Much has been documented about the growth of webcast technology and how it has impacted the live event market. Today, it is generally recognised that this form of communication can sit in harmony with the traditional face-to-face experience; playing its role as a cost effective way to engage with large, disparate audiences. However, do we give as much thought to how these virtual meetings are designed as we would do for a live event? With an ever increasing focus on delivering positive ROI across all meetings programmes, are we able to say that our virtual meetings equally deliver against this agenda?
Increased access to webinar technology has made webinars an easy, standard way of delivering virtual meetings. However, the availability of technology in itself does not automatically result in a successful experience. Consequently, in the following blog, we’d like to share some of our tips and advice on how you can make your next webcast as impactful as possible.
Design & delivery
At Banks Sadler, we help many of our clients deliver webinars and webcasts around the world. Whilst they are predominantly, and quite rightly, focused on the intellectual content and what they want to say, we are able to share our experience with them around how this can be communicated most effectively. In this short paper, we would like to share these thoughts with you in the hope that it will help in planning for future virtual meetings.
It may seem obvious but before any consideration can be given to the structure of the webinar, one must question what the true purpose of the meeting is, what the intended outcomes are, and who the right audience should be. Only from here can we really begin to plan a webinar that has relevancy and purpose.
A common mistake when initially planning a webinar or webcast is also to make the assumption that the audience are both aware of the meeting, and already up to speed on the subject. When considering the invitation process therefore, it is important that it contains a clear explanation of the meeting content, what the purpose of the meeting is, and what, as the organiser, we can expect from the invited audience.
Apply standard slide presentation principles
Most webinars employ the use of slideshow programmes such as PowerPoint. If you are showing slides in your webinar, realise that the standard slide presentation principles about colour, font, format and brand still apply.
Show participants how to use the necessary webinar tools
Attendees will not be able to engage in the webinar if they do not have the skills to operate within the system. Build in time at the beginning of the meeting to show participants how to use the tool, including rules around the use of sound, mute, and webcams as appropriate. This is one way to initially inject interaction into the webinar.
Keep them short
Webinars should not be more than one hour in total. With so many distractions and other commitments in the workplace, one cannot expect the attendee to be fully engaged for any longer. If you need to cover a lot of material that will take more than an hour, consider multiple webinars. There is nothing wrong with short, 10-15 minute webinars that provide great learning opportunities. In fact, attendees are more likely to retain greater portions of the material when they are smaller in duration.
Limit session durations
Keep each session to no more than 10 minutes. It is not easy to look at or listen to the same person for longer than that, despite how animated we might like to think we are as presenters. Limiting times also provides attendees with concise, logical points to take away, as well as a clear and handy structure for any archiving / post event viewing.
Use a Producer
If possible, appoint a person who can run the webinar platform so that the focus of the presenter is on the content, rather than, for example, what to do if a participant’s computer crashes. A Producer does not need to be a highly trained person, simply someone who understands the webinar platform. Amongst their duties, ask them to do a ‘dry run’ of the webinar ahead of time, so that all people involved in the delivery understand their roles and platform functions. This also allows you to test the technology to make sure it works the way you think it does.
Use multiple presenters / format
This is not a ‘must’, but using multiple presenters can enhance participant’s’ ability to engage because hearing various voices and / or seeing shifting faces can serve as a ‘pattern interrupt’, which prompts attendees to reactivate their senses. There are a number of different presentation formats that can support in this area such as panel discussions, interview format, or rotating pairs where two speakers take turn to present.
Plan for frequent interaction
This is the one we are all probably most aware of. We know that the environment and tools (i.e. computer, iPad etc.) used to participate in webinars allow for a great deal of distraction. Think about the last time you participated in a webinar – were you inclined to do something else, such as write and send a few emails, work on your computer, talk with a visitor or take a phone call? If so, did you learn anything meaningful from the webinar?
In order to deliver a successful meeting, the audience needs to be fully engaged with it. Best practice suggests facilitating some interaction with webinar attendees every four minutes, meaning that just relying on ‘talking head to slide’ approach is not the most effective strategy. Consider therefore using interaction elements such as the use of polls, chats, short quizzes or even gamification to support the underlying content and desired outcomes of the meeting, and to keep the attendee fully engaged.
