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Tips for Conducting a Successful Webinar

Advice for keeping your nonprofit or library webinar running smoothly

Conducting a webinar on climate change with high school students
Ariel Gilbert-Knight - September 15, 2016

How to set up for a webinar, keep participants engaged, deal with setbacks, and follow up afterward.

In 10 Steps for Planning a Successful Webinar, we showed you how to design and prepare for a quality webinar. Now the big day has arrived. Here are the steps you can take on the day of your webinar to ensure its success, as well as follow-up steps you can take to learn from your experience.

1. Set Up and Check In Early

Even if you've held a dry run, it's important to set up your workspace and check in with your presenters early on the day of the webinar. You should have your webinar equipment ready to go at least 30 minutes before the webinar is scheduled to begin, and your presenters should log in at least 15 minutes in advance to avoid any last-minute glitches.

Once everyone is logged on, you'll want to

  • Conduct roll call. Check to see that everyone who will be participating in the webinar is present.
  • Remind presenters what time the webinar will begin. Make sure your clocks are synched up!
  • Review your talking points: the focus of the webinar, presenter names and titles, an overview of what will be covered when, and so on.
  • Check sound and connectivity. Have presenters test that their voices come through loud and clear and that their connection to the webinar platform is working correctly.
  • Ensure presenters have a way to reach you in case of emergency or equipment failure during the webinar.
  • Set up your recording. If you're planning on recording your webinar, remember to click the record or archive button. (It's easy to forget, so you may want to write yourself a note or include a slide in your presentation as a reminder.)

2. Keep Participants Engaged and the Conversation on Track

Once the webinar begins, many things will be happening at once. You, as organizer, need to be leading the discussion, introducing speakers, and keeping participants engaged. Ideally you will be able to rely on your webinar assistants to deal with participants who have technical issues. (For an overview of webinar roles and responsibilities, see TechSoup's 10 Steps for Planning a Successful Webinar.)

To keep participants engaged and the webinar on track, you should

  • Articulate! Similar to a radio host, you want your voice to be strong and your words to be clear. Speak slowly and clearly and avoid "ums" and "ahs." You may want to record yourself speaking a few times before the big day as a test.
  • Mute all the lines to reduce background noise. With smaller audiences, muting all lines may not be necessary. In large groups there's usually someone attending who will have a lot of background noise. Most tools allow you to mute lines individually or mute them all at once. Muting all lines at the beginning of the call makes more sense than waiting until an interruption occurs and breaking the flow of the webinar while you explain the mute/unmute process to your audience. If participants are expecting to speak and ask questions, explain the situation and tell them how to unmute their lines.
  • Keep the conversation moving. It's easy to fall behind schedule. Have your agenda in front of you to make sure that you're covering everything in the time allotted. As the facilitator, it is your responsibility to ensure the seminar stays on track. If a presenter is taking too long, politely move the topic along. If someone is asking too many questions, gently let them know if there are others with questions, too.

3. What to Do If Disaster Strikes

Sometimes things go wrong. Your presenter may cancel, or you may have technical problems.

If your presenter cancels at the last minute, and he or she doesn't have a backup, your options are limited unless you know the topic well enough to talk about it yourself. Thankfully, cancellations are rare since sick presenters can call in from home, and many presenters have colleagues they can call on as last-minute replacements.

Even the best and most stable webinar tools occasionally do have technical problems. You or your presenters could also experience network connectivity problems, a power outage, or other issues that prevent you from hosting the webinar.

If you do need to cancel the webinar for any reason, your webinar software (or your event-registration software) should let you email the list of participants. Apologize for the cancellation and let participants know if and when the event will be rescheduled. If you charged a fee to attend the webinar, explain the refund process, if applicable.

4. Follow Up After the Event

Just because the webinar is over doesn't mean that your work has ended. Here are some things you may want to do after the webinar.

  • Send a thank-you note to the webinar participants, including both subject-matter experts and those who worked behind the scenes.
  • Send a follow-up email to attendees with a link to the recording, links to resources mentioned during the webinar, and a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Send a post-event survey. Use this survey to find out what attendees liked and what they disliked about your webinar, as well as what webinars they might be interested in attending in the future. You'll have a higher response if you send out the survey immediately afterwards. If your conferencing tool doesn't have built-in survey functionality, you can use a free tool like SurveyMonkey to create your own online survey, which you can link to in a follow-up email to participants. Your presenters may also have suggestions for how to improve future events, so feel free to ask them for formal or informal feedback.
  • Collect statistics on the number of attendees versus the number of no-shows. Registration and attendance statistics help you demonstrate your successes. These numbers also help you plan future webinars. Statistics are an excellent way to distinguish which topics capture your audience's imagination and which ones don't. TechSoup often finds that roughly 50 percent of those who register fail to attend, so don't get too discouraged if you have similar drop-off. If you experience greater than 50 percent drop-off, however, you might need to send more reminders or to schedule your reminders closer to the webinar date.

This article was originally written by Chris Peters and Kami Griffiths. It was updated in 2016 by Ariel Gilbert-Knight.

Image: Linh Do / CC BY

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