I’ll be honest. I usually find webinars to be a huge waste of time. I’ve signed up for so many over the years and have been utterly disappointed almost every time. While the content of the sessions are usually strong, it’s the presentation style that ruins the experience. Usually, the presenter talks on and on and forgets there’s even an audience participating in the session. While the webinar is being held in some synchronous platform (Blackboard Collaborate, WebEx, etc.), the presenter completely forgets to draw on these tools and transmits information lecture-style to the group.
It’s funny, though. Over the last few months, I’ve been asked to lead a few webinars for different groups. While I’d like to think that it’s due to my amazing webinar skills, it’s probably due in part to the financial situation at many institutions. It’s less expensive to invite a speaker to present through a webinar than to travel to the institution and speak for an hour or so. After leading a bunch of webinars over the last year, I thought I’d share some tips for making your next webinar great. Not planning to lead a webinar anytime soon? These tips will work for leading a synchronous online classroom, too.
1. Engage the audience. Since the webinar is being delivered through a synchronous platform, remember to use the functionality of the space to your advantage. Use the audio tools or the chat window to get the group talking. I usually dedicate the first minute or two of the webinar so attendees can share brief introductions. I also build in engagement questions throughout the presentation to change the pace and lessen the passivity of the webinar.
2. Be conversational. I’ve shared the need for conversational tones in other posts. Mayer’s research with multimedia has shown that people learn more from conversational presentations than formal ones. While you may want to sketch out the points you plan to make in your presentation, avoid writing a formal script. The formal tone of your presentation will undermine its effectiveness.
3. Don’t read your slides. This relates to another one of Mayer’s multimedia principles and it’s a killer in a webinar or in any presentation environment. The practice is governed by the “redundancy principle” which discusses how the brain is impacted when redundant information is presented through visual and auditory channels. The redundancy creates a “cognitive load” for the learner which will significantly diminish the effectiveness of the presentation.
4. Practice, practice, practice. Few people enjoy practicing but it’s critical to the success of any activity. Take a few minutes and become more familiar with the synchronous space. If you have a co-presenter, run through the presentation together so you have a good idea who will be leading which parts of the presentation. You may even want to invite a colleague to participate in the practice run so you can test out the engagement questions you’ve planned.
5. Evaluate your slides. Some slides don’t translate well to a webinar format. If you’re using PowerPoint, steer clear of font sizes less than 32 point and don’t fill every slide with text. If you’re using tables or graphs, make sure the graphics are large enough to be easily read and interpreted.
6. It’s time for change. Don’t spend a ton of time on any one slide. Some presenters suggest changing every five to eight minutes. While I don’t follow any set time standard, I try to infuse enough fluidity and change in the presentation to keep the participants interested and engaged.
7. Share the stage. The best way to get a group involved is to have them share their expertise. This works in a face-to-face environment or an online one. Providing a few minutes for people to share their ideas or experiences draws the group in and helps them find ownership and value in the session.