How to optimize the UX of webinars

By UserTesting | July 20, 2023
two professionals discussing moderated testing

According to Search Engine Journal 91% of B2B professionals say webinars are their top learning format, but as we’re currently drowning in webinar invites, it’s really important to ensure they’re not run the same way as traditional in-person training and don’t feel like a chore.

Put your UX hat on and consider how you can make your webinar a really great digital experience.

Think back to your school days. We all had that really boring lecturer or teacher who would drone on for hours about the most depressing topic. Then you’d have another teacher who would try to avoid being the first teacher by making your lessons INTERACTIVE and FUN – they were somehow just as bad.

However there is a third way and it’s one that respects your users’ time and makes the webinar as simple and rapid as any other optimised online experience. 

So how do you make that happen? Here are a few things I’ve learnt about running webinars along with some expert tips from UserZoom’s social media manager OJ Quevedo.

Make sure it works

“Can everyone hear me clearly?”

The absolute worst thing you can possibly do for a webinar is to have your attendees log-in and be met with a wall of static. It’s the online version of turning up late.

Use a reliable platform, turn up early, set up properly and test! If you can, get a small number of people to log into your chat-room in advance to check the bandwidth works and everything is set up correctly.

Expert tip from OJ Quevedo: 

“Do a dry run a week before you go live! Test the webinar tools, the audio, slides, polls, etc. and ensure success by not only testing with your co-presenter, get someone to be an audience participant too, so you can check the experience from all perspectives.”

Once the start time is here, you can assume that the majority of attendees will be at least a little late. This doesn’t mean you should punish the punctual by making them wait for their tardy colleagues, though. Start the webinar on time, but make sure the meat of your presentation doesn’t start until a good 5-10 minutes in, so no-one misses out.

The opening few minutes are a good opportunity to introduce the speaker, inform the audience of housekeeping guidelines or run a quick poll to engage the attendees already there.

Make it fun

“I know this isn’t the most earth-shattering topic, but…”

If there is one thing that is sure to make your attendees log off, it’s stiffness and inflexibility. They can get information from a web page any time they like, so the value of taking time out of their day to attend a webinar is your personality.

Be charming, be amusing, be spontaneous, share stories and personal details, and don’t take any of it too seriously. This is absolutely key: if you take your subject matter seriously, people will be uncomfortable and respond with humour; if you keep it light, the importance of the material will stand out.

Likewise, you can use digital tools to create quizzes, polls and play games. Ask for two volunteers and challenge them to answer three questions about your content. Use memes and video clips from TV shows to exemplify points.

Make sure you allocate enough time at the end for Q&A.

If people enjoy your webinar, they’ll want to pay attention. It will be a refreshing break from their daily work, rather than a time-sucking misery.

Allow interactivity, but don’t insist

“Anyone want to have a go?”

Yes, use interactive polls and ask questions, but don’t force people to play.

One of your attendees may be getting chased about an overdue project or has been asked to cover for a colleague. The last thing they want is to be picked on by you to answer your ice-breaker question about what type of cheese they’d prefer to be.

Indeed, many of your attendees may have work to do while listening to your webinar in the background and that’s fine. If you make them choose between their jobs and your webinar, they aren’t going to choose you.

I’ve attended many webinars where the host has implored users to close their Outlook, turn off their Skype and phone, and focus on the presentation. No matter how politely it’s done, it’s patronising and contradicts the very purpose of having your training online.

As we’re advised more and more to use video calls in lockdown to replace face-to-face interaction, please don’t be tempted to ask your attendees to turn on their webcams either. No-one wants to be surveilled, even if their internet bandwidth can handle that.

Expert tip from OJ Quevedo:

“Test different webinar formats like fireside chats, AMAs, thought-leadership interviews, roundtables. A fireside chat is a fresh alternative to the traditional webinar. These raw, down-to-earth formats allow high-profile influencers (usually coupled with a company executive) to show off their personality and effortlessly connect with attendees throughout the session.”

Don’t try to do everything on the call

“Don’t worry about taking notes, I’ll send this round after”

Of course, if people are answering emails and running out to the loo in the middle of your webinar, they’re going to miss bits and pieces. Again, that’s fine. You will very quickly be disappointed if you expect anyone attending a webinar to take in and memorise every single thing you say.

A webinar isn’t the best way to convey complex information. Even a two-hour session is only really effective for communicating a simple, emotive concept. The majority of your effort should be spent persuading people of the value of your message and letting those ideas take root in your attendees so they can grow into a real benefit to their company.

Instead, use the standard teaching approach of prepping your student for learning, giving them the information and then repeating it in different forms until it sinks in. Give them an overview on the call and then send notes and resources to go away and look at later.

Say you were teaching them about Henry VIII; you’d tell them that he married, killed his wives and remarried over and again, but don’t even try to get them to memorise the names of all the wives and dates of the marriages. With the answers a Google search away at all times, those facts aren’t even useful anymore.

Again, you want to instil the spirit of your message in the webinar and leave the learning and memorising to outside.

Expert tip from OJ Quevedo:

Webinars don’t have to be an hour long, test with different lengths of time and streamline as necessary. Remember your audience is investing every minute of their time so spend every minute wisely. Your audience will thank you for it.

Follow up

“Here’s some more information to expand on our points in the webinar last week”

You should start delivering value from your webinar before it even starts.

Collect questions in advance to get a sense of what areas your audience is interested in and optimize your presentation based on these insights.

Then your webinar should focus on the warmth of your personality. Win people over to your teachings by making them like you. Then, convey the emotional content of what you want to teach; tell people all about the value of doing things the right way and how it will make them feel.

Once you’ve given them an overview and sold them on the benefits, you should immediately follow up with more content to explore. Your webinar is just the introductory chapter to the book, with the rest following bit-by-bit over the weeks and months after.

Expert tip from OJ Quevedo:

“Send the slides 24 hours after the webinar and use this opportunity to follow-up or get feedback.”

Most people try to do far too much with a single hour-long webinar and then compound it with more hours to come. This isn’t just inefficient, it’s downright unpleasant.

Every webinar is a sales pitch for the value of the real content you have to share through a long-term collaboration filled with resources, tools and consultation.

Trying to cram anything else into that hour is pointless, so thrill your attendees by making your webinar fun, easy and filled with promise for what you can offer them in the long term.

And if you want to see us put our money where our mouth is…

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