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Education & training

How to deliver an engaging and effective webinar

The COVID-19 lockdown has forced many of us to become more familiar with accessing education and training online and we have seen a surge in educational content being presented in a virtual format, such as a webinar.

But it’s one thing to be a participant in a webinar; what if you have been asked to be a speaker? You may know nothing about the technology, whether your audience understands what you’re saying, not to mention feeling uncomfortable about giving a presentation from your spare bedroom.

We’ve consulted experienced webinar presenters, and they tell us that it’s completely normal to be anxious, nervous, and worried about presenting in this way. But like anything, the more you do it, the more confident you will become. Here are some top tips for making your webinar enjoyable and effective for both speakers and participants alike.

What’s your style?

Firstly, consider what type of webinar you would like to deliver. There are four main types:

Lecture

Delivering a lecture is challenging via webinar. For many people, giving a lecture is a performance, and performing to a computer in your spare room is not the same as getting that instant feedback from your audience. It’s also much harder for an audience to engage and focus when they can’t see the full performance. It is recommended to use webinars for interactive rather than passive learning and incorporate some form of audience participation to maintain engagement.

Question and answer

An effective style of webinar is to have a couple of expert speakers and a facilitator or chairperson who poses questions to those speakers. This makes the webinar more of a conversation between the speakers and is interesting to the audience. Perhaps participants can be invited to pose questions as well, either beforehand or during the webinar itself. You could even provide something to the participants before the webinar, so that they come prepared with questions about the topic and the webinar serves to clarify and consolidate learning. 

Interactive

A webinar can be made interactive using the tools which are available within the platform. These can include polls, a Q&A function or breakout rooms. This style of webinar allows the speakers to invite participants to share their experiences, debate topics and ask questions. 

Collaboration and discussion

Some webinars can be much more focussed on discussion. This works well when the audience is smaller in number, although a larger group can be split into breakout rooms, if this function is available within the platform. Webinars can be used to discuss case studies in this way: participants can be sent a case study in advance and then come together in the webinar to discuss it.  

Use the tools available

All webinar platforms have a variety of tools available to make your presentation interactive, although not all will be the same. 

Sharing a Powerpoint presentation

You can usually pre-upload a Powerpoint presentation into the webinar system. However, many systems will ‘flatten’ the presentation and can distort images or disable animations or links to videos. Keep your slides simple and check them within the system before you go live. 

Sharing files

Some systems allow you to upload images or other documents as files within the system. Remember to check them before you go live to ensure they haven’t been altered.

Sharing your screen

This feature can be used if you want to show external websites or videos. Make sure you’ve closed your e-mails and any other confidential information you might have open before you share your screen.

Polls

These are useful to not only engage your audience but also to get a sense of where your audience is at in order to tailor your presentation. Most webinar platforms will have a poll function.

Whiteboard

A whiteboard can be a fun tool where your participants can type or draw on a virtual whiteboard. This can be useful if you want to collaborate together or capture thoughts on one page.

Breakout rooms

These are useful for small group discussions and workshops. Each breakout room will have its own audio, video and chat function. However, it may not be possible to record the breakout room discussions, so check with the webinar platform. As a presenter, you can move yourself in and out of breakout rooms to listen in on discussions. But do let people know that you will be coming into the rooms to listen and make sure you announce when you are there. If participants are collaborating on a piece of work, encourage them to use something like Google Docs that is available outside the webinar system to record their discussions. This means they will have a record of it outside of the breakout rooms; whiteboards that are created within the breakout room are not always saved once the room is closed. It’s also worth reminding your audience how much time they have left before they are brought back into the main room.

Other functions 

Other functions might be available such as ‘hands up’ or reaction emojis such as clapping or thumbs up.

Translating face-to-face learning into online learning

Many of you will be familiar with delivering your presentation in front of a live audience. So how do you translate your content into an online format that remains interesting and engaging?

People remember more when they have learnt actively, rather than passively. Active learning involves a combination of seeing, hearing, writing and doing, and this can be achieved by making your webinar interactive in some way. Consider breaking up your presentation by regularly asking the audience questions, taking polls, or showing video clips. Find out what tools the webinar platform has available and think about how you can use these to increase engagement.

Here is one simple way to translate a one-hour lecture into an engaging webinar:

  1. Send your audience some reading material or questions to consider prior to the webinar
  2. You could include a short (maximum of 20 minutes) pre-recorded mini-lecture to convey the key points, for participants to listen to prior to the webinar.
  3. Use the webinar to have a live discussion to consolidate learning.

Microphones and cameras

Once you have decided on the structure of your webinar, you will be able to consider whether you want or need your audience to use their microphones and webcams. If it’s a small group discussion, it may be beneficial to have participants seeing and talking to each other, and it will feel more like a face-to-face interaction. However, if you have a larger audience, the use of microphones can introduce lots of background noise and will be distracting for all. 

Webcams take up a lot of bandwidth, so it’s wise to only allow this for very small groups. However, speakers may want to consider whether to have their webcams on so that the audience can see them. Alternatively, photos of speakers could be shown at the beginning of the webinar.

Most webinar platforms have the ability for administrators to disable microphones and webcams for all participants, which may be better than relying on them to disable their own.

Check your tech

Invest in a headset

The quality of sound is much clearer when speaking through a headset than when using your computer’s microphone. Try one that plugs into your computer via USB as this is more reliable than via Bluetooth.

Check your internet connection

It’s worthwhile doing a test session before your live session. Make sure you use the room, the device and the internet browser that you will use for the live session. Wifi boosters may help if the internet connection is poor.

Set up resources in advance

Upload your slides and any other files or images you might want to use. Test these out before the live webinar to ensure they are displaying properly.

On air

When you start your webinar, the first thing to check is that your audience can hear you. Provide people with written instructions (for example, on a slide before your presentation starts) on how to enable their audio and how to get in touch if they have audio problems. It is useful, if you can, to have someone on hand to field any technical questions and support people to view and hear.

You will need to let people know if you are recording the webinar. And don’t forget to stop the recording if you have a private de-brief after the webinar, as editing the recording will be difficult and time-consuming.

Let your audience know how to interact with you – show them how to use chat features, polls or Q&A functions. It’s a good idea to introduce the tools across a number of webinars, rather than bombard your audience in one session.

Consider having a facilitator who keeps an eye on the chat or questions coming through, otherwise it can be distracting for the presenter. 

Give yourself and others time to respond to any questions. Make sure you pause and allow people enough time to find the function, think of a question, and type the question.

Your webinar should be a maximum of 90 minutes.

Summary

  • Research your webinar platform and the tools available to you
  • Consider how you can make your webinar as interactive as possible
  • Keep your slides simple
  • Have a practice session to test the technology, check your internet connection and sound quality
  • Show your audience how to use the tools

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UKCPA or its members. We encourage readers to follow links and references to primary research papers and guidance.

Competing interest statement: 

The author declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

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