Captivate your webinar audience: how to create an engaging online event

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Engaging online event

Webinars are highly effective, versatile way of reaching out and communicating with your audience. They allow you to connect with people across the globe with incredibly flexible timeframes.

Although there are massive advantages to using webinars to present ideas, presenters find there are a completely different set of challenges.

The greatest obstacle is how to keep your audience engaged when they have a thousand other distractions begging for their attention, which is a lesser challenge when you are physical in the room with them.

How do you keep them glued to the screen? How can you tell if they are engaged or not? Are there certain tricks and tips you can use to make sure they stay tuned

The number one tip for keeping a webinar engaging is to keep changing things up.

Whether this is through guests speakers, breakout sessions, polls, or video clips - you need to keep your audience anticipating that something new is just around the corner.

The quickest way to make sure your audience gets bored is to keep things monotonous. With a dozen things that could distract them, you can’t afford to be boring if you want to be effective.

Captivate your webinar audience: how to create an engaging online event

Curious to know what kinds of things you can do to keep the audience highly engaged? Read below 5 ways to create engaging webinars.

Carefully set the scene

1. Be clear about the benefits, before you start.

Tell the audience what you are going to tell them. Cut directly to the chase. You don’t need to pour out all your content, but cover the topics and emphasize the benefits of why the information is important.

Get your audience invested from the very beginning by sharing with them the big picture. This will help them stay focused if you end up in an area or topic that they find less than alluring (ie.boring.)

2. Provide clear instructions on how to use the tools.

Although you are familiar with your hosting platform, be aware that the majority of your attendees might not be. Even if they have used the interface before, they might have forgotten how it works.

Walk them through the features, functions and tools they will need to tune in and get active. Explain to them how to answer questions, or use the polls and surveys.

You can even start the session with a quick interactive exercise where they can learn how to answer a poll question or input their feedback. If they don’t know how to communicate with you, you can bet you’ll get silence from their side.

3. Have participants check in.

Start using the chatbox right away.

Get the attendees familiar with it by having them introduce themselves by sharing their name, what they do, and where they’re from. Make sure to keep it snappy, especially if you have a lot of attendees.

This sets the scene by creating an environment where conversation and active engagement is positive and encouraged.

4. Bring in some help.

The balancing the flow between providing information and answering questions can be challenging, or if you have several hundred attendees, impossible.

If an attendee has a question that doesn’t get answered, or gets a little lost along the way, they might mentally check out. Once you’ve lost them, it can be difficult to get them back on board. At the same time, you cannot stop every 30 seconds to answer every query that might come up.

This is where enlisting a technical or admin to help can save the day. A producer or co-host can quickly respond messages, ensuring attendees don’t feel lost or ignored.

If they don’t know how to communicate with you, you can bet you’ll get silence from their side.

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Artfully use questions

1. Asking and answering questions.

As all speakers and trainers know, this is the most straightforward way of getting attendees to engage with what you are saying, but in a webinar, this can be somewhat different.

A best practice is that after every 4 or 5 slides or points, pause to ask a question to the group. When you are creating the webinar layout, come up with relevant, energizing or challenging questions, as opposed to general (and boring)  “...does everyone understand this?” type questions.

Make sure you are answering questions proactively as they come up instead of waiting until the end of a session, which can help attendees stay on track and engaged.

While this can sometimes be difficult if your are presenting alone, you can balance this out by letting your attendees know that you will be regularly pausing to answer their questions throughout the session. Optimize this by turning the tables every so often, sending the question back to the audience. It will switch up the voice, while keeping attendees active.

2. Activate their reward systems.

Start off by always taking a second to appreciate an attendee’s participation: validate and thank if necessary, but always give the participant some sort of acknowledgement that you appreciate their activity (e.g. by saying “You’re an excellent group. Keep those questions and comments coming!” or “Thanks a lot, [Jane], for this question - it’s very relevant.”).

You can take this to the next level by providing some sort of prize or incentive for active participants. You will be surprised at the effect of even the smallest bit of motivation like this can go.

How you choose to arrange this is up to you: it can be quantitative (ie. the most active person) or random (ie. as soon as you participate you are added to a list where you can be drawn to win) but by initiating some sort of reward for participating can instantly entice your audience to get busy.

By activating the reward system in their brains: you might get surprisingly effective results.

By activating the reward system in their brains: you might get surprisingly effective results.

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Optimize discussions

1. Incorporate lots of small group discussions.

Sitting and listening to a presenter speak for longer than 20 minutes can be taxing.

Split up your sessions with small group discussions in breakout rooms (most webinar platforms are able to handle breakout groups, and an assistant can help you do this quickly and effectively during a live session). These discussions do not need to be longer than 5 to 7 minutes, and should include no more than 5 people each.

This will give people a chance to participate more intimately, while giving them a break from listening.

Best practice tip: assign one of the attendees to be the facilitator or leader, they can get the discussion started, and make sure that it rounds back down in time. Also make sure you “pop in” to each group every couple of minutes to help build more personal connections with the audience and to make sure conversations are on track.

2. Encourage chatting and hashtagging.

Give your attendees loads of opportunity to ask questions and participate through online discussions. Introduce the social media links and webinar hashtag at the very beginning of the session, and be clear about how you see them being used (but make sure it won’t take their attention away from your live session and the webinar platform.)

