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How to Wow Your Webinar Audience

When you learn to engage a remote audience, your audience will interact with you like this.

Last week, I was talking with Dave, a small business entrepreneur.  When our conversation turned to webinars, he confidently exclaimed, “We know how to do webinars.”  And then in a markedly lower tone that sounded like an inconvenience or afterthought about webinars, he said, “The only problem is that nobody pays attention.”

Nobody is paying attention!  That’s not a small problem.  It’s HUGE!

In reality, Dave only knew how to operate web conference technology, such as to send out invitations and load slides.  As I learned more about the presentation, Dave also was proficient in giving a typical boring Death by PowerPoint webinar lecture to an audience that soon considered him no more than background noise.

Hear this loudly!  No matter how great of a presenter you are, if you put your webinar audience into a passive “watch my slides” mode, your audience will begin to multi-task after about 15 seconds of lecture, if they weren’t multi-tasking already.   If you put Q&A off to the end of your presentation, multi-tasking still is rampant.

Successful presentations – whether face-to-face or virtual – are always vigorously interactive. Think about the best presentation you ever heard. The speaker didn’t talk into a silent room.  Successful speakers elicit the audience’s active participation, such as laughter, a sigh, a groan, raising their hand, or other response. To engage a remote audience, successful webinar presenters must do the same.  Actively build fast, relevant audience interaction throughout.  In successful webinars, there should be a very high sense of audience participation by other audience members.

The toughest audience in the world is one that is linked from their desktop and is seconds away from dozens of temptations that are only one click away.  What are five things that you can do today to engage your remote audience?

  1. Redesign your webinar presentation for an online audience. Webinar audiences want specific, concrete, new information that they can use right away to be more successful at work. They want every minute to be relevant, and the minute it isn’t they will move on to something that is more relevant. Relevance must be apparent throughout.
  2. Open the webinar with vigorous interaction. Most webinar audiences have developed bad habits.  They come to the presentation planning to multitask.  If you want to engage them, your opening five minutes must demonstrate that your webinar presentation is different.   In webinars to hundreds or thousands of people, you’ll need at least three relevant interactions in the first five minutes. In smaller webinars of up to a couple dozen people, you’ll need five fast, relevant interactions in the opening minutes.
  3. Transform boring lists into engaging interactions with your audience. Use PowerPoint to drive two-way interaction, not just one way. Use PowerPoint’s Smart Art skillfully in ways that enhance your message.
  4. Make every interaction relevant to your content. Never ask a poll to see if anyone is listening. Instead the poll question and responses should help you drive your message. When you debrief the poll, never read the poll responses and percentages. Instead, process the meta message in the poll results in your head, and then reveal your professional insight about that result and what makes it important.
  5. Use a variety of tools to poll your audience. Don’t be a one note poller.  Depending on the audience size, select the polling options that enable the highest variety of interaction choices, yet allow you instant control to change privileges, if needed.  Of course use the poll feature that is built into your web conference technology.  Look for spontaneous tools, like a checkmark / X button or a drop-down yes/no menu.  Consider using chat for polling, too.

It’s not your audience’s responsibility to stay engaged in your webinar. It’s 100% the presenter’s responsibility to make the presentation webinar vigorously engaging, interactive, and fun!