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The pandemic has shut down live conferences for the better part of two years, so B2B marketers have leaned hard on virtual events. And as the number of webinars has risen, so too have people’s expectations.
Meeting those expectations is a challenge because there are so many ways—big and small—to mess up.
Based on the 100+ webinars I’ve given and the hundreds more I’ve attended, here are my tips for improving the webinar experience.
1. Focus on viewing experience, not slide count
What’s the difference between a half-hour webinar with 10 slides and that same half-hour webinar with 30 slides?
Timewise, nothing. But that 30-slide deck is typically going to be better, because having less content on each slide makes those slides easier to follow and understand.
A telltale sign that you need to break up a slide is that it has multiple columns of text or multiple examples on it.
2. Design slides for smaller screens and modals
People viewing your webinar using desktop monitors in full-screen mode is the best-case scenario. But what about people watching on their phones? What about screenshots that people share on social? What about clips you share on social? What about people watching the webinar recording on the embedded video on your blog?
To create an easy viewing experience for those audiences, I generally use font sizes between 30 and 50 points. As a result, I can rarely fit more than 40 words on a slide, which reinforces good slide design.
3. Keep attendees focused on what you’re saying
If you give webinar attendees the opportunity to read ahead of the point you’re making, they’ll do it—and stop listening to what you’re saying.
So, use your slide count and animation to pace out your content. As much as possible, you want the content people are seeing to be in sync with the topic that you’re talking about at that moment.
4. Don’t touch that mouse
Moving your mouse cursor around can be distracting. Instead of using your mouse, use your keyboard’s arrow keys to advance your slides.
Also, be aware that attendees can often see your mouse cursor move around while you’re navigating the chat and other parts of the control panel. Because of that, it’s always wise for a co-host who’s not controlling the slides to be responsible for watching the chat and responding to questions.
If you’re flying solo, then consider setting the expectation that you’ll address all questions at the end.
5. Be thoughtful about turning on your camera
That inset camera video creates an additional point of interest on the screen, leaving attendees not quite sure whether to look at your slides or at you. Instead of having it on all the time, turn your camera on for your bio slide and during the Q&A, for example, to create a more personable experience.
6. Plan for slide lag
If you’re running a webinar over Wi-Fi, then you’re almost guaranteed to experience at least some slide lag—a delay from the time you activate animation or advance your slides to when the audience sees those changes. For that reason, I recommend using a wired connection.
But even if the person driving the deck is on a LAN, it’s wise to design your slides to be lag-friendly because your audience may not have great Internet connections.
Here are four principles of lag-friendly slide design:
- Minimize camera use. Besides being potentially distracting, having your camera on can cause lag, especially if you’re on Wi-Fi.
- Avoid showing videos. Although the usual inset speaker camera video generally looks passable because it’s so small, full-screen videos can be less than smooth. Also, we’ve all experienced webinars where there were display or audio issues with videos that caused major delays—or eventually resulted in the host’s skipping the video altogether. I consider videos to be the highest-risk webinar content.
- Change slide transitions to “None.” “Fade” and other transitions can look janky if your Internet connection isn’t lightning fast. Setting transitions to “None” gives you get a sharp transition from one slide to the next.
- Make animation “Appear.” “Fade In” and other animation styles generally don’t look smooth. Animations that fly in or slide in can look even worse.
7. Make video editing and clipping easier
Today, more people will watch the recording of your webinar than will tune in live. That’s even more true if you chop up your webinar recording into multiple clips for sharing.
Here are four tips that make post-production easier:
- Follow lag-friendly slide design principles and video editing will be easier because you won’t have to worry about clipping in the middle of a slide transition fade-in or a camera video.
- Start your recording well before you officially kick off the webinar to reduce your chance of forgetting. As part of our housekeeping slide, we always remind attendees that the webinar will be recorded and that we’ll be sharing the recording with them. I’ve always considered that to be our cue to hit the “Record” button, if we haven’t already. But increasingly I’ve been starting the recording when we sign on 15 minutes early to check our Internet, audio, and video connections. In post-production, you just delete that.
- Use dead air strategically, giving yourself clear breaking points between sections of your webinar for easy clipping. The most important one is between the housekeeping for live attendees and the actual beginning of your webinar. Give yourself a few seconds of silence on your title slide before you start with a nice, clean welcome that stands on its own. Another critical place to pause is between closing out the webinar and starting the Q&A, unless you’re planning to release that with the recording.
- Pay attention to how you transition into and out of live polls, because recordings won’t capture those poll windows if you’re sharing your PowerPoint or Keynote app and not your screen (which introduces dangers around email, Slack, and other notification popups). Also, since live polls are mostly for the benefit of live attendees, you may not want to include it in the recording even if you are able to capture it.
8. Have a clear plan for managing multiple speakers
Webinars become significantly more complicated when you have multiple speakers. Here are four ways to manage them:
- Be clear on whose turn it is to speak. If your presentation is organized into sections, having one speaker per section makes baton passes clear. But if you have two or more speakers who are speaking throughout the presentation, my secret for handling it is color-coding each slide. Pick a color for each speaker, and then put a small box in the bottom right- or left-hand corner to indicate whose slide it is. And if you do have more than one speaker on a slide, use two colored boxes, putting them in the speaking order. You’ll have to practice, but color-coding is a nice visual reminder to fall back on in moments of uncertainty.
- Have a plan for advancing slides. Even if you have plenty of practice with the pacing, having audible cues is wise. But the cue doesn’t have to be the dreaded “Next slide, please.” Instead, use a more natural prompt such as “On the next slide, we’ll talk about…” or “We’ll go deeper into that issue on the next slide.” My favorite hack here is to click a ballpoint pen next to my mic to signal the slide-driver to advance. It’s subtle and effective.
- Turn off most, if not all, animations for non-driving speakers. It’s just too tough to cue each of the animations.
- Limit camera use. Unless your slides are just topics for a panel of speakers to discuss, more cameras typically equal more distractions from your slides. If you’re weaving together your speaking parts, the upside of having cameras on is that the speakers will be able to react to visual cues from each other so they’re less likely to speak over each other. But the big danger is that an earlier or next-up speaker will be on camera and clearly not paying attention—maybe responding to the chat, checking email, slacking someone, whatever. That always makes me think, Perhaps I shouldn’t bother listening to this speaker, either.
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I hope the tips in this article help you produce even better webinars, because virtual events remain vital to B2B outreach.