All posts by Shawn Cardinal

Watch your audience go from yawn to yay!

ReadyTalk Hosts Susan Stewart on our Webinar Series

Time and time again people eagerly register for webinars, to only drift off from the live event and leave the webcast wondering if it was really worth their time. Don’t let your audience wander off to check their email, explore other websites or even take a short lunch break nap. Keep your attendees engaged the entire time. ReadyTalk recently featured Guided Meetings’ Director of Online Learning and Collaboration, Susan Stewart, on the webinar series to share her valuable insights on how to create participatory webinars that will keep an audience engaged the entire time.

Webcasts vs. Participatory Webinars

It is important to first understand Susan’s distinction between “live webcasts” and “participatory webinars”. A live webcast usually features a presenter who talks to the attendees about a particular topic. They result in a one way flow of information and provide attendees with the opportunity to comment and ask questions at the end of the presentation during a Q & A section. On the contrast, a participatory webinar includes a facilitator who both presents on a topic and invites participants to engage in the webinar. The flow of conversation is back and forth, and the learning occurs in a more interactive way. In order to create a participatory webinar, Susan suggests that the facilitator actively involves the participants during the entire duration of the webinar and encourage them to share their ideas.

Hosting a participatory webinar starts the moment you start designing your slide deck. As you gather information, keep your listeners at the forefront of your decision-making. Think about what your audience wants to learn—maybe even ASK your audience what they want to learn. If they learn valuable information that they originally wanted to hear, they will always leave a webinar satisfied. To figure out if your webinar has relevance, it is often useful to meet participants beforehand or include registration questions. If you go into the presentation confident that you have relevant content, you will be able to focus more on participant interaction, which will make it more impactful. Since humans are both powerful and natural learners, creating a participatory webinar does not mean transforming typical classroom activities into an online format. Design your webinars in a way that online learners can explore the content.

That leads us to Susan’s next section–the different ways to design the webinar experientially. Studies have shown that participants' attention and engagement are the greatest during the first 15 minutes of the webinar. This means it is extremely important to grab the attention of participants early, but also keep them engaged and do not let them drift off at the 15-minute mark. Susan recommends using the 10-minute rule—regaining the attention of participants at the nine-minute mark. In order to do this, inject something emotionally relevant every 9-10 minutes. This could include group 

3 components of a participatory webinar

discussions about the topic, a relevant video, an activity such as a poll or survey or sharing a relevant story with them. While this is a crucial time-table, Susan explains how you can go even further and actually grab their attention every three-five minutes before they even begin to doze off. You might be thinking, “That’s a lot… I’m not sure I can do that.” However, you can and you should.

There are two types of activities that Susan recommends facilitators do every three – five minutes. First, ask your participants to do something. This can range anywhere from demonstrations, viewing videos or web tours, looking at resources, taking notes or answering polls. Second, create interaction between the facilitator and the participants through sharing examples, collectively brainstorming, asking and answering questions in chat and venturing off on webquests. It is important to remember when constructing the webinar that these activities take a lot of time. A good starting point, is to cut your content in half, add your activities, and then make adjustments from there. When planning the activities, focus on your content and think about how the activities can help you achieve the overall outcome of your webinar. Remember to breakout of habitual thinking and find new ways to work with your platform.

Create interactive webinars

As Susan points out, “Brain Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses—vision is our primary sense.” Your slide deck matters—if it is boring, your audience will be bored. No question. In order to make visually engaging slides, it is important to understand that people cannot listen to someone talk and read at the same time without missing information. Instead of piling words onto a slide, selectively choose the most important ones, and then thoroughly discuss them during the presentation. While pictures are necessary, they are only effective if they have a purpose. When it successfully serves a purpose, they make powerful statements. They need to further people’s understanding of the concept being discussed. Images also create emotional relevancy and allow participants to develop an emotional connection that will help them remember the content better. Susan advises that you  change the visual field every 60 – 90 seconds in order to keep the presentation intriguing and dynamic.  

Go beyond creating a webinar that just talks to an audience, and actually include the audience in the presentation. It will develop a deeper learning as well as encourage attentiveness and engagement with the participants. Not only will people stay engaged, but content will also become richer and people will retain more information.

            Watch Susan Stewart’s full webinar to learn first hand how to develop a participatory webinar here.

           To learn more about Susan Stewart and her company Guided Meetings, click here.

Fear Factor: You Mean I Have to Conduct a Webinar in Two Weeks!? Don’t Sweat It.

afraid of webinarsLet’s face it, unless you are regularly conducting web meetings or webinars, you’re going to be nervous.  And, as a matter of fact, a majority of people I talk to are thrown into it last minute. Yikes!  For the occasional user, conferencing may be a low priority and some may wait until the last minute to prepare. I mean, you have your “current” job to do and now you have to do this!? Couple this with not being able to see your audience and maybe you're new to presenting? That would make anyone anxious, uncomfortable, and downright scared.

Break it down into the basics to get through the first one. Think of this as your high level survival guide. I have found that fear of a new technology or delivering new content can paralyze many people; use the K.I.S.S. principle to get through it. We’ll get to more advanced marketing and content marketing ideas in later installments.  For right now, we’ll simply think of this in three categories and won’t over complicate things.


