CharityVillage has offered free webinars to our audience of nonprofit professionals for almost 10 years now. And with so many people now working remotely and shifting their training and learning online, we’ve had several requests from our webinar participants to share our tips for running a webinar that is professional, effective, and as smooth as possible.
1. Choose your technology
Those of you who have attended one of our webinars will know we use GoToWebinar. We’ve just heard that GoTo Meeting is providing 3 months of free services to nonprofit organizations – check here for more information. There are other great options as well, including Zoom and Google Hangouts, many of which offer free versions. Whatever platform you use, take some time to orient yourself to the features, take a tour of the system, and read some FAQs.
2. Practice, practice, practice
We always schedule a practice session with webinar presenters prior to a live session. While we generally don’t go through the entire presentation (unless a presenter asks to do so), we use this time to run through the technology and the format of the session. This is a good time to ensure everyone understands how the technology works, especially how the presentation will be shared with the audience and who will control the slide deck, and to do an audio check. Finding out five minutes before a live session that the presenter’s laptop mic and speakers aren’t up to the task is NOT fun! Additionally, you can take time at the practice session to cover off who will do introductions, how questions will be handled, etc.
3. Have extra help
Depending on how many people you are expecting to attend, running a webinar on your own can be incredibly difficult. I am speaking from experience on this, as I ran my very first webinar on my own after being called in to unexpectedly cover for another employee. It was very difficult to troubleshoot technology on my own, while also dealing with hundreds of chat box comments.
In addition to the presenter, we always have two CharityVillage staff on each webinar: one to do facilitation, including moderating the Q&A, and one to handle chat box questions (usually technology related) and to flag content questions to the main facilitator. Having an extra person is also good peace of mind for us should anything happen that causes the main facilitator to lose internet or get disconnected, in which case, the back up person can seamlessly take over. This set up also allows the presenter to focus solely on their presentation, without being overly distracted by chat box comments.
4. Provide clear instructions
We run through some technology instructions right in the beginning so that everyone has a chance to get oriented to the webinar platform and understands where to ask questions, etc. We do our best to be clear and upfront with our participants, letting them know they are muted in order to preserve the quality of the audio (in small groups you may choose not to do this). We also do our best to inform participants right away if we are noticing widespread audio issues. Once participants know what is going on, they are usually very patient.
5. Get interactive
Don’t be afraid to build in some polling or open-ended questions to help your participants engage with the material. We find polling works best when it also provides some benefit to participants – don’t build in a poll just for the sake of trying to be interactive. If you can share your poll results with everyone, it can be a good way to help your participants learn more about each other, their approach to solving common problems, and their organizations in general. You can alsoask questions where participants can type their answers and ideas into the chat box, with the facilitator or presenter reading some out. Finally, we recommend telling participants how you’ll be handling questions, if you are doing an Q&A period, so they know when and where to submit their questions.
6. Take a deep breath
Running a live webinar can be a little anxiety inducing! It’s not unusual for technology to cause unexpected disruptions. We always record our webinars and send the recording to participants afterwards. Offering a recording allows those unable to attend a chance to watch the presentation, but it also gives you a buffer should anything go wrong during your live session. Some participants may have audio issues due to internet connections, in which case it can be best for them to watch the recording later. Additionally, if technology really isn’t cooperating, a last resort can always be to record the session just with the presenter and then send that recording to everyone. This can help you breathe easier if you are trouble shooting during the live session.
Best practice guide for presenters and organizers
Over the years, we’ve hosted dozens upon dozens of webinars, some of which ran smoothly while others did not. We’ve learned from every session we’ve hosted and have built a lot of that learning into our best practice guide for webinar presenters. We generally send this out to new webinar presenters, but thought it would be helpful to share with a wider audience now, when more folks might be navigating the online environment.
I hope these tips and best practices are useful to you and your team. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org should you have further questions or would like additional information. I’m always happy to connect and share knowledge.
Marina Dawson is the Manager, Community & Content at CharityVillage, and was originally a reluctant webinar host. She enjoys connecting people with the content and resources they need, and doesn’t start her day without a big mug of dark roast coffee. Connect with her on LinkedIn today.