How to rock at webinars – 9 concrete tips to keep people engaged

Microphone clinched firmly in male fist on a black background.Think back: How many of the webinars you’ve attended were worth your time?

Sadly, I find they’re often time- wasters, and I’m sure many people agree. (If you have a strong opinion either way, please say so.)

So, to stand out from your competition, here are 9 tips to help you rock at webinars! (Each tip’s marked as being easy, medium, or hard, so you can choose the ones that suit your current skills.)

To scroll to a specific tip, you can click any of these links:

    For near the start of your webinar:

  1. Medium – Ask open questions
  2. Hard – Ask what people find most pressing
  3. Medium – Ask about your pace
  4. Hard – Present part of your agenda as a poll
     
  5. For during your webinar:

  6. Medium – Make each slide digestible in 3-5 seconds
  7. Medium – Use the “assertion-evidence” format
  8. Medium – Reveal your slide bit-by-bit
     
  9. For near the end of your webinar:

  10. Hard – Keep people visually engaged during Q&A
  11. Easy – Let people choose from a list of feelings

 

Near the start of your webinarScroll to Contents ↑

1. Medium: Ask open questions

Rather than using polls (as most presenters do), ask open questions. Webinar expert Donald Taylor, who just published a great e-book called Webinar Master, suggests asking your 1st open question on your 2nd slide, so you engage people right from the start of your content. Then ask more questions throughout your talk.

See:

 

2. Hard: Ask what people find most pressing

Ask people what they find most pressing about the topic – preferably in an open question again, not a poll. As people answer, write a list of their points on the screen (as you might on a whiteboard in a face-to-face session).

Then during the rest of your webinar, discuss each issue, starting with the themes that were mentioned most often (or that you think are most useful to your audience).

For more details, see my post about 2 kickass training activities…

 

3. Medium: Ask about your pace

Ask about your pace, and adjust it if needed. (To me, this is one of the few good reasons to use a poll!)

Tools like Adobe Connect let people give feedback on the pace by using the Speed Up and Slow Down menu options. Those are quick and easy, but a poll’s more flexible – and lets you show the results very clearly (in a chart). So choose the method that suits you best.

 

4. Hard: Present part of your agenda as a poll

Present at least part of your agenda as a poll, so the audience can vote on which item they’d like to discuss next. Then, jump to the relevant parts of your talk in descending order of votes. That’s challenging to do, but from your listeners’ viewpoint, it’s very impressive!

To make it easier on you, at first you could use this technique to get votes on just the next 2 agenda items. In time, you could increase the number of choices as you get used to the technique.

To watch a recorded webinar where expert presenter Ken Molay uses this technique, see this comment.

 

During your webinarScroll to Contents ↑

5. Medium: Make each slide digestible in 3-5 seconds

Making each slide digestible in 3-5 seconds means having at most about 15 words per slide. That just involves either moving the extra words to the speaker notes (and saying them), or simply deleting them.

For the reasoning behind this, plus supporting content from experts like Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, see How many words should you put on your slide, and why?

And don’t worry: You can always print your speaker notes so you remember what you wanted to say. Or you can use Presenter View in PowerPoint to see your notes while your audience just sees your slides.

 

6. Medium: Use the “assertion-evidence” format

To make the flow of ideas and the point of each slide crystal clear, use the “assertion-evidence” format. On each slide, that has 2 components:

  • The slide title’s an assertion – a short statement of fact or opinion.
  • The slide backs up the title with “visual evidence” (e.g. simple chart or diagram).

Like to see an example? Here’s one:

Suppose you’re presenting about how sales figures have varied over the last 12 months. I suggest you use a slide title that makes a clear and specific assertion:

Sales in eastern states dropped sharply in May 2019

And in that example, what visual evidence could you use? Many presenters would use a table full of numbers, because they probably have the sales figures in a spreadsheet.

But during the talk, that’d make the audience – and the presenter – do lots of work to make sense of all those numbers.

Instead, it’s more visual to use a column chart (which lets you and your audience read far fewer numbers). So you could put monthly sales on the vertical axis, and months on the horizontal axis.

You and your audience get at least 4 benefits from the assertion-evidence format:

  • Each slide’s title makes the current point clear, keeping everyone on track.
  • The visuals help you relax and sound natural. (You can’t just read out the slide!)
  • True visuals are also far more engaging than a text-based slide deck.
  • Some people multi-tasking? They can glance at each slide to grasp your point.

Use content like simple charts, tables, graphics, or even short quotes (not bullet points or lots of text). For inspiration, see these posts:

Tip: To quickly make a very succinct bullet list more engaging,
right-click it in PowerPoint and choose Convert to SmartArt.

 

7. Medium: Reveal your slide bit-by-bit

As you talk through it, reveal your slide bit-by-bit (unless it just consists of a single item, like a statement). That way, your audience keeps tuned in to what you’re saying, instead of focusing on your slide – and ignoring you!

On some platforms (like Adobe Connect), you’ll need to share your screen (rather than uploading your slides) to keep your animation intact. (I’m assuming you’re comfortable with how to add subtle animations to your slides. If not, by all means leave a comment and I’ll see how I can help you out.)

 

Near the end of your webinarScroll to Contents ↑

8. Hard: Keep people visually engaged during Q&A

During your Q&A, to keep people visually engaged, jump to a photo-only slide that matches the theme of the current question. For examples and detailed steps, see Stop Q&A hypnosis – keep audience attention during your talk or webinar.

 

9. Easy: Let people choose from a list of feelings

Let people choose from a list of feelings (e.g. Inspired, Distracted, Fascinated, Bored) in a poll, to show their reaction to the webinar. That way, you get feedback, yet the process is quick and novel for your audience.

For more details, again see 2 kickass training activities.

 

Over to you

What are your tips for rocking at webinars? Or, what comments or questions do you have about the tips above? Please leave a comment below.

 

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4 thoughts on “How to rock at webinars – 9 concrete tips to keep people engaged

  1. Hi Craig, another post with a bonanza of wisdom and links. It looks like webinars don’t differ from in-person presentations/trainings in the principle – think deeply about your audience, what’d be most valuable to them, and how they’d like to receive that information.

    As usual you have fantastic tips on making things interactive, which is hard for many of us (to give up control!), but really worth it!

    Btw, thank you also for the resources on remaking bullet point slides! I recently created a Slideshare on this (here), be lovely to know what you think!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew.

      I’d say the biggest difference from in-person talks is that webinars need more slides or other visuals – and truly engaging interaction – to keep people focused.

      Nice Slideshare, and congrats on getting on the front page of the site! I’ve left a comment on your deck.

      Like

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