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Tips for Conducting a Successful Webinar

Advice for keeping your online seminar running smoothly

Tips for Conducting a Successful Webinar 
Chris Peters and Kami Griffiths - March 27, 2012
Learn how to make your webinar a success in this article. It offers a step-by-step guide you can follow before, during, and after your webinar on the day of the event.

In TechSoup's article 10 Steps for Planning a Successful Webinar, we showed you ways to design and prepare for a quality online seminar. In this companion piece, we offer 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.

First Things First: The Who's Who of Webinar Planning

As we pointed out in "10 Steps for Planning a Successful Webinar," successful webinars usually involve several different players, including the organizer, presenter, and assistants.

The organizer (also known as the facilitator) manages the webinar process from start to finish — helping to determine the topic, recruit speakers, set up registration, communicate with participants, and cope with any problems that arise. On the day of the webinar, the organizer is responsible for performing all the steps outlined in this article or delegating them when necessary.

The presenter (also known as the speaker or subject-matter expert) focuses primarily on understanding the topic, developing slides and handouts, and communicating in a way that makes sense to the non-experts in the audience. Assistants, meanwhile, help the organizer by answering participant questions and helping them with any technical difficulties they might be having.

1. Set up and check in early

Even if you've held a dry run well in advance of your webinar, it's important to set up your workspace and check in with your presenters early on the day of the webinar to regroup. This means having your webinar equipment ready to go at least 30 minutes before the webinar is scheduled to begin, and your presenters logged on at least 15 minutes in advance to avoid any last-minute glitches, technical or otherwise.

Once everyone is logged on, you'll want to:

  • Conduct roll call. Check to see that everyone who will be participating in the webinar — presenters, producers, and so on — is present. 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. Your webinar software (or your event-registration software) should let you email the list of participants in case you do need to cancel. Even so, you'll still need to log in and greet your participants and apologize for the cancellation for the folks who don't get your email in time. 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.
  • 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 connectivity. All presenters should have received the call-in numbers and access codes for the webinar well in advance. At least 10 minutes before the webinar begins, have them test these and any other connections they'll need to use during the presentation.
  • Ensure your presenters have a way to reach you offline. Either your cell-phone number or a non-conference IM handle, to use in case of emergency (or equipment failure) during the webinar.
  • Set up your recording equipment. Just because constituents cannot attend the webinar live doesn't mean they won't benefit from the content on their own time. 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. Rely on your assistants to deal with participants who have technical issues: you, as organizer, need to be leading the discussion, introducing speakers, and keeping participants engaged.

This means:

  • Articulate! Similar to a radio host, you want your voice to be strong and your words to be clear. Speak clearly, taking care to avoid "ums" and "ahs." (You may want to practice recording 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, but in large groups there's usually someone who works in a noisy environment, or someone who puts the phone on musical hold without thinking. Most tools allow you to mute lines individually or mute them all at once. If participants are expecting to speak and ask questions, explain the situation and tell them the command for un-muting their lines (on many phone systems this is *6 or *7). 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/un-mute process to your audience. Furthermore, with some tools, the "mute all lines" button silences the presenters as well and you'll have to un-mute them individually or tell them how to un-mute themselves. With other tools, you can switch to "presentation mode" where no one besides the presenters can be heard and participants don't have the ability to un-mute themselves.
  • Keep the conversation moving. It's easy to fall behind schedule; have your agenda in front of you to make sure that you are covering all the topics you planned. 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. Follow up after the event

Just because the webinar is over doesn't mean that your work has ended.Be sure to take some time post-webinar to collect feedback from your participants — and to publish a recap, summary, transcript, or recording (or all four!) of your webinar online.

Here are some tasks you may consider doing after the webinar has ended:

  • 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 hard copy of your PowerPoint presentation.
  • Send a post-event survey. If your conferencing tool doesn't have built-in functionality, you can use a free tool like SurveyMonkey to create your own online survey, which you can then link to in a follow-up email. Use this survey to find out:
    • What attendees liked and what they disliked about your webinar.
    • What webinars they might be interested in attending in the future.

Note that you'll have a higher response if you send out the survey immediately afterwards. Also, keep in mind that it may also be helpful to either formally or informally collect feedback from participants, including speakers, who may have good advice you can use to improve the planning and executing of future online events.

  • Collect statistics on the number of attendees versus the number of no-shows. Keeping statistics about registration and attendance helps when you want to brag about your successes and explain to funders how you've been deploying your resources. Also, you need these numbers when planning future webinars. Some topics capture your audience's imagination and some don't, and statistics are an excellent way to distinguish the one from the other. When TechSoup offers free webinars, we often find 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 schedule your reminders closer to the webinar date.

Image: Online conference, Shutterstock