On September 6, 2018, Dana Benjamin-Allen of the Boys and Girls Club of America - as well as a long time GBEN member - hosted GBEN's first professional development webinar titled “How to Host Webinars that Don’t Suck!” The webinar – a live meeting and discussion that occurs via the internet – can sometimes have a reputation for being boring, disengaging, and a waste of an audience member’s time. For evaluation professionals, creating a data-rich yet engaging webinar can be a challenge.
Fourteen GBEN members joined the webinar to learn about tools to increase interactivity and engagement, best practices for online presentations, and the benefits of different distance engagement platforms. Dana used several tools and activities to model ways to engage the audience and keep them interested in the content of the webinar. You can access her slide deck on the Roundtable Resources section of the website (members only). Below are some take away points for engaging your webinar audience.
Framing the Webinar is Important!
How you frame and present the webinar is critical to gaining interest and maintaining audience engagement once the webinar starts. Start the webinar with an introductory slide that presents the intentions and objectives that best resonate with your audience. It’s important to describe the presenter's relevant background and experience.
In addition, it is important to ‘level set’ your audience, that is, identifying the knowledge and experience level among your audience members regarding the webinar topic. You may have audience members with diverse backgrounds, varying knowledge levels, and varying experience levels with the topic. Level setting can help you hone in on certain content areas that may be most relevant to this diverse audience as well as identify gaps in knowledge. Hot tip: create interactive activities using online polls and tools like GroupMap to level set your audience.
Language matters so be sure to use a catchy title to make the webinar more inviting. The webinar title “Webinars that Don’t Suck!” is a perfect example! The timing of your webinar is very important. For some audience members, mornings are better, for others it may be lunch time. If you are reaching a diverse geography of audience members, be sure to schedule it conveniently for all time zones. Lastly, experiment with different alternatives to the word webinar to increase engagement. Hot tip: call it an online meeting, online course, virtual workshop, “brown bag”, or like the American Evaluation Association, a virtual “coffee break.”
Choose the best facilitation tools and methods based on audience needs and intended engagement level:
There are various webinar platforms on the market today with varying functions. Do you need a live whiteboard? Do you want to share and/or pass the screen to multiple presenters? Do you want a live camera to accommodate live video of all participants and presenters? These factors should be considered before choosing a platform that best fits the format of your presentation, the needs of your audience, and the intended engagement level. Hot tip: using shared experience activities, such as real-time polling applications, helps connect audiences as well as solicit feedback.
In addition to picking a webinar platform, it is important to identify which facilitation method is right for you and your audience. Is there one or multiple presenters? Are you hosting a moderated panel discussion? Is the presentation interactive and involve audience participation? Hot tip: co-hosting the webinar with a colleague who has credibility with your audience can increase audience interest and engagement.
Lastly, plan accordingly if you plan to take questions and how you will manage the questions. Do you need a colleague to help with this? Will it be interactive (i.e. audio for all participants)? Between 6-10 questions may be good for a live interactive presentation, but plan extra time as participants may interact during each question.
Presentation is Important:
The design of your presentation slides is very important. Keep your slides clean and easy to read. If you are going to use a lot of text in a slide, plan accordingly to walk through the text with the audience. Also, create intrigue, confusion, and or excitement from slide to slide using questions, images, and or illustrations. Lastly, use a strong, exciting, and engaging title. Hot tip: there are online alternatives to PowerPoint like Prezi, Visme, or Haiku Deck.
During this webinar, Dana used the following tools (follow the links for more details):