How to Improve Audience Participation in Your Webinar
Each year when ON24 releases its annual Webinar Benchmarks Report I look for the most interesting or unexpected statistics in their data. This year the benchmark that particularly caught my eye was listed under Audience Engagement Metrics. ON24 reported the overall percentages of attendees across all webinars who performed certain actions within a webinar.
All three numbers improved from last year, which is encouraging. But the absolute figures are still far lower than they should be. If you find similar attendee interaction percentages in your webinars, you have room for improvement in the way that you stimulate interaction and make audience members want to take an active part in the proceedings.
Let’s look at each type of interaction in turn and see if we can find some best practices to improve response.
Downloading Content Resources
The most common mistake made by webinar administrators and presenters is to place too many documents in the resource folder. This leads to “option paralysis.” Attendees are unsure of which resources are most important and valuable. Faced with a selection choice and no obvious clues as to which choice is best, people tend to make the fall-through choice of “no action.” It is the fastest and easiest way to deal with the problem.
If you really want to improve the uptake on your reference information, pick one – and only one – document to make available for download. Now attendees can take immediate action without any selection or discrimination process.
If you want to make multiple documents available, place links to the resources on a customized web page. Then in your webinar, give attendees the link to the resources page. This again lets them take a single, quick click-through action with no decision process involved.
There are several tricks for getting attendees to interact through the typed chat or questions interface in your webinar. In the interest of brevity I will just summarize a few of the most important techniques:
- Get them used to using the interface with a simple direct response at the start of the session. “I want to make sure you can hear me and that I see your submissions. Would you just type your first name and hit Enter?”
- Refer to comments or questions throughout your presentation. Just sprinkle in a few references here and there to prove that you are paying attention. “Rick just commented that he always uses this technique. That’s great. Thanks, Rick!” Or “Betty, I see your question about statistical accuracy. I’m going to address that in just a few minutes.”
- Use first names. When you say the name of a questioner or commenter, other people feel encouraged to type and see if you will say their name on the air.
- Ask for something specific. Don’t use a generic request like “So, are there any questions?” Instead, give them a guideline as to what to type. “What is the top difficulty you have had?” or “What functionality do you think still needs more explanation and detail?”
Responding To Polls
Low response to polls is usually caused by insufficiently framing the poll in terms of value to the attendee. Far too often, presenters introduce polls as an information-gathering tool for the benefit of the presenter or hosting company. If you find yourself using the following kinds of phrasing, you are setting yourself up for poor participation, as you are asking the audience to do work for your benefit:
- “I would like you to answer this poll for me.”
- “Here’s a poll we created to get a sense of how these products get used.”
Instead, try setting up the benefit that the attendee will get by contributing to the poll:
- “Here’s a chance for you to see how you compare to your peers in the audience.”
- “Now it’s your opportunity to guide me. Your response will tell me how much detail I should go into in the next section.”
In each of these three interactions, the key is to think from the perspective of the attendee, rather than the presenter. The fact that you are offering an opportunity to engage and interact is not enough. You need to give each participant a reason to take the action, with clear and unambiguous instruction as to what they should do and how they should do it. Following these guidelines will improve the participation you see in your live webinars.
Ken Molay is president and founder of Webinar Success, a consulting firm that assists companies in producing and delivering effective and compelling web seminars. Molay combines a technical background with experience in corporate marketing and public presentations. He is a prolific blogger on the subject of web conferencing and its applications and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and industry publications. He is a frequent public speaker on the topic of more effective webinars.