by Denise Persson

How to Give a Webinar (and Not Look Like an Idiot)

Feb 19, 200910 mins
CareersRelationship Building

You need to give a Webinar presentation, and have a tiny bit of performance anxiety? Don't fear. Here's step-by-step advice on everything from how to prepare to what to wear.

Someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “We scheduled a webinar to show off the important technology the company has developed. And since you know it better than anyone else, we decided that you are the one who should be in front of the camera.”

Lucky you.

Many people would rather visit the dentist or pay taxes than speak publicly. They might even prefer to pay the dentist’s taxes than stand up in front of a crowd. Perhaps this fear of public embarrassment is why so many business professionals are nervous about hosting a webinar.

However, a webinar probably is a good idea, at least for your business, because these online presentations are a unique opportunity to engage clients on a one-to-one basis, regardless of audience size. Using the right materials and presentation techniques, you can interact with each individual participant, instead of addressing a large, faceless group of strangers. How can you get past the gut-wrenching fear that you’ll make a fool of yourself?

Use our tips to stop worrying and approach your webinar assignment with confidence.

Prepare Properly Before The Webinar

One way to get yourself focused is to eliminate distractions. Make sure that you have taken care of all the details ahead of time, so you can put your attention on giving the presentation during the webinar.

And, to some degree, that means, “Gosh, I hope people show up.”

So get the schedule in order, so that you attract the most people. Plan to host your webinar at least twice, to accommodate different time zones. Avoid Mondays and Fridays, as these are peak meetings days; webinar attendance is therefore often lower. The best times are 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, which is when your guests are at their desks before or after lunch. Send a reminder of the webinar one week ahead of time, and a second reminder the day before the event.

Your initial planning stage should start about four weeks before the webinar; this is not the sort of homework assignment you want to begin the night before the term paper is due. That will only increase your nervousness. In the early planning stages, your primary attention should be on developing a compelling topic, identifying presenters and target audience, and—for marketers, not necessarily you-the-presenter—the promotional outreach campaign.

Develop Your Content

Developing interesting, engaging and educational content is probably the most important key to your webinar’s success. If your material is boring or doesn’t bring relevant value, you’ll lose your guests—and their sales.

Invite an industry expert, customer or partner to present a case study or conduct an interview during your webinar. This will stimulate more interest and drive participation. A well-known subject matter expert can double or even triple your attendance.

Here are some recent examples of webinars that were truly “home runs” because of their compelling, timely content:

  • A marketing consulting group offered a webinar that provided tips for maximizing holiday sales at a time when the holiday period was key to many retailers’ survival. Over 90 percent of the registrants attended; more typical attendance is half that.
  • A program in January on how to qualify and nurture leads to enhance sales team success wildly exceeded attendance expectations. It provided practical how-to information and useful new ideas and featured a noted author.
  • The key mistake to avoid is being blatantly self-promotional. With the prevalence of DVRs, no one has to sit through a commercial anymore—so don’t turn your webinar into one.

    Prepare questions to ask during the webinar registration process. Doing so can give you great insight into your audience, assuming that you ask questions that help you tailor your presentation to your audience’s needs and to learn the participants’ education or qualification level. You don’t want to waste time on an introductory session on “heat and light come from the sun” when 90 percent of those attending are physicists. In addition, prepare a post-event survey for use as people exit the webinar. Ask them follow-up questions to further qualify them as sales prospects, to learn about their satisfaction with what you covered, and to find out if they laughed at your jokes.

    Finally, prepare a Q&A session to encourage your guests’ participation. There is some risk associated with a Q&A session, of course. You might hear a question you can’t answer. Worse yet, a questioner might act more like a heckler. The solution, again, is advance preparation.

  • Jot down ahead of time the questions you can anticipate, along with appropriate responses. Keep these notes handy so that you can refer to them during the actual webinar if need be.
  • Focus on those questions you hope you don’t hear. It’s like buying flood or earthquake insurance—it’s prudent to buy it, though you hope you never have to use it.
  • Respond to critical questions as positively as credibly possible. Then move on—don’t dwell on the negative. And, remember, if all else fails, you can always block a really abusive questioner.

Practice makes the difference. Webinars aren’t difficult, but they are different from running a meeting or a conference call. A webinar is an event. Attendees have higher expectations than participants in less formal “ad hoc” types of meetings involving small groups.

