How to deliver a successful Webinar using Microsoft Lync (now Skype for Business)

Introduction

Firstly, what is a Webinar? The word actually stands for Web-based Seminar which is another way for saying a presentation, training session or workshop that is delivered over a network of computers rather than face to face in a room.

This has been enabled over the last few years by the ever increasing speed of network connections, both inside companies and across the internet. The benefits are many and obvious especially for large organisations with offices and locations spread around the world. There’s no need for face to face meetings which can result in savings on peoples time, travel and accommodation expenses. Webinars are also usually permanent records which can be stored and revisited by people at their leisure and in their own time.

There is a downside in that you may miss subtle ways that humans use to communicate – facial expressions and posture. But these can be somewhat alleviated with the use of high quality video calls.

Running a Webinar with Microsoft Lync

Microsoft Lync online meetings are well suited to delivering webinars in a corporate environment. It gives you control over what attendees can do, it allows you to record the webinar and it allows you to easily switch between presentation, demonstration and interacting with attendees.

The process I use to deliver Webinars can be broken down into 3 distinct sections. There is the governance and best practices that have been learned, there is the communication and action plan that should be carried out in order to deliver a successful webinar and finally there is a review and lessons learned that feeds back into the governance and best practices.

Governance

I typically run training type webinars that are in the 20 to 40 minute range. They deliver information about a particular topic using both presentations and live demonstrations. It’s a good idea to keep the webinars tight in terms of time and flow – this keeps people focused and not away from their normal day to day duties for too long. So, some governance tips:

  • The webinars should be short – usually no more than 30 minutes, including questions and answers.
  • The presentation and demonstration section of the webinar should be recorded and made available to all employees within your organisation after the event.
  • Everybody is muted except the presenter. This is to prevent interruptions and keep the webinar running smoothly.
  • I also recommend disabled video calling and instant messaging for the exact same reason.
  • I don’t allow phone-ins to my webinars. The reason for this is you cannot control the muting of telephones from Microsoft Lync.
  • I allow interaction via the Questions and Answers facility built into Microsoft Lync online meetings.
  • I split my webinar into 3 parts:
    • A standard introduction explaining all of the above
    • The webinar itself consisting of 20-25 minutes of presentation and demonstration
    • A 5-10 minute Question & Answer section which is saved as a text based file and is also made available for later viewing.

Now, these are my rules for delivering webinars that I’ve learned by delivering dozens of webinars over the years. Your rules might be completely different. You might be running a highly interactive webinar with relatively few participants. If this is the case you might not want to mute people and let them speak freely. It’s entirely up to you and the type of webinar you are delivering as to how you run it.

Planning

I’ll use an example of a regular monthly webinar so naturally, the communication and action plan is based around this monthly timescale. But the important thing to remember is you need to do two things: Make relevant people aware of your webinar and when it is occurring and actually build the presentation and other material for the webinar itself.

So there is a communication plan spanning 4 weeks. Assume these webinars are potentially of interest to anyone within your organisation, you use the correct channels to reach your audience. This could be email announcements, front page news articles on your intranet, a broadcast on your Slack channel – whatever is the norm for your organisation. You might follow the same path or you might target a very specific group of people either directly or by some other means. Again, it depends entirely on the content and type of webinar that you will be running.

You then have to somehow enable people to register their interest in attending the live webinar. This is not necessary at all, it’s perfectly reasonable just to have an open webinar that anyone who wishes to can attend BUT I think it’s a good idea to use an attendees list as you can use this list to gather feedback. It also allows you to send out targeted mail shots to previous attendees for up and coming webinars. This has proved invaluable to me in improving the delivery of my webinars and keep my audience numbers high. Perhaps this is not justified in your case if you are just running a one-off webinar. Again it is up to you, but at least you now know the reason why I usually decide to use an attendees list.

On the day of the webinar itself I have a presenters check list that ensures everything goes smoothly. This includes things like sending out the physical Lync meeting request, what options to set in the meeting request, when to start recording the webinar, when to stop, what to say in the welcome message, things like that. It’s just like an aircraft pre-flight check. No matter how many times you do it, it’s helpful and reassuring to just work through the check list to keep the details around the webinar right. After all, what you should be focused on is the actual delivery of a good, informative webinar, not trying to remember which options to check or what obligatory information you need to say at the start of your webinar.

Review

When I review my webinars, I have two sources of information: my own observations (or a colleague who sits in with you while you deliver the webinar) and a survey that I ask attendees to fill in after the event. I use both of these to hone how I deliver my webinars. For example, it is easy to forget that you might be presenting to someone in a remote location half way across the world and their visual experience of your presentation will not be as fast as your own. I’ve learned this through my surveys and it taught me to try various things to help this situation such as to slow my movements down, highlight where we I’m clicking and to use a trail to more easily identify where the mouse is moving. All this can lead to a better experience for users with poor quality network connections and this is something I would never had known without the feedback from surveys.

Conclusion

Webinars are an extremely effective and cost efficient way to distribute learning and information across any sizeable organisation. The only cost is your time. I have received excellent feedback from people who have attended webinars and that feedback is distilled in this blog post.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about webinars.