How to run a great webinar

Donald Taylor explains the four things you have to do to present engaging webinars

“Most people listening to a webinar are probably seven seconds and two clicks away from getting to their email.”

Follow these four rules, and I guarantee your next webinar is going to be a roaring success!

Most people’s attitude to a webinar is very straightforward: ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll get that old slide deck I had. I’ll chop a few bits around, and that’s it.’ No!

Your story is everything with your webinar. You have to have a clear structure, and you have to provide for an audience which has a limited attention span. Not because we’re all flighty these days, but because we’ve all got too much to do.

Most people listening to a webinar are probably seven seconds and two clicks away from getting to their email. So keep them on board with a clear structure that’s well presented.

Make sure you’ve got some interaction every so often, and that you have nothing redundant in there. If it doesn’t tell the story, leave it out. 

People can’t remember more than three to five things, so don’t put more than five things on your agenda as part of your story, so everyone can keep it in their heads as they’re listening to you.

Rehearse your story
Rehearsal is crucial. It’s crucial because as you put your story together, you think it’s going to work, but only by actually talking it through will you understand whether you have the right words or not. And it’s obviously too late when you’re actually doing your webinar to go through those words. 

You need to find the right things you’re going to say to illustrate each point. Boil each anecdote down to no more than 100 words. And keep transition points between slides absolutely sharp.

When you’re transitioning, a great technique is to ask a question, which is followed with an answer on the next slide. That way, people are sitting forward, listening, ready and eager to hear what you’ve got to say.

Hone your voice
You don’t have to be James Earl Jones or Richard Burton to have a great voice. But you do have to iron out some of the kinks that are an inevitable and natural part of how we speak. Those are the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ which make up something like 10% of conversation. But it can be hard to stop.

If you listen to somebody speaking, they will naturally ‘um’ and ‘er’. Why? Because it’s an invitation for the other people in the conversation to interrupt. But guess what? It’s a webinar: nobody’s interrupting you! You don’t want to give them even the subliminal clue that they should. Plus, getting rid of those ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ gives you more time to get your point across. And you also sound much more authoritative.

My technique is to just talk to somebody else, as if you’re talking to a webinar audience, and ask them to be brutal. If they’re a good friend, they will tell you when you’re doing those ticks. You’ll have to work hard to iron them out. But that will improve your impact no end.

Also, if you can, try to vary your tone. Robert Peston on the BBC News talking about the financial news has the most bizarre voice, but we listen to him because he’s great in his content. Of course, you’re great in your content, but you also have to have a bit of variation. 

Listen to the BBC News announcer and you’ll find they’re putting their voice up and down all the time. They also do what they call plunking, putting extra stress on, perhaps, every third word. That means that the audience listens more closely to what they’re saying.

If you can just bring a little bit more variation in terms of pitch and tone and emphasis, your audience, naturally, again, is sitting forward.

People don’t tune into a webinar unless they can interact. And if they can’t they’re going to walk away. They’re going to walk away within seven to 10 minutes if they’re not required to do something.

How to do it? A guaranteed way to probably turn people off is by running a poll in the middle of a webinar.

Suddenly, the question goes up and you’re asked to choose between four or five answers. ‘Which of you, blahdy, blah? Fill in this question.’ It doesn’t take that long to choose; the rest of the time, you’re sitting twiddling your thumbs. And most people simply can’t maintain a quiet disposition that long, and they’re off on email.

Don’t give them the opportunity. And actually, don’t insult them by asking them just to sit down and wait for the results to come in. Instead, ask them questions with open answers that you can respond to.

The ideal spot for this is in the text chat area that exists on every webinar platform. Ask a question, put it on a slide. If you put the question on the slide, it’s clear to be read, and people don’t have to listen and remember it. They can then respond in the text chat area with their thoughts.

In fact, this technique is the most important part I would say about any webinar. Therefore. It should therefore be your second slide. Start, obviously, with your title. Your second slide – before your agenda, before you talk about yourself, before anything else – should be an open question.

Asking people what they think about the topic gives you two great advantages. Firstly, you’ve given people permission to talk. They now know it’s okay to pitch in. And secondly, they’re sitting forward thinking: ‘When is this person going to ask a question again?’ They’re ready to pitch in and be part of the webinar.

Make sure you interact at least three or four times in a 30 minute webinar, where you ask a question and invite people to respond.

This is an edited version of an interview with Donald Taylor in the Clear Lessons video library. The video library is absolutely free for all charities, their staff and volunteers. Register at

View our page of webinar resources here.

About Donald Taylor

Donald Taylor is a recognised commentator and organiser in the fields of workplace technology since the mid-1980s and the author of Webinar Master, which is currently free to download at

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