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 people what they find most pressing
  3. Medium – Ask about your pace
  4. Hard – Present at least 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 ↑

  • Medium: Ask open questions, rather than using polls (as most presenters do). 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 How to give a good presentation online by Donald Taylor, and Tips for webinars or virtual training by Cathy Moore.)
     
  • Hard: 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 2 kickass training activities.
     
  • Medium: Ask about your pace, and adjust it if needed. This is one of the few good reasons to use a poll! Or, if your webinar tool has suitable feedback buttons, you could ask people to use those. For instance, Adobe Connect lets people give feedback on the pace via the “raise hand” menu. The buttons are quicker, but a poll lets you offer more options and lets you show the results more clearly, in a chart. (See What’s the best webinar polling question ever? Maybe this…)
     
  • Hard: 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, and increase the number of choices as you get used to the technique. (For a link to a webinar recording where expert presenter Ken Molay uses this technique, see this comment.)

During your webinarScroll to Contents ↑

  • Medium: Make each slide digestible in 3-5 seconds, which means having at most about 15 words per slide. That just involves either moving the extra text to the speaker notes (and saying it), or simply deleting it. (For the reasoning behind this, and for supporting material from experts like Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, see How many words should you put on your slide, and why?) And don’t worry: To remember what you wanted to say, you can always print your speaker notes, or (if you have a 2nd monitor) use Presenter View in PowerPoint to see your notes while your audience just sees your slides.
     
  • Medium: Use the “assertion-evidence” format to make the flow of ideas and the basis of each slide clear. In that format, each slide title makes an assertion, which is backed up by visual evidence on the slide. So if people are multi-tasking, just a quick glance at the slide lets them understand. (For more about assertion-evidence, see Here’s a quick way to make over a bullet-point slide by Olivia Mitchell.) Use content like very simple charts, tables, graphics, or even short quotes – not bullet points or lengthy text. Tip: To quickly make a bullet list more engaging, right-click it in PowerPoint and choose Convert to SmartArt. (Also see 6 alternatives to bullet lists by Connie Malamed.)
     
  • Medium: Reveal your slide bit-by-bit, as you talk through it (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 ↑

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!

    • 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.

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