The Best Way to Interact in Webinar
Let’s face it — studying can be a bit dull at times, even to the most zealous of us. And with the looming pandemic on top of social distancing measures, more folks are turning to conducting online seminars, aka webinars, instead. However, with no need for travel or adherence to any dress codes, is it really surprising to believe that people may be less invested in webinars?
As much as teaching in-person can be difficult, doing a live webinar presentation of the material presents its own fair share of obstacles. After all, without being in the same room as our audience members, how do we know they’re actively engaged, and if they aren’t paying attention, what can we do to make webinars more interactive?
Fortunately, the internet can oftentimes be a treasure trove of knowledge. From seasoned gurus to newly established coaches alike, there is a bucket load of information on how to make your webinars more interactive and what are some of the tips and tricks to keep your audience engaged throughout your session.
Over the course of this write-up, we will be discussing plenty of these in length, and hopefully by the end, you will gain the insight you need to rock all your future online presentations.
How does a Webinar Work?
The term webinar is a portmanteau — based on the words “web” and “seminar” to represent the aspects of conducting a seminar digitally through the Internet.
Like a physical lecture, you would have a speaker or presenter, who disseminates information, and an audience that receives it. The big difference is that it’s done through a screen.
15 Tips and Tricks to Create More Interactive Webinars
Being a good presenter is similar to being a good teacher. A lot of the time, understanding your audience’s attention levels and acting accordingly is key to making sure that people aren’t dozing off or getting distracted. Just because the medium is different doesn’t change the fact that the essence of a webinar is to educate. To create more engaging webinars, you simply have to apply the right approach.
Here are some best practices to get you started on boosting webinar engagement with your audience during the presentation:
Prioritize content over introductions
Do fun intros
Playing music to fill the silence
Be creative with your presentation
Open the floor and answer questions
Make time for breaks
Polls over plans
Get your attendees to read up before logging in to the webinar
Learn to delegate
Establish a space that provides for networking opportunities
Plan and rehearse
Embrace the discomfort of silence
Reward people for coming
Record your sessions and share it
We’ve seen it happen — sessions would be kicked off with a bout of introductions, each maybe 5 minutes long in a webinar that only lasts 45 minutes in total. The takeaway here isn’t to lengthen the entire session, but to streamline your introductions so that you can have more time to talk about the meat of the subject and have discussions.
We’re not saying you should forgo intros altogether, but it’s probably safe to assume that your webinar attendees already have some idea of who’s speaking before going into the webinar (because why else would they be attending), so giving a quick overview of the speaker’s background should suffice.
It seems like self-introductions all follow a cookie-cutter template — your name, where you’re from, one fun fact. Very vanilla, and unfortunately not nearly as interesting as it tries to be. While you may think introductions can be just a one-and-done before you get to the actual purpose of the webinar, they’re actually a good opener to engage your audience members, which is crucial to hosting an interactive webinar.
One great idea is to use a word cloud to show where your online audience are from or what jobs they do. This gives your webinars a more personal touch, and you can spend a little time making small talk with your audience while waiting for other participants to login.
The word cloud function may come pre-installed with your webinar software, but if it doesn’t, there are plenty of alternatives that can achieve the same effect out there.
Asking fun questions is also okay! Sharing one fun fact may be interesting to some, but it can also feel a little stressful to others, like you’re competing to see who’s the quirkiest.
One idea is to go around asking participants to share a boring fact about themselves instead. It takes a lot of the social tension out of the air, and ironically gives your audience an easier time to connect with one another.
You might think music can be counterintuitive to a presentation, but it can greatly help with engaging your audience when used in the right moments. For example, when your participants are still logging in to the session, you can play music to fill the dead air instead of just ignoring the awkward silence.
Not only does it show you care about the session, at the same time it can set a more personable ambiance and be a great icebreaking topic.
As experts of a given subject, it is not surprising to lose ourselves in our own interpretations of the information we’re being asked to talk about. However, members of the audience may not always see things the way we do. All the more so if the presentation itself is plastered with nothing but charts and numbers.
Sometimes, it may help to imagine you’re presenting to a group of young children, who may not know the meaning behind certain technical jargon. While you can explain it verbally during the live webinar itself, there’s no harm in putting in a little elbow grease into making your slide deck more beginner-friendly.
