Perhaps one of the ugliest words to have been tumbled out of the lexicon of late stage capitalism. Pre-pandemic few people had anything but the haziest idea of what these three syllables refer to. Now there can’t be many of us who haven’t found ourselves sneakily opening another browser window while someone drones on about Post Covid Marketing to Gen Z’s In The Age of Tik Tok or similar.
And yet … when done well a webinar is the best way we have — for now — of imparting knowledge, inspiration and information to other human beings without needing to gather in a physical space.
I’m ten webinars into a series of thirteen lockdown sessions on different aspects of the creative process. And I’ve learned a lot about what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to hosting a webinar.
Given that you may be contemplating taking your first tentative steps towards, erm, webinaring, here are some tips to make your experience and, more importantly, the experience of your audience, as rewarding as possible.
Platform The first thing to decide is which platform you’ll be using to host your session. There are many to choose from. My choice is Demio. It has a simple, well designed and intuitive interface which appeals to the designer (as well as the technophobe) in me. It’s easy to hook up to Mailchimp so you can give people who sign up for your session the option to join your mailing list. And it operates on a freemium* model. Which means you can try it for free before deciding if it’s right for you.
Slides Deck or no deck? There is a school of thought which says that slides kill a presentation. It’s not a school I’m a member of. Too many slides with too much text will always kill a presentation. But a few, well designed, well thought through slides provide a rhythm to your talk, regular anchor points for you and your audience, making what you have to say easier for them to understand and you to deliver. Keep text as concise as possible. And make sure every slide is carrying your argument forward; if not, it’s slowing you down.
Your audience I’ve no idea whether my stats are reflective of other hosts’ experience but I’ve found that I usually get somewhere between 40 and 50% no shows. Which is fine. My webinars are free so they’re low commitment and it’s fair enough if someone signs up but then is busy on the day. For those who do show I think it’s really important as the speaker to attempt to build some kind of rapport, just as you would in a physical space. Let people know there’s a chat box. Ask questions of your audience as you progress. Make time for a Q&A at the end. It’ll enhance the session for them and make you feel less like a weirdo talking into a laptop.
The tech stuff Run a trial session before going live. Have a rehearsal with all your materials. Maybe have a partner, friend or colleague sign in so they can tell you how it all looks and sounds from the audience’s point of view. You’ll probably have an option to upload materials in advance. Remember that they can take some time to process, so don’t leave this too late. Turn off notifications on your phone and laptop before you begin. If your Wi-Fi is wobbly, turn off any devices which might be eating the signal. And don’t forget to switch your landline to silent if you’re home alone.
Vision Think about the background of the room in which you’ll be presenting from. Most of us have nailed our Zoom mise en scene by now but make sure your setting is consistent with your message. Books and paintings good. Pirelli calendar bad. Face a window if you can so that you’re lit by natural light.
Sound If you’re using video mute your own laptop. Otherwise anyone attending will get a distracting echoey effect when you play a clip, but you’ll be none the wiser. It’s remarkable how often this happens.
Delivery The normal rules of public speaking apply. As Winnie the Pooh once said, ‘The things that make me different are the things that make me me’. Just be you. Or better still, to quote Oprah, the best version of you. Slow down. When you’re nervous you’re talking faster than you think. A few dramatic pauses will not only draw your audience in, it will also give you the time to think about what you’re going to say next. And DON’T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE CAMERA! Somewhere on your screen will be an image of you talking, and siren-like it will attempt to seduce your gaze. Give way and you’ll lose eye contact and your hold over the audience. I find a flouro post it note beside my camera keeps me looking in the right direction.
Topic and timings During lockdown I’ve run virtual workshops of three hours with a couple of breaks. But a webinar is way less interactive so keep it under an hour. Make sure your audience know how long the session is. Outline your topic near the top so they’re reassured they’re in the right place. Recap at the end — not everyone will have been giving you the attention they would in a normal lecture. Also know that once you near the end, and your audience can tell you’re almost done, they’re going to disappear like a class of kids when the school bell sounds. So if you have something to promote, drop it three quarters of the way through, when most people are still there.
Follow ups No matter which platform you use there should be an opportunity to record the session. If you’ve followed all the tips above and it’s gone a like a dream, (or at least not been a nightmare) then take the time to share the recording both with attendees and those ungrateful no shows. I usually do a separate email for both groups. It’s another opportunity to engage your audience.
In the event of disaster No matter how diligent you are in your preparations there’s always a chance that the fickle finger of fate will f**k with you. Especially where technology’s concerned. An over-enthusiastic delivery man, an irate object-throwing 9 year old and a deck which refused to upload have all overwhelmed my synapses with cortisol. If things do go wrong know that it’s just going to get the audience on your side. They’ll feel for you because, well, most people are good. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Do what you can to fix the problem and make sure you have a cold beer in your fridge for when you’re done.
*the second ugliest word of the early 21st century
Discover more about my webinars, workshops and writing on the creative process at richardholman.com.