I’m no Winston Churchill. That much was clear from kindergarten. When my class of floppy six-year-olds stood on stage to sing a song in front of our families, my body froze. I turned around so my back faced the crowd… the entire time. To this day, that sums up how I feel about public speaking.
It turns out Churchill felt similarly growing up. He wasn’t born a natural orator. (In fact, he stuttered and had a lisp.) But through constant practice and preparation, he built up his speaking muscle. He studied effective speeches and listened to great speakers like an athlete watching game tape.
Part of my job as editor-in-chief is to inspire our audience, supplying them with engaging advice. To accomplish that, we run a lot of webinars, which means talking in front of a few hundred people each time.
After hosting and producing dozens of webinars over the years, I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable. All good webinars need unique subject matter and a strong narrative that captivates the audience. But what separates a good webinar from a great one are the logistics. Think of easily overlooked elements like presentation length, Q&A prep, and more.
As companies start to produce more webinars and virtual conferences, I put together a list of essential pointers that’ll help you put on the best show possible.
1. Limit yourself to a tight 30 minutes
Why is 60 minutes the default length for a webinar? It seems to be one of those marketing practices that doesn’t have rhyme or reason to it.
An hour is a long time for a webinar. I had college classes that were shorter than that. If Abraham Lincoln could finish the Gettysburg Address in 271 words, you can spare your audience a half hour.
Last year, the average webinar viewing time was 58 minutes, according to ON24’s benchmark report. But that number should include 10-15 minutes for Q&A. You also have to account for a few stragglers since some attendees will always join a little late. Attendance usually peaks about five minutes after you begin.
The sweet spot for the presentation part of our webinars seems to be about 30 minutes. Engagement holds steady until the half-hour mark, then people with burning questions stick around to ask while others can drop off if they have to get to their next meeting.
A shorter run time also helps you prioritize the most meaningful information. If you keep it to a tight 30, you’ll present your strongest material and keep the audience wanting more when it’s time to send a follow-up email.
2. Team up
Very few people thrive at talking by themselves uninterrupted for long periods of time. The most successful podcasts are interview shows in which hosts and guests have a conversation. Radio shows typically pair two or three personalities together, turning a monologue into a dialogue.
Most of Contently’s webinars feature two presenters. It’s more engaging, and it reduces the burden on individual contributors. It’s also a lot easier to get the hang of a 15-minute talk than a 30-minute one.
For someone like me who wasn’t born a social butterfly, you can use the opportunity to learn firsthand from more experienced speakers. I’ve co-hosted a bunch with Joe Lazauskas, our head of marketing, who has spoken at a ton of conferences and events. Joe is the Jay to my Silent Bob. During our webinars, I’ve been able to pick up little tips from him like when to pause, how to calm my nerves, and what to include in my talk track.
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