While we fully understand the need to compress as much information as you can into the limited time you’re given, speakers and presenters should also be aware of how that information is being received. Not everyone learns at the same speeds, and just passively listening to someone present for an hour without pause certainly isn’t going to be doing anyone any favors anytime soon.
Oftentimes, the best way to interact in webinar is to get your online audience talking with discussions. These help to get all your attendees on the same page, while simultaneously reinforcing what they already know.
Instead of holding a long, uninterrupted session where one person speaks and everyone listens, try breaking it up into 2 shorter sessions with 10-15 minutes discussion time at the end of each session.
Everyone learns at their own pace, and creating an environment conducive to sharing insights will not only help to equalize the room, but also engage your audience.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. For all the complexity that humans pride themselves on having, we tend to get bored easily. As much as we idolize optimizing every minute of our time, going full-steam for 30-45 minutes nonstop will eventually wear us down.
And from our audience’s point of view, even the most interesting topics can feel exasperating without proper pacing. It is in human nature to be curious and inquisitive, but if we’re not given a chance to sort and process that information, the truth-seeking part of our brain slowly gives way to boredom. This is especially true when we’re dealing with webinars.
Breakout sessions are a good way of mitigating that. Yes, present your topic as much as you can within the allotted time, but open up opportunities for your audience to do something else. It can be something as simple as taking a walk around the room, sharing about their day or what they did weeks ago, or even doing a quick drinking session (that last one is our favorite).
Point is, breakout rooms give our brains a much needed refresh after absorbing massive chunks of information, and your attendees are more likely to come back raring to go.
And if you’re keen on the idea of breakout rooms, here’s a pro tip: assign someone to be the leader beforehand. Very often the speaker decides to tell everyone to take five but doesn’t give any further instructions in the hopes that someone from the audience would naturally assume command.
Safe to say, if you do this, you can expect an awkward minute or so, which adds an unnecessary and uncomfortable tension. It also wholly defeats the purpose of letting your audience unwind.
Instead of playing a game of hot potato with your online audience, delegate someone to facilitate. Give them the authority to lead networking sessions and discussions. You will find this a much better way of helping your audience relax, and it also creates a natural atmosphere to connect people with one another.
One fun way to engage your attendees is by using live polls to figure out what topics they want to hear about. If your webinar platform comes with such features, then by all means, but a show of hands works just as well.
Let your audience vote on which topic piques their interest the most, then make that the subject of your webinar. This is not only a good way to make your webinar interactive, it saves you the trouble of planning for a topic that may not be as well-received as you would expect.
Alternatively, if you prefer going for a more fixed template for your webinar, you can essentially cut the work in half by having your attendees do some pre-work before the session. Similar to how some school teachers may isolate the static and repetitive parts of their lessons and upload these to a medium that’s accessible by all their students, you too can remove the non-engaging parts of your content and disseminate these to your audience members beforehand.
What’s good about this is that it helps to streamline both your content and your presentation itself. By removing certain non-essentials from your webinar plan, you have more time to go in-depth on some of the more difficult topics, and also open up a platform to share thoughts and opinions. Needless to say, the focus here should be to increase engagement with your audience, and not read from the slide deck like a robot if you can help it.
The caveat to doing pre-work is your audience might not be as diligent as you’d expect. Unlike school, speakers don’t have the authority to make their audience stand in the hallway for not doing their homework. And if your audience isn’t up-to-par on the knowledge needed to join the webinar, the whole thing pretty much becomes pointless.
Still, that shouldn’t stop you from trying. If the only thing missing is a lack of incentive, you can always engage your audience with a short quiz during the start of the webinar and provide a small gift to the one who scores the highest points. This may not work on everyone, but it will give a much needed motivation booster for those with a competitive nature.
Evidently, there are instances where the speaker runs the whole show, but when you’re dealing with groups in the dozens and start to feel overwhelmed, it may be wise to consider having someone to at least moderate the discussion.
Having a designated facilitator will take focus away from the non-critical aspects of the webinar such as letting people into the session, providing quick support for technical difficulties, and filtering any incoming questions that go to the speaker.
As a presenter, you want to be able to focus on your content and your audience, and a good moderator will help you do that by keeping all unnecessary distractions out of sight.
