Do you use or plan to use Webinars as a way to create and deliver online courses or other educational products?
If you do, you probably realize you are far from alone – the Web is jam packed with Webinars, many of them free, and a lot of them of pretty low quality. Whether you are trying to make money directly through selling Webinars or indirectly by using them as a means of lead generation, you need good ways to stand out from the crowd.
Running successful Webinars isn’t rocket science, but it does require some basic knowledge about the medium and attention to details. To help you out, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Leading the Learning Revolution, updated and adapted slightly to reflect my ongoing experience with Webinars.
Running Successful Webinars
To stand out in the crowded webinar space, you have to deliver experiences that won’t put learners to sleep (or on multitasking autopilot) and that are also designed to generate maximum value from you as a content producer. Many people these days are quite jaded when it comes to webinars. The standard “show up and throw up” approach does not jibe with more sophisticated learner expectations.
From your standpoint as a content provider, you want to be able not only to attract people to the live event and deliver a high-value experience, but also capture the event and reuse it in a variety of ways. (Always remember: everything is a production event!) The following are a few key points to keep in mind for creating and running successful Webinars.
1. Distinguish “Inform” and “Perform.”
Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer – two of the most respected experts in the field of online learning – define “inform” programs as those that communicate information, while “perform” programs build specific skills. It might sound a bit academic, but using this distinction, can really help you determine which of your Webinars should be paid products and which should be free. And it can help your paid products stand out.
“Inform” webinars—like the typical “subject matter expert shares basic information or news” model so common across the Webinar landscape—might be offered at little or no charge to prospects as a means of lead generation. This has been by far one of my most successful strategies over the years for building an audience for my company, Tagoras.
“Perform” webinars, on the other hand, should offer a much richer experience that might include, for example:
- Clearly stated learning objectives
- Increased interactivity through the use of self-checks, Q & A, real-time chat, and other activities
- Pre- and/or post-session interactions
- Meaningful supporting materials (e.g., job aids, templates)
- Scored assessments
- Outside expertise to complement your own
- Availability of continuing education credit
As you can tell from that list, these take quite a bit more effort – and they deliver quite a bit more value. Some of these things might take place as part of the live Webinar, or you might put them into a platform like Thinkific or Teachable, where your learner can access them before and/or after the live Webinar.
2. Chunk It in 10’s.
Use the “chunking” approach advocated in Chapter 5 of Leading the Learning Revolution. In addition to maintaining learner attention and supporting learning, this approach makes it much easier to pull out segments of the webcast later as freestanding video or audio files. Since you don’t have ready access to Chapter 5 in this excerpt, here’s what it says about chunking:
In addition to pruning materials down to remove anything extraneous, you should try to provide learning in short segments whenever possible. This rule applies especially within the context of longer sessions of structured learning like lectures, webinars, and webcasts. In longer sessions of learning, the average person’s mind is likely to start wandering after ten minutes or so focused on one topic or theme. Maintaining attention is critical, because the level of attention a learner devotes to a topic directly impacts learning.
When designing seminars, webinars, or other experiences that rely on a traditional lecture approach, try to divide up the material so that you focus on any particular point for no more than ten to twelve minutes, then shift gears and move to a new point.
Even in situations in which sustaining attention may be less of an issue—for example, when the learner has the freedom to explore a membership learning site at leisure—creating “chunks” of learning is valuable if only because the amount of time the average person can devote to a single session of learning seems to shrink year over year. By providing experiences in which a learner can absorb a significant piece of knowledge within a relatively short space of time, you may help sustain the learner’s motivation to learn. We all like to feel that we are making progress and increasing our overall level of competence.
3. Segment Question Times.
Pause clearly and consciously at specific times during the Webinar to engage in question-and-answer, rather than answering questions randomly or only at the end of the Webinar. Like the chunking approach, this will make it much easier to carve out slices of content later and it helps to sustain attention and keep attendees engaged.
4. Provide Pre, Post, and During Materials.
Giving attendees the option to download the slides is standard for Webinars and Webcasts, but the practice is of limited value if you are truly aiming for a successful Webinar. Often slides don’t hold up well on their own, and having to sift through them to find links or other items referenced during a presentation can be an annoyance for attendees.
Provide the slides if you want to, but also provide at least one other user-friendly, high-value piece of content to accompany the webinar. This might consist of:
- an article, or a link to an article, to read ahead of time
- some questions for the attendee to consider before, during, or after the event
- a list of valuable links related to the event content
- worksheets or other aids to help the attendee actually implement concepts covered in the Webinar
- access to a video or other exclusive “bonus” content that others won’t get
You get the idea. For a successful Webinar, it pays to use a variety of content to boost learning and promote engagement.
5. Establish a Consistent Look and Feel.
Create (or have a designer create) a standard, professional template for your webinars. This will provide consistency of experience across your events and also make it possible to piece together segments from multiple events while maintaining a polished appearance. (Note: You can find plenty of people willing to create templates for you on sites like Upwork or 99Designs.)
6. Record the Webinar in Multiple Ways. While you can typically use editing tools to separate out video and audio, I find that it is often easier— and the quality is often better—if you capture a separate voice file of your Webinar or webcast. This can then be easily converted into an audio-only podcast or used for transcription. Also, consider using a simple digital video camera to capture yourself delivering the event. This can be used for “action” footage in promoting the event or may even provide for some great nuggets of content to present independently of the full event.
7. Keep It Timeless. Make sure you (or any presenters you use) avoid time- based expressions like “Good morning!” or references to the date or day of the week when you are presenting. If the content has lasting value, there is no reason to date it in the learner’s mind by providing unnecessary information about when it was recorded.
Two bonus tips not included in the book:
- Don’t skimp on preparation and practice. We actually script out most of the Webinars we offer through my firm, Tagoras, and we do a trial run for every Webinar. This can feel a bit tedious at times, but it makes all the difference when it comes to delivering a polished final product.
- If you want to sell it, don’t call it a Webinar. You can read more about my perspective on this in the aptly-titled blog post “If you want to sell it, don’t call it a Webinar.”
For more on how to create and deliver successful Webinars, check out my Learning Revolution podcast episode with Wayne Turmel, author of 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar:
You can also find my take on the best Webinar platforms in the Learning Revolutionary’s Toolbox
 Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2008), 17.