Webinar Best Practices
A webinar is a unique way to engage your audience and interact with them, regardless of the audience size or location. Some key components for an effective webinar include choosing the right technology, creating an environment that is not distracting, preparing ahead of time, knowing how to create and present presentations to a webinar audience, and understanding how to record a webinar. This document outlines methods to be fully prepared to put on a high-quality, successful webinar.
Implementing an online educational event or program can be a great way to share your content with clientele across the state. The ability to reach people where they live and work has never been more important, and our audience’s receptiveness to online contact is still growing.
However, a lot of planning and organization must occur to ensure a successful learning experience. The tips and associated resources provided here are not exhaustive but will help you consider key details that could make or break your audience’s engagement with your webinar and other program offerings.
Finding the right technology is key for a successful webinar and can decrease extra work and stress for you or your attendees. Some important tools include, but are not limited to:
- Webinar software;
- Web browser;
- Slide software, like PowerPoint; and
- A computer—a newer model is recommended;
- A web camera;
- A microphone; and
- Internet access—at least mid-speed is required.
It is important to create a quiet, staged room to keep the attendees engaged and focused. If you are hosting your webinar from home, ensure that your kids or pets won’t create distractions during the webinar. If you are working from your office, find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed. Be sure to keep your space clean, free of distractions, and show up dressed professionally and appropriately branded. Here is a checklist of things you should do right before the webinar begins.
- Mute any device that isn’t necessary for the webinar.
- Inspect the room for anything that creates noise.
- Make sure your area is inaccessible to children and pets.
- Close or mute any background apps or notifications on your computer.
Because you (or your speaker) will be on camera, make sure that you and your background area are camera-ready. If you have Agency-branded apparel, wear that, but other professional attire is also appropriate. Consider strategically positioning Agency-branded materials in the background—e.g., window shade banner, a table tent with the Agency logo, etc.
Minimize possible distractions in the room. Silence your cell phone, close out unnecessary apps on your computer, make sure your dog is in the kennel, close the door to your office, and take care of anything else with the potential to distract you. The goal, whether broadcasting from your office or your home, is to project a professional image and represent Texas A&M AgriLife the same way you would during an in-person program.
Account Set Up
Webinar Delivery Tool
A few weeks before your webinar, make sure to set up your accounts and adjust the settings to your preferences. Some places to set up an account include:
- TAMU NetID or AgNetID
- Microsoft Teams can be accessed via the Microsoft Teams application on your work laptop or via a web browser on your home computer by going to https://teams.office.com and logging in with your AgNet credentials (firstname.lastname@AGNET.tamu.edu).
- Visit AgriLife First Call for Microsoft Teams how-to guides and an overview on how to utilize features such as web conferencing, chat, file sharing and other features of Microsoft Teams.
- TAMU NetID or AgNetID
- Request Zoom
- Select “Join” or “Host”
- Select “Host an Event”—Do not select “Host a Meeting”
New to the software? You’ll need to set up your account.
- Confirm your email address;
- Upload a professional profile picture;
- Start a test meeting; and
- Get a personal room meeting address.
Create an Online Folder
Cloud storage services, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, can provide a centralized place to store handouts and other documents related to your webinar or series. They allow you to organize your files and share content before or after the session(s) without having to actively send them. It can also help prevent issues with emailing large attachments.
Your department or unit might have a preference for which cloud storage service to use. Check with your supervisor to ask which service they recommend. There might even be a shared or team drive that you can access and use to share files for your webinar.
Registration, Payment, and Evaluation
Think about how you will register your participants and if you need to collect payment for the session or series. When advertising your event or session, be sure to include the link to register, not the link to join the session. This will prevent unregistered individuals from joining and possibly disrupting your session. However you collect registration information, be sure to include their email address so that you can contact them.
When deciding how to collect registration information, consider the following:
- AgriLife Conference Services can collect registrations and payments but cannot collect pre- or post-course evaluation data.