Networking sessions are fairly common to see during actual seminars, and they are just as important to webinars. The only challenge is that they’re much harder to pull off.
As a presenter, you want to be able to create an environment where your participants can feel comfortable asking questions and be interested in fostering a healthy relationship with you as well as their peers.
In physical seminars, there is usually a designated time slot towards the very end of the session for networking purposes, but with online events such as webinars, you may need to learn how to incorporate that into the middle of your event plans.
The reason for doing this is that not only does it slowly break the tension bred by unfamiliarity, it allows your participants to connect with your event emotionally, which as many scientific journals have proven, encourages memory retention.
Not to mention, it gives people a chance to talk about what was discussed in the last session and share opinions. At the end of it all, you want your attendees to be exchanging contact information with each other, which is a completely valid objective to aim for in our books.
This goes without saying, but you need to know how your webinar software works. Unforeseen technical difficulties tend to rear their ugly heads more often than we care to count, and practicing your sessions beforehand will normally help you avoid the worst of them.
The most interactive webinars are not only achieved by eloquent speakers, efficient moderators, and top-of-the-line platforms, but by months of pre-planning and hours of practice.
Having a decent amount of rehearsals will not only teach you how to act in the event of mishaps, you can also use it as an opportunity to try new things, review your content, and come up with ways to create an even more engaging webinar.
We often find silence during a webinar uncomfortable, both as a speaker and as an audience. However, quiet is sometimes needed in order for participants to reflect on the topic and write down their thoughts and ideas.
This can be done solely for the sake of giving your attendees time to note down what they are taking away from the webinar, but it also works just as well as a precursor to a Question-and-Answer session where the speaker can re-engage and provide answers to their queries.
More tips to make your webinars more interactive generally involve creating two-way communication channels as much as possible.
To that end, you should always take the time to learn your audience’s opinion, not just on the topic itself, but also how it was conducted. You can do this through surveys at the end of the whole webinar itself, or by splitting it into parts as you would your content, so that the memory is more fresh.
When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as a perfectly run webinar, and constructive critique should always be welcomed. As a speaker, it would make you seem more approachable, but most importantly, it helps you set a baseline of what to do for your next webinar.
If you’re planning on running more virtual events, it helps to build a good reputation for yourself. Giving your audience a reward for attending, such as a certificate, not only shows that you care, but also establishes a good impression.
In the future, it is more likely that they will ask you to speak to them again. You can also use this as a leverage to market yourself to new corporations.
This isn’t practiced nearly enough by speakers, but you should always remember to record your sessions and share with your attendees afterwards. Very often do we see audience members forgo taking notes only to regret it later on, wishing they could have something to refer to.
Sure, not everyone will appreciate it, but it will greatly help the ones that are eager to learn more about the subject. And as a speaker, this takes almost zero effort on your end. Not to mention, it puts you in a favorable light with your audience.
Types of Webinars
Webinars are an increasingly popular way to learn these days, owing to the global pandemic as well as developments in virtual conferencing technology. And sure enough, modern businesses love using this highly cost-effective method for most, if not all their B2B and B2C channels.
Here are some examples in which an actual webinar could be utilized:
Employee upskilling and elearning
Web panel discussion
Perhaps the most straightforward way of conducting webinars, training offers companies the opportunity to upskill their workforce at a fraction of the cost it would take in traditional real-life seminars. There is little need to rent a physical space, provide catering, and buy door gifts. And for employees, there is the added convenience of being able to connect from anywhere they choose and wearing whatever they’re comfortable in. Some may also not be as enthusiastic about the idea of socializing with other people, which in-person events tend to force.
The potential drawback would be the effectiveness of a digital medium in disseminating information as compared to doing it in-person. However, we would believe that this hinges more on the ability of the speaker rather than the webinar platform itself. After all, a presenter who does poorly in-person would not see much more success than if they were to try to communicate via the Internet.
All in all, webinars are undoubtedly a useful channel for teaching, and as both technology and society continue to evolve, the medium will continue to grow to cater to the specific needs of a growing market. Even now we see numerous interactive webinars with the ability to do live polls and games, things that would take time and labour to accomplish in more traditional settings.
