Everyone is getting into the webinar act these days.
Whether it’s a vendor offering a tour of a new service, an association providing professional development, or a library teaching new skills to clients, webinars are an effective and popular way to reach your audience, wherever they are located. Time-pressed professionals download audio versions of webinars to listen to as they commute, work out, or walk the dog.
Being on the receiving end of a webinar is almost effortless. Producing a successful webinar takes a bit more work. This article covers the basic areas you need to consider as you develop your own webinars, presenting an overview of the process. While the actual technologies and services you use to deliver a webinar may vary, the basics of producing a good webinar do not.
Your actual technology choices are beyond the scope of this article. Here, we assume that you have a webinar hosting service, methods for promoting the webinar to your audience, and, if needed, tools to edit your recorded webinar and upload it to an archive.
Creating a successful webinar involves a surprising number of moving parts. Through the years, I (Mary Ellen) have developed a checklist to remind myself of all the steps involved in creating professional-development webinars for AIIP. While this may look daunting, most of the steps require no more than a few minutes of time and attention.
Mary Ellen’s Checklist for Successful Webinars
Choose a webinar topic, presenter, and framework. Based on feedback from your audience or clientele, choose a topic that you know matters to them—remember, you are asking them to give up their valuable time to attend your webinar. Make sure your presenter is familiar with giving webinars, has a good speaking style, and understands your audience. Decide whether you want this webinar to be interactive, with participants asking questions or completing mid-webinar polls, and whether you want to incorporate video into your webinar.
Create an enticing title and description. Webinars are a great way to share information, but your attendees have many choices on how to spend their time. Make the value of your offering clear.
Choose a date and time that works for you and your audience. Finding a time of day that works for your audience can be challenging. This is less critical if you offer a recording of the webinar to those who could not attend live. That said, if you want a feeling of interactivity with your audience, make sure you schedule the webinar at a time when they can attend.
Set up your team. Who will be involved with your we binar? Who will be filling the following roles on the day of the webinar?
Presenter or panel members
Be sure you have lined up commitments from all your team members prior to the webinar. Ensure all your team members will be available when you need them.
You may be playing the moderator and presenter roles yourself. However, we highly recommend having at least a second team member to play the role of the backstage buddy—someone who can handle the inevitable questions from the audience regarding technology issues as well as manage audience questions for the presenters. Your backstage buddy can also serve as a backup in case you encounter a technology glitch. This happens more often than you might think: Internet connections are not always stable, and software sometimes goes haywire.
Schedule the webinar in your hosting service. If the webinar is for a restricted audience, set your registration options so that you can approve attendees manually. Include a photo of the speaker in the registration or announcement page; people like seeing who they are going to be hearing. Collect all and only critical information in the registration page:
- Collect at least the attendee’s name and email address.
- Collect other desired information, such as job title, department or organization, or location at the time of registration.
- Do not ask for more information than you need. Potential registrants can be irritated by overly detailed requests for information.
Set up reminders in your calendar to send regular announcements of the webinar to your market or clients. Publicize the webinar through all available avenues, including internal or external newsletter, website, blog, Twitter or Facebook post, email blasts, fliers, signage, and any other medium that is effective with your audience. Be sure to include a link to the registration or login page as well as information on the date and time of the webinar. Indicate if it will be recorded. You may also want to solicit questions from the audience prior to the webinar.
- Multiple announcements are necessary; every additional announcement generates a substantial number of registrations.
- Send out at least three promotions before the webinar.
- One day prior to the webinar, be sure to send out a “last chance” registration announcement.
Write a script of introductory material. Make sure your backstage buddy receives a copy, in case your connection is lost during the introduction. Even if you believe the information is simple, write a script. And yes, do rehearse it. Include the following:
- Your name
- The webinar topic
- The speaker’s name
- Where and when the slide deck and webinar recording will be available
- How participants can get technical help during the webinar
- Whom to contact if they have any questions after the webinar
In addition, if you are doing this webinar on behalf of an organization, such as a nonprofit or an association, include any relevant sponsorship announcements or disclaimers.