- Eventbrite can collect registrations and payments but cannot collect pre- or post-course evaluation data.
- Google Form or Qualtrics can collect registrations and pre- or post-course evaluation data but cannot collect payments.
Contact the appropriate AgriLife contact, Extension Specialist, or your Regional Program Leader (RPL) for advice on registration, fee collection, and evaluation. They can help you determine which platform will best fit your needs; which online portal for collecting evaluation will work for you; or if you will need to create your own.
Identifying best methods for data collection is important for AgriLife as we collect common evaluations for regional and state-level reports. For many programs, whatever is done online will need to easily incorporate with existing data sets.
Without a starting point, planning a webinar can be stressful and may feel overwhelming. Here are some simple and helpful tips for creating a successful webinar.
The first step is to create pre- and post-event marketing. When marketing for your event, you will want to create social media posts, email reminders, and press releases. You can create an email invite list as well as setting first and second reminders for those that have registered. Creating a follow up email to send out after the event is also important.
When preparing your content, aim for a presentation run time of 60 minutes or less, taking into account time for interacting with your attendees. Before starting your webinar, you will want to prepare two openings or introductions, in case of late joiners. The first opening will be your soft opening. This can be anything from asking your attendees to interact with a question you’ve posed or asking them to send an emoji in the chat. After about 5 minutes, you can begin your official opening. Remember to include interactions (question, poll, chat, etc.) to keep your attendees alert and active.
Know your Audience
Just like an in-person program, a general audience will be expecting a different type of content, tone, and experience than a professional audience. A professional audience may be expecting more of an online course experience than a webinar. Working professionals may expect online offerings or a webinar recording after work hours or on weekends, while a more general audience may want to attend mid-day programming and receive basic information in an entertaining way.
Know Your Platform
Choose the right platform based on your intended outcomes and learning objectives.
- Facebook Live provides an excellent opportunity to broadcast to a large audience but does not allow much interaction with the attendees other than comments. On Facebook, your attendees may be more inclined to come and go during the session. They may miss vital pieces of information.
- Teams, WebEx, and Zoom all have the ability to broadcast and have additional options to interact with attendees via chat, audio, or video. These types of platforms also lend themselves to a better “course” feel. They also make it easier to incorporate an evaluation component if you are wanting to measure program impact.
Whatever platform you choose, plan to orient your attendees to its basic features (unmute/mute, start/stop video, chat, etc.). It’s probably a good idea to briefly introduce your attendees to the platform and its functions at the beginning of each session.
Reading a PowerPoint is NOT a Webinar
If possible, make sure that your webinar content is scripted or at least outlined. A script or outline of your session will help you stay on topic, reduce the risk of just reading your slides, allow opportunities to ask questions and engage your attendees, and make keeping track of time much easier. Make sure that your slides are informative, visually interesting, appropriately branded, and free of spelling and grammar errors.
Do not include too many animations or videos in your presentation. Downstream bandwidth varies for your participants, and what looks and sounds good on your computer might not work so well on their end. Review Extension and AgriLife branding guidance before designing your presentation:
Make a Schedule
Make sure you have a plan in place. Depending on your platform, you may have a finite amount of time to be in a session before getting cut off. Also, we want to be respectful of the attendees, other presenters, team members, etc. Do your best to start and end sessions on time.
The best way to keep your attendees engaged is to stay on schedule and interact with them. When giving a webinar presentation, it is best to have a schedule so that you start and end on time and stay on track. When preparing your schedule, create three or four sections of slides and leave time for a recap, interaction, or question and answer session.
It will be important to establish and maintain contact with your attendees. Your contact points should be simple, clear, and concise. If you do not plan to email registrants individually, please use the BCC field (Blind Carbon Copy) to ensure your clientele’s privacy and prevent their accidental misuse of “reply all.”