Before virtual trade shows came to be, a product demonstration is something that can take months of preparation, between coordinating logistics to setting up booths and finding sponsors. Not to say that doing it virtually doesn’t require any planning, but it does take out many of the constraints, most notably ones to do with budget and location.
By hosting your live product demo on a single virtual platform, everything becomes much more controlled. Instead of having a team of 8-10 people checking on audio and lighting, you can have just a couple of technicians onsite to resolve any issues with the system. This makes rehearsals a little easier, but it also means that you only need to look out for certain technical aspects which could be at risk of failure during the event itself.
Statistically, people are shown to be more candid when given anonymity, so webinars also serve as a great platform to ask all the hard questions about a new product. By having proper chat logs and a qualified moderator, you can ensure that answers are provided to all legitimate questions.
Virtual trade shows also help businesses cope with social distancing measures, and reduces risk of transmission by not having every single audience member fiddle with the showcase product.
From an optics perspective, companies with interactive webinars are also more likely perceived to be in-the-know and well, not obsolete.
Evidently, much of the global population is still recovering from the pandemic. However, businesses must still operate and income has to be generated. To facilitate internal and external communications whilst borders are closed, companies need to turn to virtual conferences.
VoIP is not really that new of a concept, especially to major corporations spanning entire nations, but it has improved dramatically since its inception. Companies don’t need to spend money on travelling expenses, and employees save time by being able to log into the virtual conference instantaneously instead of spending hours just to get to the venue.
The downside, other than the obvious lack of personal contact, is the difficulty in setting a proper schedule.
That being said, this detriment only really affects companies big enough to have branches in different parts of the globe and with different time zones, and more often than not, the cost of travelling wouldn’t be as impactful for their financial capacity.
Panel discussions, where a number of subject experts come together in a single session to share insights on topics, are also a popular type of webinar we see of late.
Normally, these types of online events would be facilitated by a moderator, who is also responsible for fielding audience questions and keeping track of time.
Web panels provide a slightly more active method of learning, as attendees will normally engage of their own accord by asking questions. Naturally, this means that your participants should have some degree of knowledge on the topic prior to joining the session.
And while the presence of a separate moderator isn’t entirely compulsory for a web panel, the role has to be performed well for it to be a success.
As we’ve previously mentioned, your delivery is just as important as your content in a webinar.
Do you have multiple speakers? How will you go about organizing breakout rooms? How often will there be a Question-and-Answer session?
These are some of the factors that you will have to consider, and certainly there may be some trial and error involved, but at the end of the day, your webinar format should be what you think is the best way to highlight your content.
For example, if you have panelists with opposing views, you may want to have the whole thing moderated in a point-followed-by-counterpoint type format.
Benefits of Webinars
If you can’t decide whether a live webinar or a physical seminar would be better for you, here’s what you should know:
- Webinars are proven to be more cost-effective
- More convenient for attendees
- Saves time
- Able to be reach a wider audience
- Seamlessly recorded
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I make my webinar interactive?
Try to engage your audience as much as you possibly can. It doesn’t always have to be part of an elaborate content plan.
Making casual small talk about where your attendees are from and what their jobs are can work wonders in helping your audience stay engaged. Establishing rapport also helps with networking and make it easier to facilitate group discussions.
Sometimes, it pays to loosen up a little.
How do you interact with a webinar?
It’s up to your discretion what type of activities you choose to incorporate into your own sessions, but a large part of it is going to hinge on what your audience is receptive towards.
Polls can be great for gathering opinions without going too deep into personal motivations, and breakout rooms can help relax some nerves whilst giving time for participants to process information.
How do you greet audience members in a webinar?
Due to the time constraints on webinars, introductions should be streamlined as much as possible. This is especially true with significantly large groups where it would be impractical to have everyone introduce themselves one by one.
One method is to use a word cloud to highlight where everyone is from or what they do. This can also be a fun little graphic to look at whilst waiting for more people to join in the session.
How do you engage an audience in a webinar?
Question-and-Answer sessions are always good if you’re looking to host more interactive webinars. Having a good back-and-forth with your attendees shows them that you’re confident in the subject matter, and also helps them feel acknowledged.
The most engaging webinar isn’t always the one with the fanciest UI designs, but the one with an enthralling host and a solid content strategy.