Pre-Meeting or Pre-Webinar

  • Send invitations/registrations
  • Create your slides and talking points
  • Practice both using your web conferencing tools and giving the presentation

Make sure your invitations have clear instructions for audio and web connections as well as a Customer Care or support number in case there are technical questions. Keep your invite simple and easy to read. As for content, hopefully you know at least something about the subject. If you are under the gun, bullet or outline the talking points as soon as you can in a cohesive flow. Then, whenever you can, pre-visualize and practice what you’ll say for each talking point. (I’m not a fan of scripts unless there are specific legal terms or corporate policies that need to be adhered to). Build your slides as a complement to your talking points. You don’t want to end up reading your slides.


  • Relax
  • Double click the slide you want the audience to see and talk about it
  • Deliver your content that you’ve practiced so well
  • Click stop and hang up phone

Get to know your web conferencing tools. I can’t tell you how many times people just wing it. Don’t. With ReadyTalk, you could literally get away with dialing a conferencing call, clicking two buttons, and then double-clicking the slide you want the audience to see. Point being, find an easy-to-use conferencing solution so you can concentrate on delivering your material and not boring the audience to death because you’re so intimidated by all these things that could go wrong. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine if you've practiced.


  • Enjoy all the positive feedback
  • Send follow-up emails.
  • Done. (and start preparing for the next one)

Like your Mom always said, send thank you cards! There are many ways to follow up with your participants. Do it. Whether it’s through email or calling them to thank them personally, I promise they will appreciate it.


OK…so maybe that does sound like a lot, but again just break it down into easy steps. As you develop your webinar and web meeting skills you’ll get more comfortable with talking to "nobody" yet reaching dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people.  I heard a great term once – "doing the basics brilliantly." I think I that applies in so many ways. Know your stuff, know your conferencing tool. Now, time to get ready for the next one…

For more advice on getting started see Think before you speak: Top 10 must-dos before presenting on a webinar or join Shawn on a live training.

ReadyTalk’s Trainer Shares Sage Advice on Getting the Most of Your Webinars and Web Meetings

Webinars, web meetings, web conferences, webcasts…jeeesh, what’s with all these terms!? Without getting too granular in those definitions (yet), let’s just think about the ability of sharing your message, working session or training with a much wider and perhaps global audience right from your desk, or better yet a comfy home office. The audience is engaged, interactive and everyone is truly enjoying the presentation. Sounds great, doesn’t it?…BUT…on the flip side, as I’m sure know, they can be absolutely painful to plan for and execute. Oh, and not to mention the pain of the boring, monotonous presentation your audience is forced to endure…if they even show up! Is that a scare tactic, yep, is sure is, and sadly true based on the discussions I’ve had with our customers over the years. Don’t you worry, I’m here to help.

I’ve been lucky enough to be training our ReadyTalk family of customers for almost nine years. In this series, I’ll provide insight on some of the things I’ve learned over the years to help you get more out of your webinars and web meetings – let’s just keep it to those two terms for now. In my role here at ReadyTalk, I’ve probably talked with thousands of people – both new to webinars and web conferencing as well as experienced “pros.”  Heck, I may have talked with some of you reading this right now! The trainings I conduct on a daily basis range from traditional software training to webinar consulting to speaker and moderator coaching. Through those years of training, I’ve gathered a set of the tactics and advice you’ll see in throughout these posts. What you’ll learn doesn’t really don’t rely on any specific technology, although, as you might imagine I’ll be using our tools and features as examples. What I’m concentrating on is YOU, as the presenter, organizer, the moderator.  It really comes down to you. 

Enough about that…Here’s a sample of topics coming to you in the future:

  • Fear Factor: Many first time presenters or first time web presenters get pretty nervous. I’ll validate your fears and provide some guidance on how to alleviate it.
  • How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
  • 2-4-6-8 –  Moderate! Tips on how to be a great moderator whether you have a major role or minor role.
  • Just ask them. – Know your audience before the meeting. Ideas on how you can easily understand more about your participants
  • Tell me something I don’t know: Doing the basics brilliantly will go a long way; some easy tips  to ensure things go smoothly.
  • Don’t read your slides!!! – Need I say more?
  • Know your stuff.  Be an expert on the topic or get someone who is.
  • And more…

In the meantime, if you want to get the most of your conferencing tools view our recorded trainings or register for one of my live trainings

Is your webinar “meh.”?

So there you are, delivering the concluding remarks to end your very first webinar. You’re feeling quite good about your prep work, your marketing efforts, and the fact that a good number of participants actually showed up! Then, you read the very small number of surveys that were tuned in and your seemingly incredible presentation turns about to be “meh.” – meaning ho-hum or booooring. What happened!!?? Why are so many webinars painfully boring for the audience? Here’s why: It’s the speaker.
Remote presenting is tricky. After all, you have zero control over your audience; you can’t see them at their home office. This is not a scare tactic, but you truly have a big responsibility to keep your group engaged in your presentation. There are three main tools at your disposal:

1. Your voice

2. The visual presentation and content

3. The web presentation software

In the upcoming series, we’ll concentrate on what I believe is the most important piece of conducting a great webinar: The Speaker’s Delivery. Good speakers can take boring subjects and make them palatable, if not enjoyable. Practicing and perfecting your inflection, tone, and your ability to connect with the audience are paramount in conducting a great webinar. You don’t have to be a professional public speaker to get high marks on your presentations and keep people engaged; in my next few posts, I’ll cover a variety of ways to turn your anemic webinars into the compelling presentations you strive for.

In the meantime, what tips would you share for being a good and engaging presenter?

Shawn Cardinal is ReadyTalk’s training guru. He’s hosted hundreds of webinars and train customers (and employees) on best practices for hosting polished webinars and engaging audiences. When he’s