Use these communication points to build value, buzz, and generate excitement about the session. If continuing education credit is available, be sure to include that information in every communication piece. Perhaps most importantly, include details for how to join the webinar, links to pre- and post-surveys, and any handouts.
This can also be provided by sending a link to an online folder to access all of the files at once.
Creating the Presentation
When creating visuals and presentation materials for your webinar, the following adjustments and rules will help keep your information clear and concise.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Keep to a maximum of 15 to 18 slides.
- Design for a small screen.
- Play video only when necessary.
- Do not use animations.
- Follow the Rule of 8’s.
- No more than 8 words per line and 8 lines per slide.
- Keep to a maximum of 3 to 4 bullet points per slide.
- Font Size and Type Recommendations
- Titles should be 36 point or larger.
- Body text should be 24 point or larger.
- Citations can be smaller than other text.
- Use san-serif fonts (like Arial).
- Text should be easily readable, so stay away from light-colored text on dark backgrounds.
- Tech Considerations
- Spelling and grammar check won’t catch everything, so be sure to proof your materials.
- Have your slides on the host computer for the fastest playback.
Make it Usable
AgriLife Extension offers many great in-person and distance education programs and learning opportunities. Distance education opportunities, like webinars, are extremely useful when in-person education is limited.
When transitioning content from an in-person format to a webinar, remember that your content has to be easily usable in an online format. The following questions can help you shape your content into a usable format.
- Does the session require group interaction? How can you make it more conducive to limited group input via webinar?
- Can the handouts, activities, and evaluation strategy be easily converted to an online format?
- Do you plan to try to convert this online webinar offering into an online course?
The way you answer these types of questions will help shape your content, its tone, and the level of attendee participation in your webinar.
You’re finally ready to present your webinar! This is where all of your preparation will come into play! Here are a few reminders when you’re getting ready to give your webinar presentation.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Schedule at least one rehearsal with your webinar team. Use this time to orient everyone to their roles, work out any quirks in the presentation, and answer any questions.
Just like you will during the live event, silence and close out any unnecessary applications that may slow down your computer or distract you. This includes your cell phone and email. Doing this during practice will help reduce the risk of forgetting on the day of the event.
Please Sign In
Not every who registers for your session will attend. Some of those who show up may not complete the evaluation. If you need a “sign-in sheet” for your session, be deliberate about capturing the number of people to accurately report participation.
You can use the chat feature to solicit additional information—name and county, ZIP code, etc. However, you should be careful about soliciting too much personal information in a public forum or chat for the security of your participants.
You can also determine attendance by offering a certificate of completion. You can ask attendees to email you after the session. Platforms like Qualtrics use an “email trigger” to automatically email a certificate to participants who complete your post-survey. Some services also provide reports on post-session participation.
Smile for the Camera
To help the audience get to know the presenter, plan for the speaker(s) to be on camera. This will create a greater feeling of connection and a better experience for the learner. If your speaker(s) have a PowerPoint or other presentation to show, at least have them on camera during their introduction and the question and answer section.
If connectivity becomes an issue, you can always stop your video. If you know ahead of time that your bandwidth cannot display a video stream, a still photo of the speaker(s) on one of the slides can provide a reasonable substitute to seeing the speaker(s) on camera.
Instead of relying on the built-in microphone on your laptop or desktop computer, consider using a headset microphone to help improve the sound quality. Depending on the platform, you may be able to offer a call-in option for your speaker(s) and participants to reduce potential issues with audio.
Silence is Golden
A good rule of thumb for yourself, your team, and your attendees is to always assume your mic is live.
Ask participants to keep their cameras off and their microphones muted. In addition to mitigating bandwidth and connectivity issues, keeping your attendees’ audio and video off during the session reduces distractions and audio mishaps.
Unless you’re conducting a focus group or panel discussion, keep participants muted until the designated time for engagement. Your co-hosts and moderators can help make sure everyone stays muted. Plan an orderly process to call on participants when you do begin to let them unmute and engage such as raising their hands or posting in the chat.
