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Puzzled about how to host a great webinar?

Puzzled about how to host a great webinar?

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I've been asked by my boss to host company webinars. It's so high profile I want to avoid gaffes, and if I'm good it could mean a step up. How do I shine and avoid common pitfalls?


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Hosting a Web-based seminar for your employer represents a terrific opportunity for you to excel, building your reputation in the process. But it will happen only if you take the focus off yourself and place it directly on the members of your audience. Serve their informational needs, and you'll benefit as a result. It's all about them.

To succeed in your hosting role, make certain every session you run is tight, focused and compelling. Follow the rules for webinar success, and you'll achieve those objectives.

Don't go it alone

Hosting a webinar is like swimming – you should never do it alone. Designate a trusted colleague to handle the technical aspects of the session, ensuring the integrity of the audio and visual connections, prioritizing questions submitted online, and providing you with invaluable face-to face feedback.

The best webinars feature three in-studio players: the host (you), who welcomes the audience and introduces and then questions the guest expert; the (erudite and amusing) expert; and the dependable technical support sidekick.

Keep it short

Time-crunched webinar participants demand their information quickly. If the communication goes on too long, they'll simply drop out. Limit your sessions to no more than an hour, leaving 10 minutes at the end for questions and answers, and "next steps." If most questions have been dealt with during the course of a webinar, reduce the length of the wrap-up.

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In all presentations, but particularly in webinars, failure to end within the specified period severely undermines your credibility. It's far better to end 10 minutes early than five minutes late.

Keep it simple

Webinars are often overly complex, with little discernible organization. Remember that many of those who log in to a session may only be listening to it, rather than watching; and they may be (and probably are) multitasking at their desks. So it's important to establish a clean, simple structure.

Involve the audience

Webinars should involve participants even before the start. Prepare a few easy-to-answer multiple-choice survey questions, related to the topic at hand, and request that those logging in before a session complete them. Almost everyone will.

The survey questions will immediately engage participants (they'll see the results being compiled online), and give you audience-focused information you can employ in your introductory comments, or in questions to the expert guest. Once you're rolling, aim to present at least two more survey questions, spaced apart. They'll infuse your sessions with variety and punch.

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Make it conversational

Today's audiences want to be spoken with – not to. It's easy to sound pompous and self-involved on a webinar because listeners often don't have the benefit of a visual connection by which they can read your facial expressions and body movement. That's why you need to adopt an open, conversational tone as you engage your guests, in-studio and online. Imagine you're speaking to a group of trusted friends.

Step it up

Your webinar duties may go beyond hosting, to serving as the main speaker. When appropriate, share your failures as well as your successes; assuming your credibility and experience have been established, employ a bit of self-deprecating humour. But be sure to telegraph your remarks with the appropriate timing and inflection.

Consider bolstering your presentation with a digital clip or two – perhaps a news report or a hands-on demonstration – to advance your topic. Limit any clips to no more than 30 seconds, and be sure to test the technology thoroughly well in advance of the webinar.

We all know that technology can go down. If it does, handle the situation quickly and confidently, and move on. If you make a big deal of the glitch, it will become a big deal for your audience.

Welcome feedback

The beauty of a webinar is that you can learn how you're doing in real time, and you can use the information to instantly improve your presentation. Encourage online feedback, and have your sidekick pass on relevant comments that can help you better inform your listeners. For example, you may have a request for a more detailed explanation of a corporate challenge.

Not every piece of feedback will be legitimate, or even rational, but that's okay. You're all grown up. You can handle it.

Have fun

How great is it to be able to engage others, in a free and vibrant society, through the wonders of technology? Embrace the opportunity. Take joy in it.

So many webinars are dry, numbing interactions, with little energy. Deliver with passion, and you'll stand out.

J im Gray is a speaker and communication skills coach in Toronto and author of How Leaders Speak: Essential Rules for Engaging and Inspiring Others.

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