Unlike in a live training, where you have a (mostly) captive audience, it’s easier for participants in a webinar to wander off. Most people who have attended a webinar are guilty of at least checking their email or Facebook during the presentation. It’s very easy to get distracted when you aren’t physically in the same room as the presenter. The key then, is to make webinars that the audience wants to pay attention to. A tall order.

So, how do you make a more engaging webinar?

  1. Get them interacting. The more your participants participate in a webinar, the more engaged they’ll be. Asking people to share their personal experiences, asking questions, taking polls, or showing a little bit of humor can help “break the ice” so your audience will jump in and stay involved.
  2. Have interesting slides. Powerpoint has gotten a bad reputation over the years, which is understandable to anyone who’s had to sit through countless presentations and lectures with wordy, ugly slides. With a webinar, slides are pretty much your only option, so you have to learn to make them better and more compelling. While you should use a set template for presentations, avoid having every slide look the same. The audience needs a visual cue that the slide has changed so that they know there’s something new to pay attention to. Use images generously, but make sure that they support the text, rather than distract from it. A splash of color can brighten your slides as long as they’re still readable on all displays (high contrast helps a lot here). Most importantly, use less text. Limit yourself to only one concept or point per slide.
  3. Increase the number of slides. For people accustomed to live presentations, this can be a shock when moving to a webinar. In a live seminar, the audience can rely on your body language and activity to stay engaged, which lets you spend several minutes per slide. But with a webinar, more slides (which, as in #2, should be shorter) are better. The rule Idealware follows is to have a new slide every one to two minutes, which averages out to about 60 slides for a 90-minute webinar. This will probably feel like more slides than you think you should use, but with practice, this faster pace will feel more natural and comfortable.
  4. Break up the class into digestible sections. It can be hard to follow along for an hour and a half and retain all the information. It’s helpful to break up your webinar into sections—about 10 to 15 minutes each—that focus on one concept or topic at a time. In addition to making it easier to follow along, breaking up the session lets you take time for a Q&A session or other interaction in between, giving your audience more opportunities to discuss the content or otherwise participate.
  5. Call for questions often. If a participant comes in with his or her One Big Question, but they have to wait 90 minutes for a Q&A session at the end, they’re spending that time thinking about their question, rather than the lesson. Or, as people have grown accustomed to these long webinars where they must hold their questions until the end, it’s easy for them to drift off or start doing other things—eating lunch, checking email, updating Facebook—instead of paying attention. However, if they know and expect the presenter to be calling on them for questions throughout, they’re more likely to pay attention to what’s being said.