10 tips for valuable online sessions

POSTED ON27 Jul 2020 TIME TO READ5 minutes, 33 seconds

Engaging online sessions. I know that most of us so much more prefer live events. However, be aware of the power of a good webinar or online talkshow and how it can add to building your brand.
With lots of experience in designing, scripting and hosting online sessions, I’m happy to share my top 10 suggestions!


Keep your message compact

Maybe the most challenging element of a webinar is time management. It’s not that during live events, you can neglect the factor time, but it becomes ever so more important once you present online. This goes for both the moderator, as well as for the studio guests.

Most online sessions take about 60 minutes and still your online attendees can be easily distracted. This means a message needs to be to the point, inspiring and engaging. Challenging for many of us, but nonetheless a valuable exercise too!

Make it concrete: 

Define which topics can also be covered during the Question & Answer session. The impact of a Q&A can easily be underrated: in a dialogue setting and through questions from the viewers, some messages can be underlined even stronger.


Approach your online session as a TV production

Social etiquettes during a live event don’t apply during an online session. Once people are bored or distracted, they’ll click away or leave immediately. Therefore make sure to vary sufficiently with inspiring content during your 1-hour webinar. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A video intro: introduce a topic or a speaker with a short video
  • An outside guest: let an outside guest call in [like a news correspondent]
  • The use of images: show something during a talk [e.g. a photo or newspaper headline]
  • The use of music and audio: let a musician perform or listen to an audio fragment
  • A sidekick: let a table guest contribute to the moderator’s guest interviews
  • The audience input: use an online tool to receive questions and remarks from viewers

Script all of the content as if you were composing a music play. Ask yourself: Do the individual ingredients form a nice flow and do they properly support the message and the call to action?

Make it concrete: 

A short video interview is easily made with a smartphone. Pre-record this and surprise your studio guests with an employee, client or stakeholder who says something valuable during the live webinar.


Let diversity reflect in your online speaker line-up

With the topic of diversity ever so actual and rightfully prominent in the public debate, please be conscious about a speaker line-up that reflects diversity. Is there a balance among your studio guests in gender, cultural backgrounds, age etc.? If not, ask yourself how to change this and dare to invite speakers who aren’t “one of the usual suspects”.

Make it concrete: 

Tap into your LinkedIn network and ask for an expert speaker on a specific subject. For free you’ll end up with a nice list of speakers to choose from. Alternatively, consult a speaker agency and get access to hundreds of professional and renowned speakers.


Prepare speakers for their [everlasting] online appearance

Talking in front of a live audience is different from talking to a camera. And once you do so, it is captured pretty much for eternity. Once a video is live on the internet, it is often there to stay. As a matter of fact, livestreams are often viewed more times afterwards than on the actual live moment. Some extra effort on public speaking skills is therefore a valuable investment.

Make it concrete: 

Suggest speakers to choose one or two people [colleagues, friends] to practise their storyline with. They can ask critical questions on the “content” and give feedback about “appearance”.
Next to that, I always advise speakers to practise in front of their smartphone camera until they are satisfied with: their message, their radiated energy and [!] their time management.


Reassure speakers in studios that can impress

Lights, camera’s, sound, production crew. For many studio guests this setting can be quite imposing [even more than a conference venue]. Appoint a dedicated studio host who can welcome the speakers, show them around the set and to make them feel comfortable.

Obviously, the role of the moderator comes into play here too. From the moment the guests enter the studio he or she needs to be fully present for them. A moderator is like a good host; somebody who can ensure a lively, yet relaxt atmosphere.

Make it concrete: 

For those speakers who can easily get nervous, it might be better to prepare an interview with the moderator, rather than a presentation. A talk is often less nerve racking. To be sure that all important content is covered, you can discuss the topics in advance and with it set up a routemap for the interview.


Treat the cameras as your friends

A professional livestream often has a minimum of three camera’s. These are the audience’s eyes. Speakers often don’t have to pay attention to them, unless they need to present something and address the audience directly.

The moderator however needs to keep a frequent connection with the camera. On camera, a calm presence [whereby a moderator stays in the camera frame], comes across more powerful than someone who is very expressive and restless. Choose therefore not only a moderator who is good at live conferences, but also a moderator who has sufficient camera experience.

Make it concrete: 

Decide in advance if speakers and moderators like to have a viewing screen. This is a screen next to the individual camera’s, that shows how a speaker is captured on camera [and how online attendees see them at home]. This is a personal preference: some like it and find it helpful, whereas others get distracted by it. Your camera professional can often advise and assist with this.


Foster a lively audience chat

Different from both TV and live events, online sessions often include a chat option. Personalized contributions in a chat [comments that have a name with it] often increase the sense of recognition and belonging among the viewers, which is so important during online sessions.

The more rumour in a chat, the more engaging the entire webinar becomes. You’ll be surprised by the level of knowledge that is present in a chat group. I often engaged in webinar chats and ended up with relevant information and inspiring [LinkedIn] contacts!

Make it concrete: 

Upon the start of an online session, introduce a dedicated chat moderator. He or she will forward the most frequent or challenging questions to the moderator [e.g. through a WhatsApp moderator group], so that the moderator can address these questions live to the speakers.
Next to that, the chat moderator can give additional information or solve possible technical issues. Remember to save the webinar chat for possible follow up on a later moment. It often includes valuable comments and suggestions!


Fuel your social media with webinar snippets

Already before your online session, you can announce it through several social media posts. Since the actual online session is recorded, you can also easily re-use shorter fragments [“snippets”] afterwards.

Think of a quote from the CEO, a funny situation with guests or the moment speakers reflect on the live audience poll results. Select it, cut it, apply some design to it, add an accompanying text and post the snippet on your social media.

As such you can easily compose a calendar with several snippets for your social media. Alternatively, you can also use it for other purposes like training material, the website or your newsletters.

Make it concrete: 

Many online video platforms allow you to start a video recording at a specific time slot. As such viewers jump immediately to the actual quote or moment you’re referring to.


Interpret your viewing figures whisely

Viewing numbers on itself don’t say anything about the success of an online session. You might have 300 viewers upon the start of your session, but do they stick till the end? And also, how do you know if they pay attention throughout? On the other hand, a small number of viewers also don’t say anything. It is known for livestreams to often be watched at a later moment. Therefore viewing figures need to be interpreted with some caution.

Make it concrete: 

Check the level of engagement by using an interaction tool to ask multiple choice questions. The speed and the number of responses can say something about how engaged viewers are. Questions at the end of your webinar, that are answered with the same speed and amount of viewers as in the beginning, often indicate that viewers feel engaged.
Note that there is a 15-20 seconds processing time [between the moment of raising a question and receiving the actual results on the studio screens]: time that the moderator needs to script in order not to end up with awkward silences.


Repeat, nurture and repeat!

A webinar that immediately has hundreds of viewers? That’s pretty rare. As it goes with building a brand, the same goes for setting up a successful series online talkshows, webinars or interviews. For many companies online sessions are quite new. Just start and from there finetune.

See what works and doesn’t work, interpret viewing figures, enhance technologies used, brief speakers more precisely, let a moderator grow in his or her role and make sure to have a clear proposition at all times. Your audience needs to “know what to expect”.

Make it concrete: 

Let viewers enroll for your online series. As such you don’t only obtain
e-mail addresses, you can also easily consult with your viewers
after one or more online sessions.
Online event registration tools allow you to easily manage attendee information and to send out evaluation forms after a webinar.

From here I wish you lots of viewers, inspiring online sessions and great learning opportunities! Whenever you have any questions, I’m happy to help and to think along.