9 min read
I never thought I’d be a webinar host.
Or a TV host.
But I’ll give you The Big Secret about being a great host up front.
It’s not about looks.
It’s not about a great “on-air personality.”
It’s not about being a sales maven.
It’s not about the best gimmick.
It’s not about having the biggest social media following.
The Big Secret to hosting a live online event that people actually enjoy, talk about, and take action on after?
It’s about being yourself while talking about something you know and care about that will solve a problem for the viewers.
The first time I was in front of a camera was for a YouTube video to connect to my very first blog in 2010. I was doing a blog for community college students and knew some of them might be more auditory or visual learners so I wanted to have a video version of my blog too.
I had no experience. I was just talking about something I cared about and shared things that would help the viewers solve a problem.
I never thought one day those videos would have been viewed almost half a million times.
That led to me being asked to host a television show for four years, and now I host multiple live webinars a day.
What I’ve learned is that being a great host is more about what you’re doing to help people than about how perfect your lighting is or making sure you don’t mess up.
In fact, it’s the mistakes that really make a great webinar host– how you are when things go wrong and embracing all that comes along with being live.
That is what is special about webinars. They are live. You are meeting with people in real time.
Things will go wrong. And that’s okay. People are more understanding than you can imagine when you embrace the mistakes and continue to keep your energy up and focus on providing value for your viewers.
One of my favorite webinar moments ever was when my webcam fell off my desk when I was trying to tilt it to show my audience one of my favorite wall stickers.
We all got a great laugh out of it.
What makes a webinar special, and what will make you a great host, is embracing the magic of being live, of things going wrong, of your dog barking– and remembering that in the end what people really care about is making a real connection with you and the others at the event and gaining helpful information that will move them forward in their lives.
That is what they will remember:
Being a great webinar host is about making your audience feel seen and heard and helping them make progress. It’s not really about you, which I hope brings you great relief.
The fear of webinars or hosting is that you feel like you have to put on some ‘on camera’ persona.
But the secret to being a great host is being natural, embracing the unpredictability, answering people’s questions, making them feel valued, and sharing direct and helpful content that will help them solve a problem.
So if you want to be a great webinar host, here is what you can do to build trust with your audience, get results from your webinars, and create a fun, memorable experience for all involved, even yourself:
I hate when people say ‘be yourself’ as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not, and I get it.
Being yourself is a risk. Being yourself is scary. And being yourself on camera? Really hard.
A camera creates an unnatural situation– you’re being filmed– and it can feel impossible sometimes to remain natural under those circumstances.
But I want you to know that being yourself, while difficult, does work. People appreciate seeing someone be authentic on camera, and it holds their attention longer.
While it’s hard at first, in the end, it makes doing webinars much easier once you realize you don’t have to build up all this forced courage to be your “Webinar Self.” Instead, all you need to do is just turn on your webcam and keep being you.
But don’t worry if it takes you some time to get there. You'll feel more natural the more webinars you do, so just keep plugging away.
You can tell you’ve finally got it when your chat goes off topic in a fun way, when people want to know more details about you or your life, or keep asking you about your dog or start telling you about their dog. That’s not a sign you’re doing something wrong– it’s a sign you’re doing something right.
If this is really scary for you, start really small. For example, on your next webinar, make it a goal to share one detail about yourself. Grab a trinket from your desk that means something to you and show it off on camera and tell your viewers about it. Or move the camera around and show them your space. Just try one thing and watch the reaction in the chat. You’ll be amazed at how much people will love this.
The real you is more interesting than you think, I promise.
The good news is that you don’t always have to do this on your own. Some of the best webinars are those with two or more people where all you have to do is ask great questions and let your co-hosts shine.
To invite a co-host, you could simply send them an email asking them to join you on a webinar. To help you out with that, I've created this email template you can download and use the next time you're ready to ask another creative to co-host a webinar with you.
Get Your Webinar Co-host Email Ask Template
It’s great to be yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should just turn on your camera and “wing it.” In some cases, that might totally work for you and your audience, but in general, it’s best to have a plan or an outline so that you can ensure you don’t ever waste people’s time.
In such a busy world with so much content online (and on TV for that matter) it’s kind of remarkable that people show up for a live webinar. But they do. Usually, because they are trying to accomplish something and are looking for free training to help them get over that next hurdle.
Make sure that you honor the time they’re spending with you by planning ahead to ensure they walk away feeling like that was an hour well spent.
What is the best kind of plan to start off with? Write out the key problems the people who will probably join this webinar currently have as related to the topic of the webinar. Then write out the key solutions you are going to share.
That should be the foundation of any webinar plan. How you communicate those solutions is totally up to you and your style. And your style does matter. If you try to emulate a style that isn’t your own it just won’t work.
Experiment. Find the teaching style that feels the most fun and natural to you, as that is what will best hold the attention of your audience.
The best webinars have an element of fun and surprise, even some off-topic moments. You don’t need to do magic tricks for your audience or break out into song (but hey…you’d remember that webinar forever, right?). It can be as simple as the questions you ask people in the chat.
For example, when you ask if people can see your screen or slides, instead of having them say “yes” in the chat, ask them a question like my personal favorite, “What is the last TV show you watched or binged?” I love TV and find it’s a great way for me to connect with everyone on another level and give them a chance to connect with me and each other.
Ask questions in the chat that you find interesting and bring in a little element of fun– people love talking about themselves and sharing little bits of their likes and dislikes, so get to know the people with you and ask them fun questions. They’ll love you for it and it will help you relax and have more fun too.
When in doubt, teach. Being a great host is about adding value to the people watching– that’s it. They will forgive you for everything else if you teach them something valuable.
As with what is above, people will also forgive any mistakes as long as you’re honest, which includes teaching and delivering in the webinar what was promised in the title of your webinar.
Whatever your webinar title is, be sure you deliver those benefits and results. The worst mistake a host can make is not saying a word wrong or messing up a piece of the tech– it’s promising something in a webinar title that is not delivered.
If you’re selling something on your webinar, be upfront about that from the beginning and tell people what is coming. You can even say something like “I do sell something around this topic that I’m going to share with you at the end but don’t worry there will be no obligation to buy anything and I’m going to share a ton of helpful content that you can use regardless of if you buy or not.” Make the introduction your own, and make it truly honest, authentic, and transparent.
Being a great host isn’t about being perfect. It’s more about being comfortable with being imperfect and remembering that being a great host is not really about you being “great on camera”—it’s about you giving your all to help your audience be successful.
As long as you do that, you can’t go wrong.
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.