Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Getting the most from a webinar

Over the last month or so, I have been focused on learning more about the non-writing aspects of an author’s publishing experience. While I’ve found a wealth of information through a variety of sources, I’ve also been taking part in a significant number of webinars.

Lots of great information is available online in the form of webinars. Some require a registration fee, others are offered for free. Your time has value, so how do you maximize the benefit of a webinar?

1. Register ASAP.

Some webinars offer a limited number of seats for any given webinar, and some webinar programs can only handle a finite number of attendees. So if the webinar is being offered by a poplar personality, there is a chance that you may not find a slot. Register as soon as you think you might be interested. (Remember, you are providing an email address that will put you on a mailing list. I’ve found it useful to be on a couple presenter’s mailing lists, but there’s always an unsubscribe button.)

2. Register anyways.

Even if you’re not sure you’ll be available during the live webinar (or if you’ve miscalculated the time zone change), most webinars will offer a free replay after the event for registered attendees. The replay will typically have a limited window of availability but it gives you a chance to catch up or to review your notes.

3. Sign in early.

The day of the webinar, make sure you know where you filed your access link (usually provided when you register). Then sign in 10-15 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time. 

Why? Two reasons:

First, there may be some set-up work to do. 

  • You may need to install an app to run the webinar. This doesn’t take long but you want to allow time to be sure all the technical issues are settled at your end (including making sure your webcam/microphone is muted so noise from your end doesn’t distract others). 
  • Presenters may provide a down-loadable resources (a “notebook” or worksheets or pdf of some kind) to help you follow along, and you’ll want them downloaded and open before you begin. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the browser interface to know how to ask a question or leave a comment
Second, webinars are sometimes a little like airlines – they’ll confirm more participants than they have seats available (this is definitely more likely with free webinars, btw). For a very popular topic or presenter, they may simply max out before you get signed in. Signing in early makes sure you are able to access the webinar.

4. Turn off distractions. Usually.

You don’t want to miss the information you are there to hear. So minimize your browser, mute your phone, whatever you need to do. (I’ll get back to the "usually" bit in a minute.)

5. Be patient as things begin.

I’ve run into two different time sinkholes as webinars begin: technical problems and promo.

  • Technical problems. Hopefully, the webinar presenter has made sure things are running smoothly at their end, but sometimes hiccups happen. Or they need to respond to others that are having difficulties. If the presenter doesn’t have a technical team behind them, this can eat up minutes until everyone is ready to go.
  • Promo. Almost every webinar I’ve ever attended starts with some sort of explanation of what they will deliver or why you are there. (Hopefully, you know why you are there.) They will cover their credentials, the need for the information they are about to share, and what you will take away from the webinar. And they’ll do this without actually telling you what you’re there to hear. (It’s kind of impressive, actually). Sometimes, an associate or a host will handle this section and there may even be a little rah-rah-get-the-crowd-interacting time.
So here’s where I say you should “usually” turn off the distractions. After you’ve attended a few webinars, or if you get familiar with a certain presenter’s style, you’ll know you might have a little time before you get to the meat of the presentation. And sometimes you’ll have a LONG time. I’ve attended several webinars of a very well-known presenter, and ON AVERAGE, it takes 15 minutes before anyone says “Let’s begin … “ (for one webinar, he didn’t even come on screen for 25 minutes!)

(This next bit is an aside. Feel free to skip ahead.)

It’s become a personal amusement of mine to time the webinars to see when the content actually begins, and when it ends vs. when the webinar ends. In fact, most of this post was written while listening to the intro material for a webinar – 16 minutes 52 seconds before he said “Let’s begin … ,“ and the content stopped (“There you have it!”) at 25 minutes and 25 seconds out of a 31 ½ minute webinar. 9 minutes of content in a 30 minute webinar. Was it good content? Absolutely! But I’ve learned, with this particular presenter, that I don’t need to hang onto every word of the intro to get to the heart of the content. (The irony is that often the presenter will tell you they know how busy your time is, but it has never shortened that lead in time.) 

But back to the webinar …

6. Take notes.

However you retain information, be prepared to use more than one method to learn. Webinars by their nature offer listening (auditory) and watching (visual) but if you take notes (kinetic), you will retain the information even more fully. 

7. Ask questions.

Most webinars offer either live questions or questions via comments so if you want clarification, ask. It may or may not be answered, depending on how many questions are submitted, but listen to the other’s questions as well. Extra information always seems to come to light during these Q&A sessions.

8. Recognize they have something to sell.

Whether it’s a program or product of their own, or an affiliate product they support, you will most often be offered a special deal on a service or product. The presenter I mentioned above will spend from 10-35 minutes on the sales portion of the webinar. 

Don’t get me wrong - it can be a great chance to get a reduced price for a helpful product, but never forget you are looking at a sales pitch. (I'm probably the only one that keeps hearing, "But wait! There's more ... " as they talk.) Make sure it will be right for your goals before you click the link!

9. Be grateful.

The presenter has shared from their experience and expertise, and because of that, you have an advantage – even if it’s just what NOT to do. Share a link or give a social media shout out. At the very least, thank the presenter for their time and sharing their information. It's good manners, it's good practice, and it might even be good business.

10. Listen to the replay. 

If a replay is made available, take the opportunity to review the material. It will “lock it in” a little better and give you the chance to fill in any missing notes or pause the playback to do any suggested action steps.

11. Put it into action. 

There are volumes of great information available through webinars and the best way to make the most of the time you invest in them is to put them to use! And who knows – maybe one day you’ll be presenting webinars of your own. 

Just remember that our time has value too, please.