5 ways to make your webinar interactive

It’s easy to get distracted during a webinar.

Just this week, I had a first hand experience of what it feels like to be in the audience and just have one too many distractions.

A few weeks ago, I had signed up for a webinar from an instructor I really admire: she was sharing insights that were not only important, but the timing was perfect, and I was invested in learning from her. I checked the timezones, plugged it into my calendar, and made sure I was ready to go a few minutes before the start time.

I was sat at the table in my kitchen, and I started to watch.

And while she tried her best to encourage interaction with us right off the bat with “Tell us where you are from in chatbox!” and “Quick poll: do any of you struggle with this too? Yes or No?” …when I noticed a stack of dishes out of the side of my eye, I felt compelled to quickly wash them while listening.

Then in a particularly long monologue about the background for an upcoming point — I found myself making a quick check on my Facebook, finding a few messages that absolutely needed to be addressed, and while the browser was open…a hop over to gmail.

For the majority of the session, I tuned in and out, flipping from actively listening to not even being in the room at all.

Finally, when my younger sister came in the room with a series of questions about our plans for the evening, I snapped my laptop shut, telling myself I could catch the replay, and simply didn’t return.

So, what happened here?

How did I go from being actively interested, eager to get into the insights of this expert — to being so disengaged that I quit before the webinar had even finished?

It wasn’t that the content wasn’t valuable, it wasn’t that I didn’t find her credible.

Maybe it was simply that I was at home.

And when the audience isn’t in the room with the speaker, extra effort has to be made to make sure the audience stays engaged.

In the early days of webinars, speakers would talk and audiences would sit and listen, but for modern audiences, we don’t share that same focus.

While more and more speakers bring their content online by offering webinars, how can you stay ahead of the other speakers by getting creative and interactive in your sessions?

This article will dive into a few ideas on how you can stay ahead of the game and give audiences quality information, while making sure they stay engaged with you until the webinar is over.

Want a brief overview of the main topics this article covers? See the infographic below.

1. Get their gears grinding: Exercises, challenges, and break out groups

Idle hands are the…distractions…workshop.

When your audience is asked to be directly involved with something that is happening, the chance that they will have wandering eyes is minimized.

They’ll also soak in more information if they are actively engaged. Depending on the length and nature of your content, look for places where you can add segments of interaction to complement and expand on the information you are giving them.

This could be as simple as “Write down 3 things that [fill in] right now. Take 2–3 minutes, and actually write it down.” or as complex as splitting the entire audience up into breakout rooms where they discuss a topic and (Check if your platform provides breakout rooms: for example Zoom supports up to 50 breakout rooms with a max of 200 people per room.)

If you are in the middle of writing something down, you are probably not going to check out what is happening on Facebook.

Of course, you cannot make your entire audience do the exercises or challenges, but offering them will go a long way.

Exercises that challenge and engage your audience will make your webinar interactive and interesting, activating their brains and increasing the value of your webinar.

2. Be spontaneous

Just like a monotone speaker, if you have a monotonous webinar, no matter how good the content — you’ll struggle to engage your audience.

It’s human nature to get bored easily and quickly.

The brain needs stimulation to keep activated, this is why monotony is so boring to listen to — we know what is coming up next, and our brains start searching for something else to be interested in.

So, switch it up!

Regularly and spontaneously — if you keep surprising your audience, you’ll keep them glued to the screen.

While it may seem counterintuitive to plan spontaneity, the idea is that it seems spontaneous to the audience.

Here are some ideas on how to add spontaneity to your webinar:

  1. Bring in surprise influencers and guests

Bring on an influential person that you did not announce.

This could be another leading expert, a colleague, a popular author or professional acquaintance, but a surprise guest can really peak interest. Even if they only stay for a few minutes to offer a key insight, this can be very exciting for your audience and keep them reeled in.

For the guest — they will get exposure to a new audience, for a very low time investment.

You could even try pre-recording their piece before hand and playing it during the session if they are not able to make the specific time of your live recording.

2. Giveaways

Why not start your webinar off with a giveaway? You could even do multiple giveaways throughout the session.

What could you offer?

  • Copies of your books,
  • a free consultation,
  • tickets to an upcoming event you are speaking at,
  • a subscription to a trusted new source,
  • a reading list of books that you could send them directly from Amazon
  • whatever is topical and valuable to you audience, which you can fit into your budget.

While many webinar host hold off to the very end to do a raffle, starting with an incentive right from the start could create interest right off the bat

3. Choose a random audience member and work with them directly.

Instead of talking about things in theoretical terms, pick a person at random directly from your audience (or you could ask for a volunteer.) then showcase your skills, expertise, or product directly on them. For example, they could try out your product and you could demo it, or if you do consulting, consult with them directly infront of the live audience.

Even if it isn’t 100% smooth (which can happen when working with someone from the audience on a live recording) it is better to be a little rough on the edges then to be boring, and the audience will tap into the feeling like the are watching something authentic and real than over polished and dry.

This being said, keep these segments on the shorter side, just incase.