Set up a survey that attendees will receive after the webinar. A survey will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your webinar. Keep the survey concise: Again, be considerate of your attendees’ time. Useful question examples include the following:
- How relevant was this webinar to your work/business?
- How satisfied were you with the presenter’s expertise and speaking skills?
- What will you do differently, based on what you learned in today’s webinar?
- What topics would you like covered in future webinars?
Preparation: Working With Your Presenter
Ask your presenters what they need. Here are some useful questions to ask during webinar planning:
- Do you want to share any resources with the audience, such as slide decks or handouts?
- Do you have any questions you would like to hold in reserve for the Q&A session, in case some questions are needed?
- Do you want to use any interactive features such as polls, quizzes, or webcams?
- How would you like to be introduced? Do you have a short bio you would like me to use?
- Do you have specific copy you would like to use to describe the webinar?
- Do you have any other requirements?
Schedule a time for a quick practice session with your presenter(s). Practice sessions are vital for a smooth webinar production. Make sure your presenters (even if the presenter is you) test the equipment they intend to use during the webinar. We advise presenters to use a high-quality headset or, if calling in, a landline phone. This is the time to identify or troubleshoot any audio issues or software incompatibilities with your presenters.
Almost Showtime: The Day Before (Or Earlier)
- At least one day prior to the webinar, ensure that you have all of these items:
- Any materials your presenter wishes to share with the audience. Make them available online if appropriate. These materials can include slide decks, handouts, or resource links.
- A copy of the presenter’s slide deck. If the presenter encounters a technical glitch, this copy is part of your backup plan. You may also want to provide an additional copy to your backstage buddy.
- A list of reserve questions for the Q&A session.
- Any interactive polls or quizzes that your presenter would like to run, set up ahead of time in your webinar hosting services.
- Your script for introducing the webinar, including a brief bio of your presenters.
Showtime: The Webinar Itself
Log on at least half an hour before the webinar is scheduled to begin. You may find it helpful to have a slide loop running, reminding early participants when the webinar will start, where they can download any material from the presenter, and where they can get technical help.
Check your sound quality, broadband connection, and active computer programs. Make sure your audio connection is clear and you have a strong broadband connection. Close any unnecessary applications on your computer. Temporarily disable automated notifications such as messaging apps or email alerts.
Review the main support details with your backstage buddy. Make sure your backstage buddy is online and available prior to the webinar start time. Review taking questions from the audience, and provide your backstage buddy with relevant URLs for any anticipated questions, such as where the slide deck can be downloaded or the speaker’s website.
Turn on your recording just before you start your webinar. Important: Confirm that recording has begun before you start the broadcast. Yes, this is from personal experience.
Keep the webinar on schedule. If it looks like your presenter is going to run out of time, send a private chat to alert him or her of the remaining time. We have never had a complaint when webinars have ended early, and attendees do expect webinars to end on time. If there seem to be numerous questions, use your judgment. You can extend the webinar until all the questions are answered (assuming your presenter agrees), or you can encourage the presenter and the audience to continue the conversation in an appropriate forum—perhaps an internal discussion board, a blog, or even Twitter.
Wrap up the webinar, thank the presenter and backstage buddy, and tell the audience when and where the recording of the webinar will be available.
Follow-Up: After the Webinar
Thank the presenters after the webinar is over. Ask them if they have any additional material they would like you to distribute to the registrants, and find out if they would like a copy of the recording (if available).
Edit the webinar recording. The editing process can be as simple as removing extraneous material before and after the webinar itself, or as time-consuming as removing every “um,” “ah,” and “you know.” Consider also producing an audio-only (MP3) file for people who prefer to listen to a webinar while doing other things.
Make the webinar recording available and promote it. Once you have edited the recording and created the formats you wish to make available, upload the recordings to your archive service. Include the recording, an audio-only version, the slide deck, and any other supplemental material to your website. Announce the availability of your recording to your attendees, those who registered but could not attend, and any other audience you want. Promote as appropriate.