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Mired in mediocrity: 10 tips to raise the bar on the webinar

Simon Cowell once made American Idol can’t-miss TV with his blistering verbal beatdown of contestants. He’d often eviscerate wanna-be stars who couldn’t carry a tune. But when it came to the hopefuls—those who had potential but lacked direction—Cowell’s common critique of any performance that fell short of his expectation always felt like it cut the deepest.

“That was… forgettable,” he’d say.

Is there a fate worse than forgettable? Even “bad” is memorable (and offers insight into what not to do to improve). Forgettable is no man’s land. Mediocrity fuels forgettable. And webinars often fit the bill. The question is, do yours?

The global pandemic has severely limited, if not temporarily eliminated, the ability to engage in person with your customers. Online training workshops, virtual academies, or whatever name you use to make webinars sound sexier, are the logical choice to pick up the slack. Look no further than the early days of the outbreak here in the U.S. to see the explosion in B2B webinars—a 36% spike from February to March.

All-things-virtual is now the norm. Considering the heavy lifting webinars have to do, they must be more than “Meh.”

With an eye toward 2021, how can you raise the webinar bar?

By getting back to the basics. Take a good, hard look at your content—specifically how it’s delivered. If you don’t have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, you’re letting a golden opportunity to show your value slip away. 

Check out this checklist of dos and don’ts to refresh your memory or rework your strategy:

DO start with a story. It’s alarming how often this tactic isn’t applied. Open with an anecdote. It can make your audience laugh, think deeply or even grumble in frustration. The goal is to tell a brief tale that resonates with your audience and hints at the topic you’ll be discussing.

DON’T turn your video off. We’re not always our best-looking selves while balancing home and work life. So it’s nice that many companies do not demand virtual attendees show their faces. That said, if you’re a webinar host/moderator or speaker, make sure your camera’s on (and you’re in front of it). If you want your audience to be engaged, you have to show them you are, too.

DO audition your presenters. Few things make a webinar fall flat faster than presenters who aren’t comfortable… presenting. It’s awkward and undercuts your company’s ability to position itself as an authority. Set everyone up for success by evaluating in advance what they do best. Job titles alone don’t make people the right fit for public speaking.

DON’T regurgitate (figuratively, of course) your presentation deck. Capture the points your presentation makes using fresh visuals. Save the actual slides for the next board meeting or, better yet, for use in a leave-behind.

DO segment into chapters. Asking your audience to remain engaged and invested in a webinar that’s more than 30 minutes is a sizable request. Fatigue sets in fast, especially if you know you’re in for a long haul. Present segments that top out at 15 minutes. That’s a manageable commitment almost everyone can make.

DON’T write and recite a script. It’s one thing to jot down key talking points you want to cover. It’s quite another to put every word you plan to say on paper. When you do the latter, you risk just reading what you’ve scripted. Your delivery should sound natural. That comes with practice. Preparation is paramount.

DO consider inviting third parties into the fold. Partnering with experts or influencers is an excellent way to raise the profile of your presentation, attract a larger audience, and elevate your organization’s reputation as an industry leader.

DON’T cut loose without a conclusion. Remember, you’re telling a story, which has a beginning, middle and end. The theme you establish with your introductory anecdote should serve as the connective tissue that holds everything together from start to finish.

DO ensure your message is consistent. Make sure all assets promoting your webinar accurately describe what will be discussed—and then deliver the goods when it’s showtime. Tangential topics deserve their own time to shine.

DON’T forget to smile. Your body language sets the tone even if your audience only sees you on screen. Create a welcoming environment by putting everyone at ease.

Like many things, time and effort go a long way toward rising above the rest. But if you need bulletin-board material for motivation, here’s a good one from bestselling author Seth Godin:

“As a result of the tsunami of pretty good (and the persistence of really lousy),” he has written, “the market for truly exceptional is better than ever.”

Keep that in mind if your webinars are mired in mediocrity. The last thing you want is for customers to find them forgettable.