7 “Must Dos” for Maximizing Webinar Value

BY Jeff Cobb

Image of slide from Leading Learning Webinars

If your organization offers Webinars – and according to the Association Learning + Technology report, most membership organizations do – you probably realized long ago that you are far from alone. The Web is jam packed with Webinars, many of them free, and a lot of them of pretty low quality. Whether you are trying to make money directly through selling Webinars or indirectly by using them as a member benefit or a means of lead generation, you need good ways to stand out from the crowd.

Running successful Webinars isn’t rocket science, but it does require some basic knowledge about the medium and attention to details. To help you out, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Leading the Learning Revolution, updated and adapted slightly to reflect my ongoing experience with Webinars at Tagoras.

Running Successful Webinars

To stand out in the crowded webinar space, you have to deliver experiences that won’t put learners to sleep (or on multitasking autopilot) and that are also designed to generate maximum value from you as a content producer. Many people these days are quite jaded when it comes to webinars. The standard “show up and throw up” approach does not jibe with more sophisticated learner expectations.

From your standpoint as a content provider, you want to be able not only to attract people to the live event and deliver a high-value experience, but also capture the event and reuse it in a variety of ways. (Your Webinars are a production event just like your meetings are a production event.) The following are a few key points to keep in mind for creating and running successful Webinars.

1. Distinguish “Inform” and “Perform.”
Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer – two of the most respected experts in the field of online learning – define “inform” programs as those that communicate information, while “perform” programs build specific skills.[1] It might sound a bit academic, but using this distinction, can really help you determine which of your Webinars should be paid products and which should be free. And it can help your paid products stand out.

“Inform” webinars—like the typical “subject matter expert shares basic information or news” model so common across the Webinar landscape—might be offered at little or no charge to prospects as a means of lead generation or – depending on your objectives – as a member benefit. We use inform Webinars extensively at Tagoras – our Leading Learning Webinars – as a way of sharing valuable information with our follower and attracting new people to our community

“Perform” webinars, on the other hand, should offer a much richer experience that might include, for example:

  • Clearly developed learning objectives
  • Increased interactivity through the use of self-checks, Q & A, real-time chat, and other activities
  • Pre- and/or post-session interactions
  • Meaningful supporting materials (e.g., job aids, templates)
  • Scored assessments
  • Outside expertise to complement your own
  • Availability of continuing education credit

As you can tell from that list, these take quite a bit more effort – and they deliver quite a bit more value. Some of these things might take place as part of the live Webinar, or you might put them into your learning management system (LMS) or another protected area of your Web site, where your learner can access them before and/or after the live Webinar.

Bonus resource not included in the book:

  • Learning objectives, mentioned at the top of the list above, have been much abused over the years. If you or your presenters don’t already have a solid, research-based understanding of how they can help – or hurt – your learning efforts, I highly recommend taking the 17+ minutes required to watch the video below from Dr. Will Thalheimer. Also, either before or after (or both), you may want to take the brief quiz that goes along with it.

2. Chunk It in 10’s.
Use the “chunking” approach advocated in Chapter 5 of Leading the Learning Revolution. In addition to maintaining learner attention and supporting learning, this approach makes it much easier to pull out segments of the webcast later as freestanding video or audio files. Since you do not have ready access to Chapter 5 in this excerpt, here’s what it says about chunking:

In addition to pruning materials down to remove anything extraneous, you should try to provide learning in short segments whenever possible. This rule applies especially within the context of longer sessions of structured learning like lectures, webinars, and webcasts. In longer sessions of learning, the average person’s mind is likely to start wandering after ten minutes or so focused on one topic or theme. Maintaining attention is critical, because the level of attention a learner devotes to a topic directly impacts learning.

When designing seminars, webinars, or other experiences that rely on a traditional lecture approach, try to divide up the material so that you focus on any particular point for no more than ten to twelve minutes, then shift gears and move to a new point.

