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5 Tips for Developing a Successful Webinar

What do you expect when you attend a webinar?  The last webinar I attended was a conversation between two people and I was listening while watching some slides.  The conversation was obviously scripted and neither of the people were very good actors!  The opportunity for questions occurred AFTER the presentation, therefore not interactive at all and with no opportunity to hear other participants’ questions or input.

The downfall with many webinars is that they often lack the planning, creativity and interaction necessary to be successful.   So let’s start with defining a webinar.  Webinar is a term coined from the term “web-based seminar” which should involve many of the elements of a face-to-face or instructor-led seminar adjusted to occur virtually.  What it often ends up being is a Webcast where learners are muted and it’s essentially a gallery walk through some PowerPoint slides.  TrainSmart often uses the term, “vILT” – virtual Instructor Led Training to better describe an effective webinar for training purposes.

How can you make a webinar more successful?

1.     Define the Goals

  • Determining the goals for a virtual experience is similar to a face-to-face experience.  What are the learning outcomes and how will they be achieved?  What do you expect participants to KNOW and DO at the end of the workshop?

2.     Identify an evaluation process to measure success

  • Once the goals are clearly defined, how will success be measured?  Is it realistic to assume that the skills can be measured in the webinar or is a follow-up process needed?  For example, if you were using a webinar as part of the instruction to teach someone to fly an airplane, could you evaluate their skills virtually?  The answer is no.  It may be necessary to create a series of webinars or supplement the webinars with other methods for learning and practicing skills.

3.     Instructional Designers and Facilitators should understand the nuances of interaction online

  • Learn the software.  Use the features such as collaboration rooms, streaming video, hand raise and other techniques to simulate a classroom environment
  • Preparation is critical to success.  While many facilitators have had experience in a classroom at adjusting content or activities “on the fly”, this is much more difficult in a virtual experience.  Do a dry run with the technology and content
  • Use a producer to manage participant interaction, splitting people into collaboration rooms, monitoring chats and managing technology challenges.  Practice interaction with this person and identify a Plan B if anything goes wrong.
  • Slow down and enunciate.  Plan and prepare what you are going to say and do, but do not read from a script.
  • Create pre and post-work to increase learning
  • Consider multiple speakers
  • Learn interaction techniques for a virtual environment.  Seasoned classroom instructors know that asking questions is a solid technique for engagement.  Questions are effective virtually too, but require a different approach to get answers.  Start with a question for everyone and then start calling on specific groups or individuals.  Set the guidelines ahead of time that you will be calling on individuals but that if they don’t have an answer they can simply say, “pass”.  Make sure that not all interaction is coming from just one person or group.
  • Make it fun!

4.     Create Dynamic Visuals

  • Use more images and less text
  • Use animation effectively
  • Choose one color scheme and an overall theme
  • Incorporate multiple types of media:  PowerPoint, Video, Screen Captures, Live Demonstrations

5.     Prepare Participants

  • Send out an introduction email with instructions on using the technology.  Participants should know how a collaboration room works, how to raise their hand with questions and who to call for technical support.  If there is a tutorial of the tools you are using, it would be beneficial to provide that link in this introduction.
  • Request participants arrive 10 minutes prior to start time to do a sound and technical check.
  • Set expectations at the beginning of the session about what features will be used and how to engage.

The concept of webinars has been around for a long time.  Let’s make 2016 the year to truly use the technology and techniques to create interactive, engaging learning opportunities online!

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Anne P. Harlow is a creative, results driven professional with an eclectic background in leadership, consulting, training, sales and marketing, instructional design and technology. With proven success in managing people, budgets and projects; analyzing and managing business processes and change; assessing, developing and deploying skills improvement programs; a passion for working with people and making a difference; and a solid understanding of business processes, she is able to assist organizations maximize their most important resource: PEOPLE!