Best Practices for Ensuring That You Have a Good Webinar Speaker

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"What are your 'best practices' for making a good webinar presentation more likely?" Jennifer Brown of Strafford Publications Inc. asked earlier this month on the SIPA Forum. She received so many great answers that I thought it worth putting them in one space. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Test out. When we hire internally, we go through rigorous “working interviews” whereby they are put through a gauntlet to produce what their credentials say. Many times this works both in their favor and against. Some folks we were on the fence about blew us out of the water, while others that we were really in love with fell flat.

Have a moderator who can interrupt, ask questions, and generally try to keep things on track.

Ask for the speaker’s ratings from prior sessions. Everyone does them and most organizations share them with the speakers. The flaw in this issue is that the speaker would hopefully have enough sense not to share a poor review. However, what you think is a good rating might be a lot higher than the speaker’s view.

Look at the website of the company the speaker provided as a reference. If it is an organization that does webinars, look at their On-Demand catalog. If the speaker is any good, they should have a backlog of presentations. For, if a speaker is good, most organizations will invite them back for repeat performances on different topics. The flaw here is that there might have been a mismatch between the speaker’s content and the organization’s list and that might be the reason they weren’t invited back.

Do a run-through. As a volunteer, I also run webinars for a small horticultural group. Many of our speakers are new to webinars. Everyone is asked to do a practice session. And we run through their entire talk - not just to make sure they understand the technology. If someone isn’t a great speaker, we don’t disinvite them, but will throw in questions, as was previously suggested.

Test drive people on a panel or with a co-presenter. Multiple presenters lessen the chance of a complete disaster.

Ask the presenter questions of a non-technical nature. Getting people off script about something they are passionate about helps with pacing, monotone delivery and general presentation issues. We also have finance/legal topics so I find questions like “How do you explain that to a client?” or “Can you give a real-world example of a client that was doing that?” help speakers be more comfortable and confident.

Pre-record. In addition to pre-screening and coaching speakers, we've also been doing more pre-recorded presentations—with live Q&A—to ensure high quality on our webinars. Go-to-webinar supports that, as do most of the vendors.

Gamify. On the issue of getting feedback about speakers...that can be done in fun, engaging ways where attendees can win prizes for providing feedback (which boosts participation rates). This gives organizers more data to make informed decisions about speakers.

Speak to the presenters on the phone. Sometimes when I’m recruiting speakers, I can tell by the phone conversation that they aren’t going to be very good. If that’s the case, I’ll either pass on the speaker, or if s/he is an expert I really have to have, I’ll add a second speaker to the panel or have the moderator play a bigger role.

Check any previous recordings. If you’re still not sure, if they’ve spoken at other webinars or conferences, there should be recordings of at least some of those sessions. An Internet search should find them so you can listen (if they’re available for free). If the recordings aren’t free, ask the speaker for a link so you can listen to how s/he does. You won’t need to listen to the entire presentation to know whether or not the speaker is any good.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…