Even in situations in which sustaining attention may be less of an issue—for example, when the learner has the freedom to explore a membership learning site at leisure—creating “chunks” of learning is valuable if only because the amount of time the average person can devote to a single session of learning seems to shrink year over year. By providing experiences in which a learner can absorb a significant piece of knowledge within a relatively short space of time, you may help sustain the learner’s motivation to learn. We all like to feel that we are making progress and increasing our overall level of competence.

Bonus resource not included in the book:

  • The idea of “chunking” into 10-minute segments was popularized primarily by John Medina in Brain Rules – a must read book. Here’s a good “Brain Rules for Presenters” slide deck from uber presenter – and author of Presentation Zen –  Garr Reynolds.

3. Segment Question Times.
Pause clearly and consciously (or coach your presenters to) at specific times during the Webinar to engage in question-and-answer, rather than answering questions randomly or only at the end of the Webinar. Like the chunking approach, this will make it much easier to carve out slices of content later and it helps to sustain and focus attention and keep attendees engaged.

Bonus tip not included in the book:

  • Reflection questions are particularly powerful as a low-tech way to engage learners in “elaboration” of the materials being presented. Simply asking Webinar participants to consider how the material presented in one of your ten-minute segments applies to their won situation – and potentially even having them write down their thoughts about how the will apply it – can go a long way toward making learning stick.

4. Provide Pre, Post, and During Materials.
Giving attendees the option to download the slides is standard for Webinars and Webcasts, but the practice is of limited value if you are truly aiming for a successful Webinar. Often slides don’t hold up well on their own, and having to sift through them to find links or other items referenced during a presentation can be an annoyance for attendees.

Provide the slides if you want to, but also provide at least one other user-friendly, high-value piece of content to accompany the webinar. This might consist of:

  • an article, or a link to an article, to read ahead of time
  • some questions for the attendee to consider before, during, or after the event
  • a list of valuable links related to the event content
  • worksheets or other aids to help the attendee actually implement concepts covered in the Webinar
  • access to a video or other exclusive “bonus” content that others won’t get

You get the idea. For a successful Webinar, it pays to use a variety of content to boost learning and promote engagement.

5. Establish a Consistent Look and Feel.
Create (or have a designer create) a standard, professional template for your webinars. This will provide consistency of experience across your events and also make it possible to piece together segments from multiple events while maintaining a polished appearance.

Bonus tip not included in the book:

  • You can find plenty of people willing to create templates for you on sites like Upwork or 99Designs.)

 6. Record the Webinar in Multiple Ways. While you can typically use editing tools to separate out video and audio, I find that it is often easier— and the quality is often better—if you capture a separate voice file of your Webinar or webcast. This can then be easily converted into an audio-only podcast or used for transcription. Also, consider using a simple digital video camera to capture yourself delivering the event. This can be used for “action” footage in promoting the event or may even provide for some great nuggets of content to present independently of the full event.

Bonus tip not included in the book:

  • While the above may sound impossible when working with volunteer subject matter experts – who are generally working from their own offices – just getting them to use a simple smartphone tripod set up and aiming the camera at themselves while they deliver the Webinar can give you enough decent footage to add some color to your promos. And, while I advocate recording audio separately, using the “detach audio” or similar functionality available in most video editors can work just fine – we did it here, for example.

7. Keep It Timeless. Make sure you (or any presenters you use) avoid time – based expressions like “Good morning!” or references to the date or day of the week when you are presenting. If the content has lasting value, there is no reason to date it in the learner’s mind by providing unnecessary information about when it was recorded.

Bonus tip not included in the book:

  • Don’t skimp on preparation and practice. We actually script out most of the Webinars we offer and we do a trial run for every Webinar. This can feel a bit tedious at times, but it makes all the difference when it comes to delivering a polished final product.

For more on how to create and deliver successful Webinars, check out my Learning Revolution podcast episode with Wayne Turmel, author of 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar.

So what are you doing to make your Webinars standout? Please comment and share.


[1] Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2008), 17.

This post is adapted from a post that was first published on Learning Revolution.

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