Running a webinar isn’t like giving a live presentation—it’s an entirely different beast. A speaker who is normally wonderful at leading in-person seminars may struggle to lead a webinar. It takes a lot of practice to transition between the two. Here are a few tips to help you lead better webinars.

  1. Get used to the deafening silence. When you’re presenting in front of a live audience, you’re constantly getting feedback from participants’ body language. But in a webinar you only have a screen to work with. The best webinar presenters are able to put aside their need  for visual cues and find other opportunities for engagement.
  2. Learn to call for questions more often. Because you can no longer rely on reading the audience’s body language, you have to actively call for feedback. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, you need to ask questions more often than you would for a live presentation. In addition to getting feedback from participants, you’ll also be fostering a more engaging and ultimately more valuable discussion in the process.
  3. Check for comprehension through the chat feature. In a webinar where 40 or more people can listen in, it’s difficult to let everyone actually speak up. That’s why it’s important to make use of the chat feature. The process of asking a question, then someone deciding to unmute the phone, respond, try to talk at the same time as someone else, then mute again—it can take a lot of time out of your presentation. By having everyone respond in the chat, or through a poll, you can save a lot of time and get feedback from more participants. To make best use of the chat, train yourself to glance at it while presenting and scan for any questions or signs of confusion from the audience.
  4. Use your slides to draw people into the conversation. As we talked about in this previous post, the slides you use are an important part of keeping your audience engaged. Slides that are dynamic, are visually interesting, or make people laugh can help keep your audience tuned in. The takeaway here is to make your webinar stand out by showing the audience that you relate to the fact that, yes, webinars are hard to pay attention to because they are not live sessions.
  5. The slides need to be the centerpiece. It bears repeating that webinars are not like live trainings. In a live presentation, you, the presenter, are the centerpiece, the focus of everyone’s attention. You’re standing up, talking, moving around, gesturing wildly…well, not wildly, but certainly you’re animated. In a webinar though, people can only hear you. But not everyone is good at learning only by listening. You need to stimulate them at multiple different levels—visually, aurally, and cognitively. Just one approach won’t be effective for every participant. you need to use all three together.
  6. You need to find voice cues to replace the visual ones. The cues and expressions you normally rely on your body language and gestures to convey are useless in a webinar. And, if we’re being honest, it’s a little disconcerting to hear a disembodied voice speaking to you from your computer. So, try to humanize yourself. This can be as simple as putting up your headshot at the beginning of the presentation so that the audience can put a face to your voice. Ideally though, you want to practice conveying emotions through your voice, rather than through body language. Practice leading a webinar to an empty phone line, record it, and listen to the recording. How can your voice sound more natural? What does excitement sound like? How can you make your questions and prompts more engaging?

Webinars shouldn’t be scary, and everyone takes a while to find his or her voice. With practice and patience, you too can become a master presenter.

For an in-depth discussion about how to make your webinars more engaging, consider joining How to Build a Better Webinar: A Toolkit For Nonprofits. This four-week course takes place every Tuesday from February 17 to March 10 and each session last 90 minutes. Sign up here to get started developing webinars that your audience will value and remember.