4. Instant polls

When you are creating your session, come up with a handful of polls you could pull out at any time during your session.

If at any point, you feel like things are getting a bit dry or that people might be losing attention, break out a poll and pull the audience back.

A few of the polls can be just for fun, just to break up the content and add more spontaneity to the session. Here are a few poll questions you could break out at just about any session:

  • If you could travel in time, would you want to see, the past or the future?
  • Why did you decide to join this event today?
  • Which superpower would you like to have?
  • In one word, what’s the best invention of the 21st Century?
  • Which public (or industry) figure is your personal hero?

While you will want to keep the majority of your polls on topic, and that add value, you still want to keep the webinar as fresh and engaging as possible, so and a few fun questions can help.

3. Changes things up frequently

John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, and lecturer at the University of Washington. says peer-reviewed studies, as well as his own studies and observations, show that our brains will inevitably start to get bored after a mere ten minutes.

He measured the attention of his students over the course of a 50-minute lecture, and saw that their interest fell drastically after the first ten minutes, and then picked up again right at the end of his lecture, in a swoop that looked something like this:

And with all the distractions available to an audience who isn’t even in the room with you, we can bet that the attention span is even shorter when your audience is online.

So what should you do? Limit every webinar to 20 minutes? Even that might not be effective.

Instead, focus on recapturing the audience’s attention every seven to ten minutes by changing something up.

With the ten minute resets, their interest looks more like this:

When you are building your presentation make sure you are consciously adding breaks and resets to keep attention high

Now, its important to note that you don’t want to switch it up more than this: it could begin to seem chaotic, like something out of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. If its too challenging to stay on the same page as you, they might lose the interest or get frustrated.

Find out more about why you need to change up your presentation here “Can you re-engage a bored audience?

Skip the monologue and switch the voice up. Here are 3 ways to add variety to your presentation:

Hosts and multiple speakers

If a webinar has more speakers, it will offer different kinds of information — different viewpoints, different presentation styles, and of course, different voices.

Having a host, co-host or different guest speakers can help you break up the uniformity the only having one voice offers.

While you can still be the star of the show, so to speak, occasionally switching up the voice can offer a refreshing boost to segments and keep the audience engaged.

Just make sure whoever you are bringing on knows their content and is on the same page as you as far as the goals of the webinar and needs of the audience.

Videos

Adding videos into your webinar can be a great way to not only cover information, but it will also add some variance to the presentation.

Use videos strategically throughout your session to help hit home points, drive discussions, tell stories, or re-engage an audience who might be becoming disengaged,

Have a crystal clear objective for each video. Before pressing play or directly after the video has ended, express that objective.

For more tips on how to use videos in your session, read this article. “Using killer videos in your training sessions for top-level audience engagement”

Panel discussions

A panel of experts discussing a subject and providing their own opinions/insights will attract a lot of visitors looking for variety and rich content. Of course, it’s important to have a host or moderator who is skilled enough to keep the conversation moving and on-topic.

A interesting way to change the voice, add some diversity and create a more engaging webinar for your guests is by including a panel discussion. Have a panel of industry experts and colleagues with different viewpoints hop on the webinar for a short panel discussion.

Get the audience used to the different panelists voices. Don’t introduce all the panelist in one lump sum, after you say their name, have each them say “hello” and add as they are being introduced.

Make sure you stay on top of the panel discussion, asking questions to the panelist that are directly related to the topic of the webinar. You can even have the audience members ask some of the questions themselves in the group chat.

4. Blow them away with a great slide deck

Nothing gets audiences to visually disengage faster than a boring set of PowerPoint slides.

Or maybe you usually skip the slides altogether, and it is just your talking head for however long your webinar is. Although we are sure you have a very nice face, only having one thing one screen the whole time might bore your audience.

And suddenly, Instagram might seem much more visually appealing.

Combat this with a powerful and stunning set of slides.

Make sure they support your script and impact the audience.

There are dozens of tools you can use to create a great slide deck, check out these three articles for tips on how to engage with your slides.

5. Comprehension checks: Questions, polling, and snap takeaways

How often do you check in with your audience when you are hosting your webinar?

When you are presenting in front of a room of people, it is easier to see whether or not the audience is following what you are saying, you can look at their body language and facial expression and figure it out quickly.

But obviously, you can’t see your webinar audience, which makes this harder.

Instead of steam rolling through your session and hoping for the best — check in with them regularly.

Take a breaks to check their comprehension.

You can do this in a variety of ways, from simply asking them to reply in the chat box (e.g. “Are you still following me? If so, type “yes” in the chat box. If your not, say “no” and I’ll go over that again.”

You could set up a quick poll, or a multiple choice question to quickly review the material you just went over.

Add summary snap statements in after every big point, and repeat it. If you can support it with a great visual, even better.

Aim to do a check in about every 10–12 minutes, and once again, switch up the way you do the check in. This can make a big difference, and you’ll be able to see the parts of your session which need some extra explanation in the future.

Find more speaking opportunities as a webinar host. List yourself on SpeakerHub here.

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.