Wherever we are, whatever we do, I bet we all have at least one thing in common at the moment: webinars. During lockdown, they have become the number one way for law firms to communicate with clients and others. Webinars are great educational and promotional tools, and are perfect for our socially distanced times.
They are also easy to do – perhaps too easy, which may be why we see webinars that haven’t had enough thought put into them, and why some people voice webinar weariness. As a frequent audience member, and occasional participant, in webinars, here are a few personal tips on making them work. I’m sure there are other good points to add, and would welcome your thoughts in the comments.
- Find out what you can about your audience beforehand: where are they? What roles do they have? What languages do they speak? How much experience do they have? You should tailor the content bearing in mind factors such as these; don’t just recycle the same material for different audiences.
- What is your aim? If it’s to educate people about a particular topic, then one knowledgeable speaker with some relevant slides may be best – but in that case prepare carefully and watch the time, and arrange CLE or equivalent if you can. If it’s a combination of topics, then it’s probably better to have multiple specialised speakers – but you need to think about structure (see below). If it’s a more general discussion about a topical issues, maybe have more speakers and fewer slides. But also remember:
- When putting together a panel, aim for balance and diversity. We don’t want to hear from four people who all sound the same and have identical views.
- Prepare the panel – this may be the trickiest thing to get right. You need to balance preparation and spontaneity. Some calls/messages in advance will probably be necessary to get to know each other and avoid duplication, but beware of over-rehearsing. One conference panellist recently said to me: “We had a great hour-long planning call before our panel. Unfortunately, we had said all we wanted to say in that and had nothing fresh on the day itself.”
- Unless you actually have a VIP on the webinar, a friendly, informal, first-person tone will work much better than using lots of titles (and potentially getting them wrong) but check all your participants are comfortable with this.
- Think about the structure. How much time does each speaker need? If you have multiple presentations, what is the best order for them? Try not to over-run: people will start to drop off (in both senses) if you do. And always, always leave time for questions from the audience.
- It shouldn’t need stating, but also give some thought to where you will be presenting from, particularly if you are going to be on screen. Is it quiet and well-lit? Is the background distracting? Is the camera at the right height?
During the webinar
- Moderators: Introduce the speakers clearly and succinctly. We want to know who we’re listening to – but we don’t need extensive CVs. That is a waste of our valuable time and is, frankly, better done by pointing us to the relevant information. It’s probably better to give a little personal information about the speaker’s interest or a shared experience.
- Don’t worry about technical problems – people will be forgiving of glitches and slight delays. We’re all in the same situation at the moment. And if something does go wrong, try to keep going – don’t stop to draw attention to it, and avoid prolonged silence if you can. And don’t give us false modesty about not being “technically minded”: that stopped being endearing in the 1990s.
- Slides: Use sparingly. Make use of images wherever possible, but don’t over-do video or music. It eats up time and none of us is here to watch a movie. If you’ve got any more than one slide per minute of presentation, you’ve probably got too many.
- Speakers: Make the content as lively as possible. You don’t need to be a stand-up comedian, but your audience will pay more attention (and remember more) if you are snappy, entertaining and accessible rather than boring, dull and worthy. Use examples and case studies, tell anecdotes and provide data where relevant. Use short sentences. Pose questions. Summarise key points.
- If you are moderating, try to engage with the speakers. Ask them a question or make a comment after they have spoken – if it doesn’t seem like you’re paying attention, why should the audience? And remember part of your job is to ensure each speaker gets a fair hearing – some may need more encouragement than others. Finally, a little bit of creative attention/disagreement will engage the audience (although admittedly this can be hard to achieve in a professional context).
- When moderating the Q&A, don’t just read the questions out – if possible, identify the crux of the point, the best person to respond and any appropriate follow-up questions.
- Reading from the slides. Don’t do it. Ever. It’s amazing this still has to be said but unfortunately it does: if you’re just reading out text from your slides, you’re giving your audience nothing they can’t get by reading for themselves.
- Follow up – the webinar doesn’t end when the line goes dead. Send a message to your audience within a few days, with links to any information mentioned or details of how to follow up. Include information about future events if available.
- Prepare some substantive material to send the audience afterwards: copies of the slides, summaries of points made, links to cases or news items that were discussed. They will appreciate it, and they will be more likely to remember the content.
- Get feedback – either formally through a questionnaire or informally by asking people what they found useful (or not).
- Share any lessons learned with the rest of your team – so they can use them for the next webinar. There is always room for improvement …
“We had a great hour-long planning call before our panel. Unfortunately, we had said all we wanted to say in that and had nothing fresh on the day itself.”