Bring a Friend
A lot can happen during an online session. Attendees may need technical help, ask questions in the chat box, or have connectivity issues. Depending on your selected platform, the presentation may block the presenter from being able to see anything else.
Plan to have a co-host or moderator there to manage participants, microphones, and otherwise help with troubleshooting. The larger your group, the more co-hosts and moderators you’re likely to need. The co-hosts and moderators will need assigned roles and should be familiar with the platform. Examples of roles include watching the waiting room, engaging in the chat, and writing down names and counties.
Engage, Interact, and Do Not Fear the Silence
While focusing on your script and teaching your content, remember to engage with your audience. This is where your co-hosts and moderators can come in handy. Engage your attendees regularly through the session with questions. Mention attendees by name, along with their comments, whenever possible.
Since your attendees will likely not be able to speak, you need to allow time for them to type their response into the chat when you ask a question. Consider using polling features to facilitate question and answer sessions. Since polls can be difficult to arrange on the fly, create them in advance.
Limit Excessive Crosstalk from the Webinar Team
Be careful of too much chit-chat from the webinar team before or during the session. This time is about providing a meaningful learning experience for the attendees. We do not want attendees to be put off by too much irrelevant conversation or for them to feel left out of personal conversation.
Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have the option to enable a waiting room where attendees can gather “outside” the session. This is helpful if you need to you run through last minute arrangements, discuss roles and opportunities, and any other housekeeping. WebEx has a rehearsal mode. When the presenters are ready to begin, the participants can then be admitted to the session from the waiting room. This helps ensure a more polished, professional start to your program.
Model Appropriate Behavior
The audio and video etiquette tips also apply to the webinar team. Everyone other than the presenter, should keep their mic muted, keep their video turned off, and always assume their mic is live.
Remember that this educational session is about the attendees. Refrain from excessive chatting or conversation between the webinar team. Beware of monopolizing the question and answer session. While it may be important to “seed” the chat with some items for discussion, but let the chat be about supporting participants’ learning.
Lack of Feedback
Sometimes when you’re presenting online, it can feel as though you’re shouting into the void. Because you are may not be able to see your audience, non-verbal feedback is difficult to gauge.
If you are the type of presenter that feeds off of your audience “nodding” or otherwise giving you non-verbal feedback, you will need to find a way to compensate. Find a way to make the presentation enjoyable that will translate to the audience.
Build in plenty of opportunity for the attendees to interact with you as we discussed previously.
It is ideal to record and post your webinars for later viewing on a streaming service. Many people who don’t make it to your live webinar presentation will view the recording later. Webinar recordings can be just as effective as a live presentation.
Here are a few tips on how to get started.
- Edit your video before posting.
- Camtasia, YouTube editor and Adobe Premiere are editing tool options.
- Remove dead air, soft openings, extra time, and noise.
- Post to a streaming service.
- Add a transcription via Otter.aI, Zoom cloud, or add it manually.
- YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia, WebEx, and Zoom are streaming options.
- Takes about 1 hour to process.
- In the AgriLife Zoom portal, go to recordings then download the file.
- In the AgriLife WebEx portal, go to recordings then download the file.
- Delete the recording on WebEx and Zoom after downloading to save space.
- Send a follow-up email.
- Items to include in your email:
- Thank you for attending;
- Summary of webinar presentation;
- Links to recording, notes, and slides; and
- Link to a survey that leads to a free download or stream of the recorded webinar.
- Items to include in your email:
A few reminders…
- Use your webcam so your audience can see you
- Leave time for questions
- Remove distractions
- Turn off phones, email and other notification programs, fans, etc.
- Clean up and set up a professional background.
- Dress professionally, preferably in AgriLife branded gear.
- Recruit a Friend
- They can help to manage the chat room.
- Send help requests to FirstCallHelp.tamu.edu
- END ON TIME!