is the biggest offender when it comes to viewing webinars on a mobile device.

Stick to graphics. And think like a minimalist. Ask yourself, ‘Can I delete something from this slide/graphic/etc. and still get my point across?’ Delete things until you can no longer answer ‘yes’ to that question.

8. REHEARSE – REHEARSE – REHEARSE

This may seem like a no-brainer. But don’t let it become something you consider unimportant or unnecessary. Rehearsal is where you’ll solidify the success of your webinar.

There are a number of dimensions to rehearse:

  • Timing/duration: whether you write out a script word-for-word, or simply use note card prompts, rehearse your entire presentation with a timer. This will help you determine how much time you’ll actually need to get through your presentation material. And you may even identify sections you could cut out, or even expand. (Pro tip: use a timer.)
  • Cadence: different than timing, this refers to the rhythm of your presentation. A smooth cadence with flowing transitions will yield a better overall event than a choppy style, with fits and starts, that feels mechanical and forced.
  • Familiarity with tech: do a couple live practices using the webinar platform you plan to use for your event. Practice using the hardware (microphones, computers, etc.). Doing this will help you identify any sticking points you can address ahead of time, so you aren’t trying to solve unfamiliar problems after your live start time hits the clock.
  • Sound quality: This dimension has two parts. First is how the tech and hardware are working. Second is how the presenter actually speaks. If you can have a colleague listen in as you rehearse (in the room is fine, but ideally in a different room listening via the actual webinar platform), you can get feedback on how the presenter will sound during the live event. Does the presenter pop his/her P’s? Does s/he speak loudly and clearly enough throughout every spoken section of the presentation?
  • Visual display: You may be able to record your rehearsals through the webinar platform. If so, it’ll be useful to play it back on every type of device you think your audience will use for the live event. Does every graphic display the way you want them to? Is any text actually readable? Does the webinar platform you’ve chosen even display on mobile?

9. Post-event debrief

This is simply a review of the entire live event, in order to identify what went well and what could be improved.

This review should include everyone who took part in producing the event. The presenter, any support/tech staff, the planners, etc. It would also be helpful to have a colleague (not involved in production) sit in on the live event or listen in remotely, so that s/he can provide feedback as an audience member.

All the dimensions listed for rehearsal can be the dimensions you focus on during your review: sound, cadence, display, etc.

The improvements that you can identify through this kind of review should ideally be documented, and then focused on during your next rehearsal. Make it a point to do better each and every time you produce a webinar.

10. Additional basics to consider

Some of this is duplicative to what we’ve covered already, but much of it bears repeating.

From Alistair:
  • Balance your content
    • Text
    • Graphics
  • Time spent presenting facts and figures vs. time spent discussing implications and analyzing possible outcomes
  • Voice
  • Volume (especially from the listener’s perspective)
  • Projection (do you need to sit closer to the microphone?)
  • Enunciation
  • Pronunciation
  • Use of filler words, such as ‘like,’ ‘um,’ and ‘you know’
  • Presentation
  • Don’t just read exactly what’s on your slides.
  • Use your visuals as an aid, not as the centerpiece.
From Cliff:
  • Plan on eight hours of preparation for a one-hour webinar
  • Clearly articulate the duration of the webinar
  • Build a roadmap or timeline for your webinar
  • Repeat submitted questions aloud to ensure all your listeners can benefit
  • It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know.’ But offer to follow up; either to the individual or to the audience in a mass follow-up message.
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