During a conversation about moderating over on LinkedIn, I was asked how you avoid’ a sluggish’ webinar or online event.
And it’s a good question. It is really easy for people to log off a webinar if it isn’t holding their attention – not like tip-toeing out of a busy conference hall.
The best webinars and panel events are when there is a lively discussion and an engaged audience.
Obviously, having a cracking topic and panellists is a key component, but that doesn’t guarantee your webinar or online event will go with a bang.
So what can you do to try and inject energy into your online event?
An engaged panel
I’ve noticed over the years that the more relaxed the panellists, the better the discussion flows. If they are really nervous, they may talk quickly or clam up.
There is always an element of nervousness to start with, so the quicker you can get the panellists ‘warmed up’ and into the flow the better.
I mentioned in How to moderate a webinar like a pro (part 2) some techniques for helping moderators combat nerves – and the same can work for panellists.
Make sure your panellists are prepared, understand the format and who the audience is.
As a moderator, that ideally means a pre-webinar conversation so the panels can get to know you and each other and feel part of the planning process.
You can use this to gauge any concerns, areas they feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to comment on.
The sooner you can get the panellists speaking during the webinar, the better – getting them to introduce themselves is a good way of doing this.
It can be helpful to pre-warn a particular panellist that a question is coming their way to give them a moments thinking time. For example, saying something like: “This question is for you X…”
Encourage panellists to add their thoughts rather than wait to be formally asked to respond – but it’s important they don’t talk over each other or interrupt.
An organic conversation can be more engaging than one that sticks to a strict question and answer format. It has its own energy, which the audience will feed off.
However, if the discussion does develop organically, it is important to stay in control, steer the conversation, make sure it stays on topic and move things on if too long has been spent on one particular point.
Also, make sure all the panellists are getting a say. If one person is dominating or not really speaking, it can feel awkward.
Engaging the audience
Like panellists, the audience also needs time to warm up. There can be a reluctance to ask the first question, particularly if you have to do it in person or questions aren’t anonymous.
Fortunately, most webinar platforms allow questions to be submitted anonymously via chat or Q&A functions.
If the format allows, get the audience involved as early as possible rather than leaving questions until the end. The ideal is to ask for attendees to start submitting questions in advance of the event.
Start asking people to submit questions as part of your introduction and remind them regularly. Have a few questions planted if necessary to get the ball rolling.
Mention that lots of questions are coming in, so there is a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Where possible, give the audience different ways of engaging than just asking questions.
Pre-planned polls can be a good way of getting the audience engaged. Many webinar platforms allow you to run live polls now.
You can give the results straight away or come back to them to build anticipation. Refer to the results in the conversation, ask the panellists about them to help the audience feel they are part of the discussion.
New tools like Sli.do can be great for this. There are multiple functions, from live polls to voting for questions.
The latter makes it a democratic process, and, as a moderator, you can easily tell which questions are most important to the audience.
What is your best tip for getting the audience engaged at a webinar?