7 Ways To Set Up Your Webinars For Success

7 Ways To Set Up Your eLearning Webinars For Success
Tamara Kirsanova/Shutterstock.com
Summary: Have you ever moderated a webinar but faced some challenges? Or, are you about to facilitate your first webinar? Since webinars are live events and technology can be unpredictable, it is easy for something to go wrong. Learn how to minimize problems by setting up your webinars for success.

How To Set Up Your eLearning Webinars For Success

Webinars have become a common method of eLearning and providing information to outside audiences. At some organizations, there is a misperception that they are quick and easy to do. Since webinars are live events—which rely on technology that can sometimes be unpredictable—they can be difficult to facilitate well.

It’s important for webinar participants to focus on the content rather than any technical glitches or platform issue that may arise. The more prepared a webinar facilitator is in advance, the smoother the experience will be for participants and speakers, and the easier it will be for you to handle any issues or surprises that occur during the event.

Based on our experience, running hundreds of large and small public webinars, as well as a lot of participant feedback and formal evaluations, what follows are the best strategies for setting up a successful webinar experience for everyone.

1. Gather Your Team

First, gather your team and define everyone’s roles. An ideal virtual webinar team consists of a solid partnership between a webinar facilitator and a technology expert. Since facilitating a webinar requires a lot of concentration, and addressing tech issues also requires focused attention, the same person should not be in both of these roles. The facilitator manages the content, sets the agenda, and designs the meeting structure. Working hand-in-hand with the facilitator is the technology expert who sets up the platform ahead of time, orients everyone to the audio and visual set up within the webinar, and manages the technical experience for everyone during the event.

Ideally, every webinar should have one experienced technology person whose only job is to help with tech issues before and during the webinar. If you do not have a technical expert who can manage the platforms, we strongly recommend keeping the tech very simple or better yet hosting a conference call to ensure that your event does not get derailed.

Depending on the complexity and size of the webinar, other possible team roles can include outside speakers, a backup moderator, and additional technical support staff.

2. Get Familiar With The Technology

As a webinar facilitator, it is important that you are familiar with the platform and understand on a basic level how it functions. Make sure you know how the chat feature works, how to change slides, and how to communicate with your team privately if something goes wrong during the webinar. Since the technology is integral to your audience’s experience, you need to know how to use these basic features.

An experienced webinar technology person can explain the most effective way to use your technology platform, as well as what it cannot do. The more comfortable you are with the platform, the better you will be at creating and facilitating virtual learning experiences that are both engaging and user-friendly.

If you have limited or no tech support, then be sure to keep your webinar technology very simple so it will not distract you from moderating the group. Do not use videos, webcams, or screen share—these features can create issues for participants. And avoid using any platform features or new technologies that you have not tested out in advance.

3. Merge Content And Tech

Use simple PowerPoints to create your presentation, and avoid animation since it may cause technical problems. As you design your webinar, consider when and how to share information; and encourage participation using simple features of your technology platform, like asking poll questions or chat discussions. Work with your webinar tech expert to understand how you can foster group cohesion and encourage audience interaction with a minimum of technology issues.

If your platform allows, upload the slides to the webinar "room" a day or so ahead of time to be sure they format correctly. We, also, recommend that you practice your presentation in the virtual room to get a feel for what it will be like during the live event.

4. Hold A Rehearsal

About a week or so before every webinar, it is essential to do a technical rehearsal with all facilitators, speakers, and technology support staff. This is typically the one-hour walk-through of the webinar platform features, and it can make the difference between a "so-so" live event and a great one.

The rehearsal is a time for facilitators and speakers to practice moving their own slides and using the chat feature so they feel comfortable doing this during the webinar. It’s an opportunity to ask questions about the virtual room and discuss contingency plans if something goes awry during the live event.

Sometimes, staff or speakers may feel it is unnecessary to participate in the tech rehearsal. But when presenting online, everyone involved in the webinar needs to attend this rehearsal. It is the time to get familiar with the online platform and establish plans for when and how to communicate with each other behind-the-scenes during the webinar. It will help to clarify roles and avoid any confusion during the webinar which can be distracting to the audience. Also, use this time to confirm your agenda for the event. The more you prepare and practice in advance, the smoother things will go.

5. Create An Agenda

Prior to the rehearsal, you will want to create an agenda. During the rehearsal, finalize a timed agenda so that everyone knows what to expect and when, and what to do if there is a problem with any aspect of the technology.

The agenda is just as vital as the rehearsal because a webinar is a live, online event in which anything could go wrong. Since you cannot see each other once the webinar begins, the agenda will function like a script in a play so everyone knows when they are supposed to come into the webinar and their role for each section of it.

Other information which is helpful to include on this timed agenda is the date and time of the event. Moreover, you should include the technical instructions for connecting to the platforms, a list of each person and their role in each part of the event, and information for speakers about how to respond in the meeting if they experience any technical glitches. Be sure to send out your finalized agenda to the entire webinar team before the event, so they will have this as a guide during the webinar.

6. Orient The Audience

Each webinar platform is slightly different. Since the audience is dependent on the platform to communicate with you, use the first 5-10 minutes of your webinar to welcome your participants, orient them to the virtual room features and explain how and when you want them to communicate with you during the webinar. You can even have them practice using a chat feature or hand raise option as an icebreaker to get them acclimated.

Post any tech support phone numbers inside the webinar invitation and also inside the virtual room, so that the audience can call for extra tech help if necessary. Providing technical support and clarifying how to interact in this virtual environment is key to helping participants connect and feel comfortable sharing online.

7. Debrief

Right after the webinar is over, debrief with the team and discuss any issues that came up during the webinar. This is an opportunity to figure out what you can do to avoid problems in future webinars and create a positive experience for everyone on your team and your audience.