Now that most of us are working remotely, we are being flooded with webinars from people who have never done one before. In a lot of ways, this is a great solution – it allows people to stay connected while practising social distancing. However, just as you need to learn some tips and tricks before you write your first article, or give your first major presentation, webinars come with conventions of their own. This is your guide to planning and scripting a webinar.
3 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Start
- WHY am I doing a webinar?
There is a wide range of good answers to this question, but “I’m stuck indoors anyway” isn’t it. If you’re bored, remember: there’s always Twitter. Think critically about what you have got to contribute. Maybe you have expertise in a challenging subject. Maybe you have an insight on an important debate that hasn’t been shared before. Or maybe people want to ask you questions about your way of working. Give some thought to what you’re trying to achieve.
- WHAT do I want to say?
This is the big one. It’s not enough to set a topic for your webinar, like “leadership skills”. The danger is that you will succumb to the temptation of blurting out everything you know about leadership. You need to narrow it down, so that you can get a unified message across. For example, that message could be: “In times of crisis, you can practice leadership by communicating, being adaptable and taking responsibility.” Once you have that framework in place, you can start to think about the elements that will support your message.
- WHO is going to watch it?
The answer to this question may send you back to the drawing board! At every stage, you have to think about your audience. You want them to take something valuable from what you put out there. So what is that valuable something, and who is it for? This will inform how you structure your webinar and where you share it.
76% of B2B buyers have used webinars in the past 12 months to make a purchase decision. (Demand Gen Report)
The average webinar length is just over 40 minutes. (Webinar Statistics and Benchmarks 2020)
Types of webinar
Webinar is a portmanteau (or joining together) of web and seminar. Any kind of knowledge transfer from one party to an online audience can be considered a webinar. They can be live or pre-recorded. There are three common formats. Of course, you can mix and match with these: for instance, a panel discussion followed by a Q&A. Nowadays, all live webinars are pretty much expected to conclude with a Q&A, and I would recommend giving your audience that opportunity.
This is an online educational presentation, usually hosted by one person. This is the easiest to set up from a technical perspective. It’s also easy to get wrong if you’re not well prepared.
In the Question & Answer format, your audience can participate by submitting questions and comments. Q&As are almost always live. The advantage of a Q&A is that as long as you set a strong theme, you can allow the questions to guide the structure of the webinar. The downside is that you don’t know what questions you will get!
- Panel Discussion
This is when a group of three or more participants come together to discuss a chosen topic. Usually, the participants in the discussion are subject experts with a range of different backgrounds and opinions. Panels often involve a moderator to keep the debate on track and pose any questions from the audience. A word of warning: panels featuring only male experts are called manels. (Another portmanteau!)
Live or Not?
Although we often think of webinars as being live and perhaps a little ad-hoc, it’s worth considering (partially) pre-recording your webinar. There are pros and cons on both sides.
|+ Interactive||+ Can become part of a catalogue|
|+ Can be tailored to the audience||+ Can be edited|
|– Potential for mistakes||– Less interactive|
|– Not as easy to repurpose||– Can’t be adjusted on the spot|
Think about which advantages are most important to your audience. Would it benefit them if, for instance, they can ask questions during the webinar? Or are they looking for a sleek, confident presentation that goes off without a hitch? What about the person delivering the webinar – what are they most comfortable with? Finally, consider the long-term use of your webinar. If it’s pre-recorded, it could become part of a library of content. And then there’s the hybrid solution: a pre-recorded presentation or panel followed up by a live Q&A.
I used to be a very nervous public speaker. Every time, I would reach a point in my presentation where I got flustered and lost for words. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I only reached a breakthrough when I realised that I wasn’t actually clear in my own mind on what I wanted to say. If you can’t articulate what you’re trying to say when you’re practising, it certainly isn’t going to miraculously come out in front of a crowd. That’s when I started to take preparation seriously, and it has made a huge difference to my delivery.
Preparation and practice are key. But by scripting your webinar, I don’t mean the equivalent of a movie script. Most successful presenters don’t memorise – or worse, read off – a script and regurgitate it verbatim. That can lead to a stilted, disconnected delivery. I mean thinking out and structuring the things you want to say and do. That includes elements of audience interaction: any questions you want to take, quick polls you want to set, trivia questions, exercises, discussions, the lot. Think critically about the time you have at your disposal, and how much you can realistically get across. If you’re new to this, you probably will find that it’s a lot less than you think!
Slides as Scripts
When I taught at university, I spent a lot of prep time creating slides that were very simple and visual. My colleagues used to ask me whether my students appreciated them, and I always told them: they’re not for my students; they’re for me! By creating these slides, I was able to section up the content that I would be delivering during the seminar. I would mentally allocate talking points and questions to individual slides. Using visual prompts helped me to structure two hours’ worth of content. It’s all about working out a solution that makes you feel confident.
That can take different forms. Some people like to write out that full ‘movie script’ of content and practice it, making sure to time it. As a next step, they reduce the script down to short prompts, and then go out and deliver using cue cards. Others, like me, think more in terms of activities and points that they want to get across and section up the time accordingly, using slides. It takes experimentation to find out what works best for you. But whatever you do, be realistic. The most common mistake I’ve seen is being overambitious. It’s very disappointing when a presenter has to cut half of the promised content because they’re out of time.
You Don’t HAVE to do a Webinar…
You will have realised by now that this is a blog, not a webinar. Why not practice what I preach and create a video version of this content? Simple: creating a great webinar is time-consuming, and I wanted to deliver quality content with a quick turnaround. Creative Quills will be delivering a webinar version of this content over coming weeks, but in the meantime, this piece of content is out there for our audience to use.
Let’s conclude with this reminder: be strategic. Think about your audience, and play to your strengths.