Secrets to Hosting Smooth Webinars Remotely
Contibuted by: Hanisha Lalwani, MEPRA Youth Board Vice President and Marketing Manager MEA, PageGroup.
Between April 1 and May 20, I co-organized 11 webinars for Michael Page Middle East and Africa. That’s a handsome number considering the time-frame. I put together our first webinar within a two week period, and thereafter, I was churning out 1-2 webinars on an average per week. But until mid March, I was a complete webinar novice, not privy to the power of the medium and also clueless about the logistics involved in hosting one. But it was evident very early on that with companies switching to remote work, webinars were going to be a powerful marketing vehicle. So, I began my research and very quickly learnt the basics of curating webinars, including reaching out to my network for help.
Hosting my first webinar was quite nerve-wracking: Can the audience here the speaker? Can they see the presenter’s screen? Why are speakers facing dial-in issues? And so on. But there’s no better teacher than experience itself. Before I knew it, I became quite well-versed with the webinar world, and developed a checklist for myself ensuring that our webinars run smoothly – very critical to reflect our brand image and cement a positive reputation in the market.
While both organizers and attendees alike are facing ‘webinar fatigue’, I don’t doubt that webinars will continue to be a key part of a business’ content marketing strategy, to engage customers and clients, and generate high quality leads – if you’ve got your objective and basics right that is. While there’s a lot of literature online about why webinars should be part of your marketing strategy, and how do you promote your webinars, in my research there was not much accessible material focusing on the practical aspects of hosting a webinar – so informed by my own experiences, I have built the below checklist of sorts (assuming you’ve already subscribed to your chosen webinar platform).
1. Speakers and Hosts: If you are organizing a webinar where the key members involved (speakers / hosts) are based remotely, then try and limit the speakers and hosts to two each. Involving too many people adds to the complexity in terms of the flow of the webinar. Have one main host, and a second one as a back up (in the event the main host faces technical issues during the webinar – we’ve faced this twice!).
2.Q&A: Depending on how ‘hot’ your topic is, you can be overwhelmed by the number of questions from attendees, so your back-up host can be made responsible for skimming through the questions coming in during the webinar, and selecting the ones the host can ask the speaker(s) during the Q&A session (usually at the end of the webinar). One of our webinars had over 160 questions come in, and our backup host came to the rescue filtering through them all! On the topic of Q&A, it always helps to also prepare in advance a set of back up questions. Some webinars can have questions coming in very slowly, very few questions, irrelevant questions or no questions at all – to avoid an awkward silence or embarrassment, you’re best to get 5-6 questions ready in consultation with your speakers and using your expertise on the topic.
3. Presenter: Have only one person share his screen and take responsibility of changing the slides. This person could be the webinar organizer, the host, or the speaker(s). Avoiding multiple presenters will eliminate the possible lag time involved with changing presenters/screen using the webinar tool. Also the presenter assigned to change the slides knows to be alert throughout the presentation, and we thus rule out the possibility of any delays breaking the flow of your webinar. On this point, I would also like to add, ensure that your hosts and speakers have the final version of the presentation open on their laptops, in case the presenter’s screen fails to be shared (for whatever reason), another person has the presentation ready and can quickly share his/her screen.
4. Presentation vs. Webcams: In all our webinars, we’ve never had the speakers and hosts visible via their webcams. Instead we’ve given a visual aide to the audience in the form of a presentation. If your hosts and speakers are working from home, turning off the webcam can help ensure your webinar comes across as professional and any distractions are eliminated – the last thing you want are your attendees seeing the speaker’s cat jump onto his/her desk! You would rather develop a branded presentation which includes key bulleted points around the speaker’s content, which also helps maintain the attendees’ attentiveness levels.
5. Practice sessions: That webinars run smoothly is not accidental but by design. I can’t stress how important it is to run 1-2 practice sessions involving your hosts and speakers before D-day. A practice run is important to: a) Ensure your hosts and speakers are able to easily join/connect into the webinar (in our trials, we’ve had some speakers face technical issues accessing the join link – not desirable on the final day); b) Do an audio test and ensure no one has mic issues; c) Familiarize them with the webinar dashboard/tool so they are comfortable with the functionalities offered; d) Get everyone on the same page as far as the flow of the webinar is concerned; e) Time the presentation to avoid running over or under (our practice runs have made very clear which speaker needs to reduce his content, and have allowed us to know how much time exactly would be dedicated to Q&A). Expect to face multiple glitches on the final day, if you’ve not had a dry run or two in advance.
6. Communicating offline: If the webinar organizer, hosts and speakers are based remotely, they cannot benefit from eye contact, hand gestures and hand-written notes critical to communicate with each other. And believe me, there’s a lot you want to say to one another when the webinar is live. So as a best practice, for all the webinars I organized, a WhatsApp group was created, giving our speakers, hosts and myself the platform to communicate with each other during the webinar. I didn’t opt for the Chat feature most webinar tools have to avoid the (high) possibility of a message being sent to the wrong audience (if the sender was not careful with changing the audience the message was meant for). So what do we discuss on WhatsApp when the webinar is live? Things like: a) How many more minutes we should wait till more attendees join and we are ready to kick off the webinar; b) Confirming that the speaker can be heard and the presentation can be seen; c) The back up host warns the speaker that the main host will address a particular question to him/her; d) Alerting them about performance, timing wise… and so on!
7. Going live in 3…2…1: Organizer, hosts and speakers should start joining the webinar at least 30 minutes prior to start time. This is to allow for enough buffer time to account for those inadvertent technical issues, whether it concerns joining the webinar, sharing the screen or being audible. Remind hosts and speakers to mute notifications on their laptop and mobile phone (hearing email pop ups, WhatsApp alerts, etc. can be very distracting for both the speaker and attendee). Also, I’ve found that some attendees tend to join webinars at least 15 minutes in advance, and so you want to be ready. A minute prior to the start time, have your host make periodic announcements that the webinar will begin shortly once more attendees have joined. A huge chunk of attendees join right on time or within the first two minutes of the start time. I have always maintained that while it’s good to wait for more attendees to join, we should not disrespect the attendees that joined early or on the dot, so we have begun our webinar usually 2-3 minutes after the start time, no later than that. Also, have a colleague attending the webinar on standby to alert you periodically conveying that the speakers and hosts can be heard and the presentation is visible. Oh, and don’t forget to check that your session is being recorded!