Avoid Murphy’s Law

Take a couple of test runs of your presentation, especially if you’ve never run one before. Yes, practice in front of a mirror. You will feel stupid. Do it anyway. Because the rehearsal will make you so familiar with the material that, should you freeze up in the middle of your presentation, you can just keep going on automatic until your brain re-engages.

It also means that you can develop poise as well as technical knowledge. You’ll realize that when you’re nervous, you, say, fiddle with your hair. This will teach you to tie your hair back, so that you can’t drive the participants crazy .You want them to put their attention on your brilliant technical presentation, not staring at you pulling on your bangs and wondering if they’re going to come off.

This gives you the opportunity to fine tune your material and catch any potential problems with the webcasting solution you’re using. We’re not saying that technology breaks at the worst possible moment, but, you don’t want people to watch you twist volume knobs and adjust screen displays. Learn how the software works—when nobody is watching. You don’t want your audience to hear you say, “Hmm, what happens when I push this button,” and watch it all go black. (Oops.) Do your homework, too, concerning use of third-party technologies. For example, find out if your webinar solution requires attendees to download the provider’s software. Imagine the plight of the webinar organizer who either forgets to check or doesn’t think it’s important, only to discover that she just spent $20K on a webinar that a fourth of the registrants couldn’t attend because their company firewalls prevented software downloads.

Day of the Webinar: Save Your Sanity

You might be nervous, but at the very least you can be prepared. Use this checklist:

  • Wear clothing with a neutral or soft color or with a soft pattern, as pastel colors are the easiest for the viewer to see. Also, bright colors can “ghost” and make it appear that your shirt is following you when you move around. Avoid red—it typically “bleeds,” which can result in a fuzzy look around the edges. Avoid white—it makes it difficult for the camera operator to get good color contrast. This is similar to what happens when you try to take photos in the snow or on a beach.
  • A shirt or a tie with thin vertical stripes will give off a distracting wavy pattern with even the slightest movement.
  • During your presentation, you should talk to the camera. Avoid looking around or at anyone else who might be watching.
  • During the Q&A, talk to the person who is posing the questions, not to the camera.
  • During the webinar, plant yourself in one place as if you were nailed down. Try not to move excessively, shift your weight, or shuffle your feet. If you are seated at a desk, do not tap your pen on the desktop. And if you’re standing, don’t play with the loose change in your pocket.

Make sure you’re in a quiet place and use the telephone handset. Handsets normally have good quality microphones, so background noises are kept to a minimum. Using the “hands free” option or conference phones can result in low-volume voices that sound compressed, pick up background noise in the room or produce an echo from the room. In other words, you might sound like you’re talking from inside a bucket. It’s hard enough to capture everyone’s attention when they’re rather be playing with their BlackBerries; don’t make it easy for their attention to stray because they can’t hear you. Or because you sound like a dork.

And don’t forget to turn off your own IM, cell phone, PDAs, e-mail, and other possible distractions. This may be the hardest task for you, we realize.

Join your webinar early. Verify that all links and presentations are working. Never assume that you’re too smart, too important or too busy to be trained ahead of time on the webinar platform. The most flustered webinar moderators are those who wouldn’t take the time for a pre-event sound check and then discovered that their audiences couldn’t hear them. Display a “welcome” slide that says your meeting will start shortly. At the beginning of your meeting, provide a quick review of housekeeping items, such as how to use the chat feature or how-and-when you’ll address questions and answers. Ask speakers to identify themselves. Finally, relax and have fun! This will help keep the viewer focused on your presentation.

After the Webinar: WERE You An Idiot?

Do plan on issuing a post-webinar survey to participants to solicit feedback. They are usually brutally honest. But the reality is that you won’t have to wait until after the webinar for the answer to that question. People are not shy. Even during the event itself participants will critique your webinar via chat. They will let you know, for example, if you are talking down to them versus enlightening them. Another real-time metric: audience members will start dropping off if you are being an idiot.

Record your seminar. Post the webinar on your website for future viewing and then evaluate results of this on-demand viewing. A popular webinar is usually a well-done webinar. Build a reference library of past webinars for your customers and prospects to view when they have time. Webinar content and Q&A’s can also be useful for training employees.

Send follow-up emails to all registrants. Send participants a summary of the Q&A session, additional information, a link to the archived webinar or just a simple e-mail message thanking them for participating.

Denise Persson is the Chief Marketing Officer at ON24, a webcasting and virtual events solutions provider, where her responsibilities include combating customer “webinar worry.”