We all know the perception of webinars: dry and about twenty minutes too long. Now it’s your turn to host. Will you be dynamic and engaging or dull and lifeless? Is it possible to break through the awkward tech barriers to create a space where participants are truly engaged?
By Katie Jarvis
In our line of work at Realized Worth we hold a lot of online meetings. Webinars, webcasts and conference calls – our team holds about 20-30 meetings a week in the virtual environment. We use all the tools: Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Webex, Adobe Connect, UberConference, and more.
The one thing they all have in common? Human beings struggle in this environment. I mean face-to-face communication between humans is already fraught with potential misunderstanding. Bring sketch wifi, zero visibility, and bad audio into the mix and it’s a wonder anyone knows what anyone means via virtual meetings. Alas, this is the future so we have to adjust and figure this out.
Since we train and support teams of employee volunteer leaders at numerous companies from around the world on a weekly basis, we’ve taken some time to figure out what works best. We thought we would share that with our faithful readers in case you’re looking for some ideas that work. And honestly, we’d love to hear what works from you as well.
Imagine: you sign in to your meeting, running through the agenda one last time before the participants dial in. After some chit-chat, you begin. To your relief and delight, things are going well – people are laughing at your jokes, asking and even answering questions. Everyone leaves the call feeling invigorated and excited about what they’ve learned.
What would you need to make that scenario a reality? An energized audience? Lots of sharing? People asking questions? How about drama!?
It is up to you as the host to make that happen, and we are here to help. There are two key categories to setting up a successful webinar: structure and style (the sexy s’s).
- Always have at least 2 facilitators. There are multiple reasons for this, but it helps with the impression of a one-way, longwinded talk.
- Keep your agenda doable. If the agenda is too full, participant discussion will inevitably suffer for it. Share items in a pre-read or a followup when possible.
- Review what you’re sharing from the participant’s perspective and ask, “what’s in it for me?” Understand the value of knowing what you are sharing from the participant’s point of view. If there isn’t a clear value, send it in a followup.
- Prepping people to share before the call is brilliant, but be sure the participants understand why they are sharing. All content needs to connect with the purpose of your webinar.
- Send out an email or set up an automatic reminder for participants before each meeting or webinar. Be sure to join larger webinars/trainings 15 minutes prior and test the settings.
- Begin by introducing everyone. If there are more than 8 people, have them give their name, location, company, and an interesting fact about themselves in the chat box.
- Announce the sequence of sharing or asking questions ahead of time to avoid over-talking.
- Use the chat. We encourage comments there every 15 mins or so. If someone has a question about what’s being said, you can ask right away without coming off mute and talking across each other.
- Talk to people and use their names. People will pay attention if they expect to hear their name (think less high-school-teacher-looking-to-embarrass, more attentive-host-welcoming-guests).
- Ask participants to speak to each other. Creating space for these interactions alleviates the stiffness of virtual communications.
- Always summarize a participant’s statements or comments after they are done sharing. It shows you were listening and helps with clarity for other participants.
- Explain acronyms! Helen’s husband is now DOA. Has tragedy struck Helen’s family or was her husband promoted to director of accounting? No one knows because Helen didn’t explain. Don’t be like Helen.
While structure is the framework of the webinar and the formula to a smooth operation, it’s nothing without style. If “a house is not a home when there’s no one there to hold you tight,” then a webinar is just a well organized person talking when there’s no style.
- Questions usually need answers, so make sure to pause and give space for response when asking one. When using the chat box, remember to stop and take time to go over the questions and comments.
- Preparation is everything. A distracted host and an annoyed host sound the same, so be sure to turn the the call over to another facilitator when looking for something or taking a note.
- Your energy influences the entire call. Even if it’s true, never say you’re feeling rushed or you’re going to speed through things or skip sections. If you give the impression what’s being shared isn’t important, participants will question the value of their attendance.
- Introduce each agenda topic with a strong “why?” Why are we discussing this now? How does it relate to the overall purpose?
- Resist the urge to over-explain. The “why?” for each topic should be clear enough to avoid superfluous detail. Allow participants to ask for more explanation before assuming it’s needed.
And just like that, you’re ready to plan and pull off a kickass webinar!*
*Don’t be discouraged if your meetings aren’t all equally engaging. There are some crowds Santa couldn’t cheer up. This is a process, and each situation is different, so don’t give up!
Realized Worth works with companies to take corporate volunteering programs to the next level. Reach out to discuss how we can improve and increase the impact of your program!
Executive Assistant to the CEO, Realized Worth
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