6 Ways to Lead an Engaging and Effective Webinar

Zoom fatigue may be on the rise, but webinars are here to stay. I attended more webinars in 2020 than I had in the entire last decade. I have a love/hate relationship with webinars. I enjoy being able to connect with others and learn during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am terrified of a Zoom fail, like forgetting you are not muted/on-camera—and doing something embarrassing!

Even with the pandemic hopefully ending soon, it will probably not be business as usual for meetings and trainings in the future. This shift to remote will likely persist, and with it, comes webinars. Many of you might be asked by clients or your organization to lead a webinar on your expertise or to host a series of speakers. Maybe you want to become a Thought Leader in your field and are using webinars to showcase your knowledge. Webinars are an attractive option because the online format makes it cost effective, and the interactive platform allows brands and speakers to share ideas and knowledge with an attentive, targeted audience. It is a terrific tool for promoting, connecting, and education.

Amy Vaughan, CEO of Together Digital, says webinars are powerful because of the “ability to connect with womxn from across the globe despite the distance. The connections, to me at least, feel as real as IRL (in real life). Your vibe comes through, even in video. My circle of trusted friends has grown, even without the face-to-face.”

In order for a webinar to be effective, it must be well organized. This takes careful planning on the part of the organizer. Here are some things you should keep in mind when organizing your webinar.

Know Your Audience

When leading an online webinar, you want to have a good idea of who your target audience will be. Know their age, interests, demographics, and culture. This will help you create content that will appeal to them.

For instance, if your target audience consists of mothers, think about how your brand might connect with their experiences. Let them know how your product and services will benefit them. Use visuals, stories, and imagery that relate to their shared experience. It’s important to know who you are talking to and what they value before saying a word.

Produce a Clear Agenda

It’s advisable to have an agenda planned out before your webinar takes place. To make an agenda, think of the key points you will be discussing. Make subtopics if necessary. You can also decide how much time you will be spending on each topic.

An agenda will keep your discussion focused and keep your audience attentive.

As a university lecturer, I teach public speaking courses to undergraduates and sometimes find myself struggling to follow the logic of their presentations. This can occur if the student didn’t spend the proper time organizing their thoughts. The outcome of a rambling, incoherent webinar is attendees zoning out, not engaging in the chat, or leaving altogether.

The outcome of a rambling incoherent webinar is attendees zoning out, not engaging in the chat, or leaving all together.

Having an agenda planned out in advance will allow you to give a streamlined presentation that your audience can easily follow.

It may also be helpful to give your audience a copy of the agenda before the webinar begins. You don’t have to call it an agenda, maybe ‘preview’ or ‘overview’ will sound a little less formal. In any case, it will let your attendees know exactly what to expect—and respect their time. If you say you are going to end at 11:00 AM, finish at 10:50 AM and leave 10 minutes for questions.

Having guest speakers at your webinar can make the presentation more enjoyable. It allows for the input of different views, and it adds contrast to the experience.

While bringing in speakers is beneficial, it also requires additional organization. Speakers should know exactly how long they have to speak. They should be given guidelines, so they have a good idea of how to present while avoiding any taboo subjects.

If you are planning on having multiple speakers, you may also want to consider using a moderator. A moderator will make sure no one goes over time, can field questions from the audience, and will be able to do damage control if anyone says anything inappropriate.

Provide a Visual Aid

A picture is worth a thousand words. Not only will images help you better express your ideas, they will add visual interest to your presentation to better hold guests’ attention.

Tools like Canva can be used to create an attractive visual aid. However, it is important to keep basic design elements in mind.

While a caption can be useful, you don’t want to overcrowd your image with a lot of text. A few words will do.

The font you use should be clear and readable. The colors should be representative of your brand and mission and should not distract from the images.

For example, I once had a student give a presentation on vampires. She used a burgundy background and a red Gothic font, all in caps. While this fit the spooky theme, the end result was that it was simply too difficult to read, especially from far away.

One final tip for visual aids—please consider accessibility. Click here for advice on how to make your presentations more accessible.

Incorporate Audience Participation

Ever sat through a webinar and felt you were being talked at? It’s absolutely vital to engage your audience. Most platforms allow for chat and breakout groups. Have someone monitor the chat and feed the moderator pertinent questions every 10 minutes or so. This will allow the attendees to feel included. If at all possible, include breakout groups. Read the name of the person who said the question/comment and thank them for their input.

During this pandemic, people are isolated and want to connect. A few months ago, I led a discussion on Zoom with other communication faculty, meant to be a conversation about how we were all handling teaching remotely. I asked the group of ~25 people a question and was met with mostly silence—maybe one or two people answered. I improvised and put the people in breakout groups and popped in and out of each group, and found people were chatting animatedly. I brought the breakout groups back to the main room and asked them to share what they had discussed. A few people shared, but there were still several painful silences. So, I put them back into breakout groups, and they were chatter boxes again.

Lesson learned: People want to connect and express themselves, but they may not speak up if they think everyone is watching. Try intimate break out rooms to spark conversation.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Before you film or livestream your webinar, do a run-through. Call it a tech rehearsal. As a TEDx Talk speaker coach, I’ve attended several tech rehearsals—where speakers come in full dress, practice with the space, the technology, and go through the entire talk—as though it’s the ACTUAL live event. 100% of the time, the speakers who attend tech rehearsal are more prepared and more put together than those who do not. While it can be hard to wrangle everyone to agree on a time to meet, use a free Doodle poll to schedule the rehearsal and do a run-through within a week of the event. You will not regret it.

Breathe Through the Nerves

Many people cite fear of public speaking as one of the top reasons that they do not give presentations. I know it is just as scary to present virtually as in person, but don’t let your stage fright have power over you. You are brilliant, boss, and bright—let your light shine! A fear of public speaking should be viewed as a long-lost friend that you have lost touch with. Be kind to your fear, befriend it, and be gentle with yourself as you work through your anxieties.

I personally am nervous every time I give an academic presentation or conduct a training, and meditation has worked wonders for me.  Here is a powerful meditation that allows me to center and breathe before I proverbially take the stage.

You’ve Got This!

A webinar is a great way to share tips, ideas, and information with a large audience. But it is imperative to organize properly to ensure your webinar has the intended effect.

Knowing your audience, creating an agenda, organizing speakers, and using strong visual aids and a good run-though will make your presentation impactful. The world needs to hear your message, so be bold, and remember—you’ve got this.

Megan Pope

Megan Pope, M.A., is the founder of The Communication Revolution, an award-winning speechwriting and public speaking coaching company that empowers speakers to find their unique voice, communicate authentically, and increase connection. She is a Communication Lecturer at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, a TEDx Speaker Coach, a Cicero Speechwriting Award winner, and Speaker Curator for Together Digital. For speaking tips or coaching, visit The Communication Revolution at https://commrev.com/

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