Leo Tolstoy began his masterpiece “Anna Karenina” with the sentence “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Here’s my twist on that famous opening line: “All lousy webinars are alike; each good webinar is good by following a few principles”.

Lousy webinars are an unfortunate fact of our Covid-driven business life. It’s great that you can sit at home, eat a sandwich, and learn something. But these on-line presentations are almost always boring.

And the reason they stink is almost always the same — they’re PowerPoint slides with a never-ending voice over. No one wants to stare at a computer screen listening to a voice drone for an hour about lowering business risk.

But webinars don’t have to stink if you follow a few principles.

Turn Your Webinar Into a Talk Show

Instead of talking alone for an hour, make the webinar an interview.

We did a webinar helping bank managers present to superiors. But I didn’t speak for an hour by myself. I had a bank manager on the call with me. I asked him questions and we worked through a presentation he had to give the following week.

It required that we prepare together in advance. But it was worth it.

Use Technology to Make Your Webinar Interactive

All video conference platforms have interactive tools that allow listeners to ask questions and make comments, usually via a chat box. Some of the services have polling capabilities. Use those tools often.

One study found that listeners’ levels of attention drop to almost nothing after 15 minutes. But you can revive the attention with interactive activities. A great activity on a webinar is simply to ask the audience questions that they must answer in the “texting box.”

Don’t say, “Does anyone have questions?” Make listeners give you a response. In our webinars we say, “I want everyone to go to the texting box and tell me the biggest challenge they face in creating presentations.”

When someone gives you an interesting answer, unmute that person’s line and ask him or her to explain further.

Keep it Short

There is a political party in New York City called “The Rent is Too Damn High.” I want to create a similar party called “These Webinars Are Too Damn Long.”

Webinars are usually an hour long. They should be half that. I don’t care how deep a thinker you are on the topic of lowering business risk, protecting patents, or improving customer service. You can’t cover it all in a webinar. Make one or two points. Then stop.

Webinars are a limited medium. Limit your message accordingly.

Remember that on a Webinar, You’re a News Anchor

If you’re leading a webinar, you should behave as if you’re in a television studio. Make sure that you have good lighting on your face. Those ring lights are a great investment.

More importantly, make sure that you make eye contact like a news anchor. That means looking at the camera lens, not the images of the people on your screen.

Several of our coaches are former television news anchors and reports. And they will all tell you that when you’re on camera, you should talk to the lens like you’re talking to your spouse.

Here’s a little trick that really works. Draw a smiley face on a sticky note and place it by the lens of your computer’s camera lens. That will remind you to look at the camera and battle the tendency to look at the images of the faces on your screen.

Webinars are a great training tool. But they aren’t effective if listeners tune out to respond to emails.