If you want to keep discussions private, use the chatbox, create an online forum, Facebook group, or message board specifically for your webinar, these also make great a follow-up tools.

Even after the webinar has ended, make sure to keep as many lines open as you can, the communication between you and the attendees is key to their engagement.

Don’t forget that enlisting someone to help can make a huge difference here. A producer, co-host or chat monitor can quickly respond to posts and messages, making sure that all the attendees’ questions get answered so they don’t feel lost or ignored.

3. Invite specific people to attend your webinar.

Invite invested people to join your webinar, specifically because you want them to share their perspective during discussions - not just to listen.

They do not need to be a shill (a.k.a. a “plant” or a “stooge”) and you can clearly let the attendees know you have invited them to share alternative or new perspectives on topics.

You can also ask the invitees to share their alternative or opposing ideas via the chatbox, and then use them later for a robust discussions. But don’t limit these invitees just to discussions: read the next section to find out more ways that guests can add dynamism to your webinar.

Even after the webinar has ended, make sure to keep as many lines open as you can, the communication between you and the attendees is key to their engagement.

Change the voice with guest speakers

1. Have an expert present a specific topic.

Changing the speaker during the presentation is a great way to switch gears, and re-energize the mood in the virtual room. Invite an expert, colleague or partner to come in, and deliver a specific portion of the presentation.

A change in perspective and voice can re-engage by adding in some new energy. This is particularly effective if there is a specific area that you are less well versed in, or the topic has multiple or opposing aspects.

2. Invite guests for interviews and panels.

Get creative with how you present the information by asking a guest to join in for an interview. You can send them the questions beforehand, but make sure the interview doesn’t end up sounding too staged.  

You can create a panel-style session by having your attendees ask you and your guest(s) a series of questions. This is effective because you are giving them some control of the session and changing the “sit-back-and-listen” mentality.

Ask for questions from the attendees beforehand to make sure you don’t end up with too much dead air: wasting yours, your guests’ and your attendees’ time.

3. Use a video of an expert laying down ideas.

Getting a guest speaker to join into your webinar is not always feasible. Arranging schedules and costs can sometimes end up setting you back, outweighing the benefit of having them join.

A video, on the other hand, can make things extraordinarily easy.

You can ask them to create a custom video, where the expert records a two or three minute explanation or presentation that you could play during the session. Or just jump onto Youtube or Vimeo. There is also an amazing wealth of free content online you can draw from: organizations like TED or RSA have masses of engaging videos on just about every topic.

A change in perspective and voice can re-engage by adding in some new energy.

 

Infuse your webinar with multimedia

1. Use strong imagery often.

Incorporate graphics, photographs, cartoons, graphs or designs into your presentation to activate your attendees’ visual cortexes.

Just listening and reading copy can get dull quickly: so switch things up with strong imagery. Use the imagery to introduce a new topic or generate a discussion, show the connections between topics or visually display info.

Just remember, keep changing up your imagery: 10 slides of graphs will be just as boring as 10 slides with bullet points.

2. Split information into multiple slides.

Many speakers like to use slides with multiple pieces of information on them.

To avoid visually overwhelming slides, spread the information into multiple slides where each additional element builds on the previous slide one by one, so the speaker’s words will only relate to the information that has just appeared on the screen.

This way even if a speaker has 10 bullet points, the fact that each appears one after the other will help the audience focus on the explanation and not struggle with reading all 10 points at once.

3. Go to the polls.

You can use the built-in webinar platforms polling function, or a tool like PollEverywhere, which allows users to respond (they can even send a response by text or tweet) and graphs their feedback in real time.

If you know you have a long segment to deliver, ask your audience to get engaged by dropping in a quick poll halfway through, keep it relevant and ensure that it supports your content rather than distracting from it.

It can take 10 seconds, but will add a boost of engagement to keep your audience from fading away during a longer talking segment. You can also use open-ended questions and a virtual whiteboard where participants can add their written input.

4. Collaboratively build a concept map.

Use your webinar platform’s whiteboard tool (or Prezi if your platform doesn’t have one) as collaborative spaces for concept mapping or group brainstorming.

If you are using Prezi, do a screenshare with the Prezi editor displayed, or have participants work together on the same Prezi which has a built-in tool for a limited number of users to collaborate), maybe using the webinar software to control the audio feed.

These are superb tools to work with during breakout sessions, especially if you have larger groups.

5. Show a simulation, animation or summary video.

It’s one thing to hear about how something works, but it is another thing entirely to see it in action.

By sharing a captivating animation, simulation or video, you can offer your attendees another perspective on your content. For instance,  Merlot.org has an incredible bank of of peer-reviewed resources, including a huge collection of simulations and animations that you can use during your webinar.

Just remember, keep changing up your imagery: 10 slides of graphs will be just as boring as 10 slides with bullet points.

We would love to hear your ideas, either as a webinar presenter, attendee or producer on how to successfully host a webinar. What really works, or what doesn’t? How can you tell if the audience has checked out, and how do you re-engage them?

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Find out about being listed as a webinar host on SpeakerHub here.

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