Posted on 10-Aug-15

Six years ago many people did not yet appreciate the glories of the webinar. Today, webinars are a commonplace mode of communication used for meetings, training, and helpdesk support. Unlike other virtual communication modes—telephone calls, email, websites, text messaging, etc.—webinars combine live audio and visual stimulation to keep people engaged for longer periods. But webinars do not always produce good learning experiences.

For almost six years I have planned and hosted webinars reaching over 15,000 attendees. In 2009, I started a webinar series for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and hosted over 25 events averaging over 200 attendees per event. In 2012, as a consultant, I started the Capacity Building Webinar Series for the First Responders Group at the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve used many systems—Adobe Connect, On24, WebEx, GoToMeeting and others—and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

So, what makes a great webinar?

  1. Content is king—People will only tune in if the subject matter is important to them. Like any training, you should answer “What’s in it for me?” and this can be accomplished with a good title that clearly explains the topic, and by including learning objectives in the announcement. Instructors should be experts on the topic, and should also be compelling speakers.
  2. Smooth production—Have you ever joined a webinar and the moderator spends the first 15 minutes trying to troubleshoot “technical issues” with the system? Host a rehearsal the day before and setup the system at least a half hour before the event is scheduled to begin.
  3. Pedagogy—Since your goal is to educate participants, you should follow best practices for continuing education and training. The event should aim to strengthen the desired competencies of participants. Structure is key. Set student expectations by stating the learning objectives up front and reviewing the agenda. Assess learning outcomes at the end of the event.
  4. Interactivity—Sit back and relax? I don’t think so! The attention span of an online learner is short, so consider short lessons with several intermittent opportunities for student interaction. Engage participants via polls, chat, downloads, breakout discussions and more. Some webinar platforms even have built-in social media features to support a social learning experience.
  5. Motivation— Content is (still) king and may be the best motivator to get people to attend, but then you will be challenged to keep their interest. Explain how the new knowledge can be applied during the course of their jobs. Certificates, Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits, and transcripts can give students a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it’s nice to have a tangible achievement to “show off” to your boss.
  6. Longevity—Long live the webinar! Record your webinar and edit the recording to remove any technical hiccups or unnecessary information. A recording is less interactive, so the shorter the better. You can share the recording with people who were unable to attend, and with people who want to re-watch it. Publish the webinar as a podcast on iTunes and Android markets and on YouTube if you want it to be available to the masses.

Thomas Crane is founder of the Safe and Ready Institute (www.safeandready.org) – a hub for training and educating businesses and community organizations to be safer, better prepared, and resilient in the face of crisis and disaster. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">tom@safeandready.org.


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