Use an opening exercise
Facilitating an opening exercise helps break attendee’s pre-occupation with whatever else they were doing or thinking moments before the webinar, assisting them with their transition into learning mode. Make certain that the exercise is in some way relevant to the meeting content and consider what else you might want to achieve through the opening exercise.
Allow appropriate time for questions
If you are going to address participant questions during the webinar, make certain that you have time during the webinar to do that. If your planned format calls for you to address questions at only one designated time rather than throughout the presentation, plan to do this two-thirds of the way through the timeslot, otherwise you are bound to run over. Alternatively, rather than taking questions during the webinar, offer a way to communicate questions and answers after the meeting, such as through email or website blog.
Plan for post-webinar learners
Increasingly, attendees’ time is becoming more precious but the want to learn is still present, therefore we have seen a trend towards webcasts being recorded and viewed ‘on demand.’ Unless a learner is simply seeking a specific piece of information for immediate use, passive learning is fairly ineffective in the long term. Consider instead what you can do to facilitate the learning of future webinar viewers, incorporating elements such as online questionnaire to check the understanding, or a call to action such as cascading the knowledge through the organisation.
Today, there are an ever-increasing number of platforms that can help deliver webinars and webcasts cost effectively, and professionally. In this section, we highlight just a few that we would recommend. Namely:
Citrix’s GoToWebinar provides a user-friendly and interactive webcasting service platform that enables you to present memorable web-based seminars to up to 2,000 people. Its solid features and usability make it a good choice if you are interested in webcam or slide-based webcasting.
The webinar’s interface differs from most webcasting platforms in that it has a free-floating control panel on your desktop screen instead of a full-screen webcast console. It takes some getting used to, but it offers more flexibility than the interfaces of similar products. You can move the application boxes at will on the screen and arrange different windows to see the other applications on your computer, like a Word file for lecture notes.
Adobe Connect web conferencing is a feature-rich virtual meeting tool that utilizes the company’s programs and experience. The Flash-based software runs audio, video and chat smoothly, no matter which browser you use. Its work with government and commercial agencies means it has a strong concentration on security that’s important if you are working with confidential information.
One drawback to this webinar software is that it doesn’t have all the audio features found in other online meeting software. Adobe is one of the few online conferencing services in our lineup that doesn’t offer phone-in features on its platform. If you need these features and like Adobe’s web-conferencing software, Adobe Connect has partner companies that handle the teleconferencing capability, but it costs extra.
ReadyTalk is an easy-to-use webcasting service with a basic platform that provides nearly everything you need for creating an interactive presentation that is rich with multimedia. It can handle webcam and slideshow webcasts with up to 3,000 people in attendance.
ReadyTalk has some useful features for gathering an audience that large. You can invite attendees via ReadyTalk’s service or Outlook, and you can promote it on Facebook. In addition, you can integrate with marketing software, like HubSpot, to help you track current and new customers to invite them to your webcast or follow up with them afterward.
ClickMeeting provides a highly customisable web conferencing service that is full of features to create a well-branded and smooth-running online meeting. It lacks breakout rooms, so it’s best suited for businesses that need a single room for meetings that require interaction within a small group. Its unique translation feature makes it especially useful for businesses with international interests.
Few web conferencing services offer customisation to the level that ClickMeeting does. You can change the colour, layout and logo to make a meeting space that best fits your company and the purpose of your meeting. You can choose from predesigned layouts or make your own and save it to your account.
Business Hangouts is a robust webinar solution built on top of Google and YouTube. This fully customisable webinar service requires no downloads and no PINs for viewers. Record direct to YouTube. The service comes with an integrated email service which will remind viewers of the upcoming webinar and follow up after with your brand. It includes support for multiple presenters, private or public events, multiple sharing options, and unified chat with full moderator controls.
BigMarker Plus webinar services has a simple platform that is easy to navigate. In addition to the standard features of most webinar software, this hosting platform has several tools to help promote monetization, such as integration with CRM software and lead-generation tools.
This platform offers basic webinar features, including a customisable meeting page and invitations. This web-based program does not require any downloads with the exception of the mobile app. You can send out invitations either using the platform or through the integration with Outlook. The service also allows you to promote your meetings using social media.