Avoid webinar viewer unconsciousness

Is it a coincidence that the moment a webinar starts, its viewers experience spontaneous narcolepsy?


Webinars tend to be passive, informational data dumps, which (surprise!) don’t get our audience members excited. They’re being used more and more frequently for virtual training and orientation programs, but if the listeners aren’t ingesting the content, what’s the point? No matter what you call them (webinar, virtual meeting) or what platform you use (GoToMeeting, Lync Online, WebEx) here are 4 best practices to keep in mind:

1. Hold interest

  • Keep the presentation slides moving. More than a few minutes on one slide causes a massive dip in attention (which you can usually track in your webinar toolbox). No one needs to see the same agenda or fiscal results for an hour, so keep it going.
  • Use engaging visual slides. Garr Reynolds is well renowned for his easy-to-implement slide tips — take a look.

2. Direct

  • Why are you having this webinar? We’ve all sat through an informational webinar with no real point or direction. Spare your audience this fate and let them know not just what info you’re dishing, but why they should care.
  • Think through who is listening and why. What do you want them to know, understand, or do? What is their call to action? What do they get from being a participant? These may seem obvious, but lay it out for your listeners — you can’t assume they see the value.

3. Interact

  • Don’t make it a one-person show. Get clients, customers, stellar sales reps, and others on your team involved in the presentation by having them present a few slides, offer an example or short story, or give a quick interview. This will limit multitasking and continue to help keep interest high.
  • Use polling, Q&A, chat rooms, and other functions available in your webinar toolbox. Often, no one wants to be the sole voice to unmute and ask a question, so give your listeners other ways to engage. If you have more than 10 people participating, consider getting a producer to help you manage the interactions and keep things running smoothly.

4. Push energy

  • Show energy through your voice. You may have created the most influential PowerPoint in history, but to keep your audience’s attention, you need to pay attention to your delivery. Project volume, smile, move around, and gesture because they’ll hear the energy. If you sound like you care about the content, they’re more likely to care. All they have of you (other than your words) is your voice, so use it to keep them focused.

Ultimately, you need to think about communication experience you are creating. Sure, people should pay attention because the webinar information you’re doling out is important, but they won’t if they’re bored. It’s your responsibility as the presenter to keep them with you.

Please share your thoughts on these tips, or your own best practices!

10 comments on “Avoid webinar viewer unconsciousness

  1. Good suggestions, Ben.

    I haven’t done a webinar and know it’s very different than presenting on a platform.

    In some ways, it’s much more challenging because I like to see and interact with an audience.

    Trying new things is how we learn and I’m looking forward to doing this.

    Thanks for the Post!

  2. Master of Ceremonies – thanks for your comment. Feel free to share some of your experiences here, we’d love to hear about them.

  3. Tanise – I’m not the best person to ask for the benefits of webinars because truthfully, I advocate to get in front of your audience in person as much as you can. There’s really no substitute for that in-person connection you have with your listeners, especially with a training. So if you can have it in person, you should.

    That said, webinars are being used more and more for a variety of reasons (time, travel, finances), and that’s why we chose to post about it. If you’re using them, you should at least use them as effectively as possible! If you follow the tips we posted (I’m glad you focused on energy because it’s so important), then you’ll be successful. If you had to pitch benefits, you could focus on how webinars save on travel time and expenses.

    Best of luck, and please let us know how it goes. We’re always happy to hear from you and offer help.

  4. Patricia – We still have silly names for ourselves. Happy to know it’s a long standing tradition.

    Thank you for commenting, and please keep it up because it’s great to hear from you.

  5. Webinars are a new concept for me, being a GenXer who has yet to get the new technology fever. I do find this article quite interesting and can see it being helpful for me in the future.

    I am currently a graduate student in the Training and Development program at Roosevelt University. The program has been great in tying the theoretical with the practical. I can see using a lot of different training models and theories in the suggestions made here about how to make Webinars more interesting. For instance, the use of the chat room ties into Social Learning. A lot of e-learning concepts can be found in your suggestions of keeping the presentation simple and using engaging visual slides. There is a hint at ADDIE in determining why you are having the Webinar and using this analysis in order to structure the Webinar. It’s so important to have a focus that is clearly stated so that learners know what they can get from the Webinar. I must admit my favorite suggestion is the “push energy” suggestion. I remember teachers who have not been energetic and enthusiastic about their subject matter and I have not enjoyed their classes at all. They were just going through the motions and so was I. And I have learned from teachers who were very enthusiastic and passionate about their subject matter and the lessons I learned from them I will treasure for the rest of my life. Enthusiasm during Webinars can leave a lasting impression.

    I work for an organization that holds trainings about once every two months in our particular department and throughout the year in other departments. One of the ideas that myself and another co-worker have been entertaining is having some of our trainings converted to a Webinar format, especially for those who are experienced in our programs. Another department has already successfully embarked on Webinar training sessions, and I hope to highlight their successes as I try to pitch the concept of using Webinar for our trainings. Could you give me tips and suggestions on sharing the benefits of Webinars? What are the benefits of Webinars? Why should an organization choose to train through Webinars? Thank you so much!

  6. I really like the way this information was presented. The concept of a webinar makes it even harder to hold listeners attention. I’ve recently written a book on presenting and find this angle very interesting.

  7. As an early and former “Decktone” (we had silly names for ourselves in the early days of the company), it is a delight to see you going strong, transforming people and contributing to in-person communication. With fond memories and best wishes,

    Patricia Kurtz