Many webinar and webcast softwares default to participants joining in “listen only” mode, and this makes sense – controlling audio is a critical part of managing a great virtual event, and a presentation is a different communication style than a conversation (like in a meeting).
Sometimes, too, live audio interaction isn’t either possible or preferable, but it doesn’t mean that interaction needs to be missing or even wait until the end.
If your objective is to raise the engagement quotient of your webinar, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Plan: Ask a qualitative question first thing
A very frequently asked question I get is, “How do I get people to interact and ask questions?” The short answer is, “Interact immediately.”
Because most webinars and webcasts are “talk AT you” experiences, audiences show up with expectations that questions happen at the end. If you want participants to do something differently, the time to create a different expectation is early.
Plan: Tell your moderator to be a butt-in-ski
For many of you this will be a little weird, but I’m going to give you the how-to.
Moderators can (and should!) add flavor to your session in the context of their role (which is to make the presenters look like rock stars, never to steal the show). Having a pair of eyes on questions and additional voice/personality for the audience is an oft-overlooked opportunity.
Here’s how I instruct moderators to work with me:
- “If you see a question or comment, I want you to interject.”
- “Just shout out my name – ‘Hey Roger!’”
- “I’ll finish my sentence, thought, or section and respond, ‘Yeah, Deanna, whatcha got?’”
- And then Deanna is free to say, “Right after you said X, Julie also shared something that our audience would find useful, too…she said…”
This works for several reasons:
- I may not offer a big pause. Some presenters pause between slides, but my presentation style is fluid, and the moderator may not feel like they ever have space to speak up.
- It’s a really short audio trigger. It takes no time to sneak “Hey Roger” into the mix, and I get the message.
- It keeps things real time. In-person events, except when it’s a pure keynote speaker, are often/usually marked by interaction that feels lost in a webinar. It doesn’t have to be that way. This is a way of coordinating questions and comments that makes the audience know they’re part of something happening in real time.
By the way, to this last point – this is the power of “live,” too. Audience participants aren’t part of each other’s experience if your webinar has all the interaction of a YouTube video.
Bonus thought: Not every presenter (to be entirely fair) is as comfortable with totally on-the-fly kind of stuff. It only takes a little coordination, though, to plan a specific time to interact (i.e., ‘between slides 6 and 7 and when we get to the question slide).
Plan: Should you plant a question?
Planted questions do sometimes break the ice. And if you know what the FAQs are on your topic, you can, with integrity, plant a question.
But what if you don’t need to because the audience is already interacting?
Most of the time you can solve the “hearing crickets” problem by simply demonstrating that you’ll actually be live and responsive (another vote for interacting early).
Design: Use a slide with a visual of the audience question/chat box
Unlike when I started in this biz a few centuries ago, today’s audiences are computer savvy or webinar-experienced enough to figure out what the question or chat box is for and how to use it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prompt them with mental/cognitive signals.
If you’re going to pause for questions during the session,
- Put up a slide that is a screenshot of their view of the webinar software.
- Use an arrow that points to the question/chat box like a big “Eat Here!” sign.
- Consider asking not just for questions, but comments as well (assuming you or the moderator will read some back to the audience!)
- Consider putting your picture on the slide if you’re not using your webcam – all the better for personalizing the interaction.
Design: Put a question on a slide
If there is a question you’ll ask at a specific point in time, put it on a slide. There are many possible reasons for doing this:
- You’ll broaden your reach (not everyone will hear you verbally ask the question!).
- You’ll improve how you connect those whose learning preferences are more visual than auditory.
- It’s a great way to not forget where you were going to ask
- It’s especially useful if you need to ask a question that needs to be carefully worded.
- It’s a great tactic if you need the audience to reflect before answering – they can glance back at the slide as they consider their answer.
Deliver: Direct attention and instruction to the question categories
Question “categories” are feature of EventBuilder’s Gateway for Skype. These categories let a participant choose the category of the question they submit (e.g., “Tech question,” “Pricing question,” or “Question for the presenter”), and you can customize them in advance.
This feature may be new to participants, or you may have a special category of question. Be sure to give verbal directions (in addition to the visual directions mentioned in the previous point).
Bonus thought: This is great for crowdsourcing ideas (e.g., “Hey everyone, in the question box you’ll find a category for ‘Favorite book’ – go there and share, and I’ll collate all the answers and include them as an attachment in the follow up email).
Deliver: Use a first name
There is almost never anytime when you won’t benefit by responding to someone’s question with a name (“Kyle, I love the question, and here’s why…”).
First, you just got Kyle’s attention, but you just communicated to the entire audience that you’re talking WITH them. And that, my friends, is a great instigator of interaction.
Deliver: Don’t be afraid of a healthy pause
Radio DJs taught us, experientially anyway, that you should never have dead air. This is right and good when the medium is audio-only, but webinars, webcasts, and virtual classes aren’t audio-only.
When you ask a question, give the audience a chance to think and type (this is another good reason to put a question on the slide sometimes). A pause will feel long to you, but not to them.
Deliver: Ask a clarifying question and then take an interim question from someone else
Situation: a participant asks a question, and you’re not sure exactly what they mean.
Response: “Hey Jules, when you asked ‘blah blah,’ did you mean ‘blah!’ or ‘blah!’? Would you go type that in so I can make sure I help you the best I can?”
Then you need to give Jules time to submit their answer to your clarifying question. You could pause, but you also might find it’s a good time to answer someone else’s question while you’re waiting. Everybody wins.
Debrief: Talk with the moderator about improvement and follow up
You just rocked your event, but maybe there was something that could have gone more smoothly or there were too many questions to get to. If you follow up with an email (or, better yet, also use the question as part of your public dialogue), you’ll extend your rockstar status. Your moderator can and should help.
The bottom line
I’m as big a fan as they come of live audio Q&A, but it’s not always preferable or possible. Webinars that have audiences in listen-only mode don’t have to be the passive experiences that most broadcast-style virtual events are. Get creative.
Oh, and is there something else you’ve seen that works? Share in the comments below. Thanks in advance!