Problem with Webinars

Yes, more companies are getting on Webinars for product onboarding, training, and sharing of knowledge or ideas. There is no doubt about the benefits of hosting a webinar, and the current situation has accelerated this trend.

I stayed home for two months and attended several webinars a week. Initially, I just wanted to try it out and learn something new, and I found Webinars a great way to be exposed to new ideas and reach out to others. As I went to more webinars, the novelty wore off, and I no longer had the attention span to endure through a long webinar. I quickly realized the abundance of distractions I had during the webinar.

Even for topics that I was passionate about, I realized that many things would get in the way of focusing. There would be food delivery, or my mother could not find something. My cat would push my cup off the table. I would then notice my pile of unopened envelopes; my trash bin is full, or my fingernails are too long. All because of a single fact — I was home.

Then when I was back in the office, I attended several work-related webinars and training. The result was similar. There were urgent work emails, my manager would need to clarify something. I had something to rush and the calendar reminded me of that. The distractions were endless.

I went between paying full attention to not even having the webinar screen on, I tuned in and out for most of the session. Sometimes I feel so disengaged that I did not even complete the session. When I examined the content, there was no problem at all. The speaker was also very well know in his or her field. What went wrong?

So when it was time for me to run my own webinar, I quickly looked at it from the perspective of the audience and realized that I was making the same mistakes as the other speakers — doing long monologues and reading from my static presentation. I find my audience went from 79 to 65 in an hour, and half the screen went black by the end of the session.

Then I attended a few webinars where the hosts tested various ways to engage the audience. The speaker would speak for 15 minutes, and there would be a breakout room. There would be a little networking, and a facilitator would get the audience to engage on a topic, and then they returned to the main room for another presentation. This presentation was professional looking. There were moving graphics and beautiful transitions. Everyone was encouraged to join a poll, and the results were displayed in real-time. Then, there was a video being played, and it returned to the speaker finishing up the presentation. 

Excellent webinars are far and few between. Most are not even memorable, and you can’t recall the topic after 10 minutes. 

So what makes a webinar engaging?

1) Webinars are rich media — it is sound and video. Many presenters simply use very static decks and take 50 minutes. In a live presentation, the audience has no choice but to sit and listen, but in a Webinar, we will tune away like we click the x on the commercials. 

  • Please create visually pleasing content. 
  • Use animation and overlays to attract the attention of our eyes. 
  • Have multiple cameras and toggle among them to create more variety in the video feed.
  • More Infographics, less text.
  • Have great contrasting colors
  • Use transitions between slides.

The production value of the webinar can greatly affect how the webinar engages the audience. I’ve been in a webinar focus on only three key points, but with multiple speakers, multiple cameras, attractive graphics and a panel discussion, it felt more engaging, almost like I was part of a live audience.

For the other Webinars that were on Zoom, where the presenter showed static slides and I could not see his face and everything was static, I lost interest quickly.

(I will go into details more in my upcoming blog next week)

2) People’s attention spans are short, don’t give long monologues. Focus on a topic and elaborate, then engage the audience in an activity. 

  • Test your audience, 
  • Ask a question, 
  • Conduct a survey. 

Get the audience to do something after 10 minutes. 

3) Make use of the breakout room. When you see the attention span falling. Quickly switch to a breakout room. Run a little ice breaker and start a discussion. The audience needs to feel engaged, and when they return from the breakout room, they would have gained back some of the lost attention.

4) Throwing in a small story or personal anecdote here and there. Let people relate to the topic with a real human story. Stop the presentation, and just tell your story. 

5) Add a video. Videos are great ways to break the monotony of a long presentation. A short video can mix up the pace and increase the attention span.

6) Think about asking a question that relates to the subject of your webinar, or perhaps something completely unrelated, but that will get your attendees’ brains going and ready to engage with you. Such questions will reach the audience to think and respond and pick on some answers in the chat to comment.

7) Have participants share their screen. Ask a question and use the participant’s solution, and the answer to highlight a point may allow more interactivity and engagement.

8) Engage a video producer. It is no wonder why investing in a high production value webinar will pay off. Being able to add music, intro, mixing various camera angles can make a simple presentation a lot more engaging. 

9) Make use of the whiteboard. Strangely, I do not see many presenters use the whiteboard, but when some of them ask questions and draw onto the whiteboard, the webinar seems more “real.” It does have a positive effect on getting the audience’s attention. 

10) Liberal use of infographics. If you can present it in a picture, do so. Back to the original rule — less text, more pics.

How are you engaging your audience in your Webinar?

Are there good tips you would like to share?