If you’ve ever seen Question Time in Parliament, or watched your CEO at a press event, you’ll have noticed that the way they take questions matters. Often, they’ll be well-prepared and have the answer ready to go. Sometimes, they take the question on notice and provide a response at a later date.
The point is, there’s more than one way to handle questions in life and politics. The same is true for your webinars.
While webinars are a great medium for taking questions from individual audience members as well as surveying your audience at large, it’s important to understand your options so you can select the best method of handling questions for every virtual occasion.
Let’s run through the most popular options:
1. Call for questions ahead of the event and answer them during the event
A great way to ensure your webinars are interactive is to ask a question — or ask people to submit their own questions – in the form on your registration page when attendees register to attend. It’s usually best to keep registration forms short, so you may wish to ask a single question, or provide one open field in which people can type their own questions.
For formal digital events such as a virtual AGM, you may wish to call for questions ahead of the event in a separate document or web page.
Benefits: Calling for questions before the event enables you to prepare a response, as well as refine the subject matter of your webinar if a lot of questions are submitted on the same topic. This works well if your presenters are nervous, the subject matter is sensitive, or you wish to edit and broadcast your webinar after it is recorded, as a simulated live event.
Drawbacks: If you only allow pre-submitted questions, that may remove a level of spontaneity from your webinar and perhaps prevent your presenters from developing some rapport with their audience. For some events, such as virtual AGMs, shareholders may expect a live Q&A and protest if they feel they’re not allowed to express their views to the executive team.
Tip: Always make sure you provide these questions to your speakers well ahead of time so they can prepare responses in advance.
2. Hold a live poll
All webinars should include at least one live poll. Prepare the question in advance, offer multiple choice answers, and make it as interesting or controversial as you dare. Webinars are the perfect medium for live voting and enable you to get a much more accurate read on the response than a show of hands.
Benefits: Live polls not only elicit valuable information from a captive audience, they also create engagement with your attendees. Holding one at the beginning of the event will enable you to present the response later in the event, and if you’re really good, you may even have time for a second live poll.
Drawbacks: If you’re looking to hold a live vote at a company AGM and you also need to include proxy votes, you may need to manually calculate the end result as most webinar platforms do not allow for weighted voting.
3. Live Q&A in a private chat
The most common method of handling questions in webinars is the live Q&A. Typically, this involves your moderator or facilitator calling for questions from the audience. Your attendees have the option of jotting down and sending their questions via a private chat box in your webinar platform. The moderator will see the questions, read them back to the audience at large, and then ask one of your presenters to respond to them live.
Benefits: The big benefit of the live Q&A is the interactivity, spontaneity and fun it can inject into live webinars — your audience will appreciate having their questions answered in near-real time and they’ll see the natural reaction of your presenters to tricky or entertaining questions.
Taking questions in a private chat also enables the moderator to select the questions that are brought to the attention of the audience at large, allowing you to retain control over the subject matter and flow of your digital event.
Drawbacks: By holding a live Q&A you’re promising to read out and respond to unscripted questions, which can leave your presenters open to being asked about topics they didn’t expect. Most subject matter experts will be well-prepared and you don’t have to read every question out. But if your presenter is uncomfortable taking questions on the fly, or your time is limited, this may not be the best method for you. Similarly, if you’re pre-recording a webinar and showing it later, simulating a live webcast, you may need to choose another method.
Tip: If you receive too many questions to cover in your event, consider exporting a transcript and responding to your webinar audience in a written format once your webinar is over.
4. Live Q&A in a public chat
Very transparent organisations may wish to allow webinar attendees to pose questions and comments in a public chat on your webinar platform. Your moderator should still call for questions throughout the webinar event, and they can still select which questions to read out, but all your attendees can see both the questions and the responses of other attendees.
Benefits: This still enables your presenter to select the questions to put to your presenters verbally. It also enables you to draw upon the wisdom of the crowd — so if you have an expert audience, they may jump in and respond, or add to other attendees’ questions.
Drawbacks: When everyone can see the live chat, you lose some control over the tone of the event, although you can moderate and remove inappropriate comments on most webinar platforms.
Tip: Have an additional communications team member standing by to respond if there is a large volume of questions, if you expect some comments will require moderation, or if you want to take some of that dialogue offline and respond individually. Be sure to keep your written responses accurate, clean and above-board. People may react differently to the written word than they do to verbal responses.
5. Call for questions and answer them in a post-event FAQ
If you’re planning to broadcast your event on-demand only, but you still want to give your audience a voice, you can call for questions either before or during the event — or both — and respond to them in a post-event FAQ. You may choose to add these to the online resources you make available to attendees in your webinar platform at a point in time. An emailed FAQ sent to attendees after they’ve viewed the webinar also makes a nice follow-up and can be great content on its own.
Benefits: This is great for complex or sensitive topics, Town Hall-style events, virtual AGMs or industry briefings where you want lots of questions but you need some time to prepare a considered response. It’s also a great option if you simply don’t have time to respond to all the questions, or if they require very detailed or specific answers. You can also select the questions to which you respond.
Drawbacks: Most organisations will create an FAQ once, at a point in time, and any viewers who watch the event after that date will not be able to submit questions.
6. Submit questions via video
A great way to create a super-engaging Q&A during your webinar is to ask attendees to submit their questions in advance on video. Most of your attendees will be able to record a question on their laptop or phone and send in the file. Ask your webinar provider to play the video during the live Q&A section of your webinar.
Benefits: This is a very popular format with webinar viewers. Video questions require a level of commitment from the questioner, so they’re a great way to get some good questions coming in, and to build engagement for your event in advance. Plus, speakers and attendees get to see the person asking the question, which enhances engagement during the event.
Drawbacks: Video Q&A does require more preparation, though it’s worth it when you see the final product. Don’t forget to brief your presenters so they can prepare ahead of time.
Tip: It’s best to create a run sheet for this style so you know when videos will be played and in which order. Download the Redback Run Sheet here
7. Telephone dial-in Q&A
Run a hybrid digital event if your webinar provider allows and enable people to dial into the call. They’ll be on mute during the main part of the webinar, but you can have your operator unmute them to enable them to ask a question verbally. This format works well for virtual AGMs and investor events.
Benefits: As with questions over private chat, you can see who is on the call, so you can choose who to take questions from. Verbal Q&A sessions also create higher engagement levels.
Drawbacks: It’s best to have an operator to do this, so it can be a little more pricey than your other Q&A options. Also, you won’t know what the question is until it has been asked, so be prepared for the unexpected.
8. Respond to questions in virtual chat rooms
Some digital events may require breakout rooms to be set up at the end of the live component of the event, to enable groups of people with similar questions to ask their questions. The best way to do this is to include a link in your webinar resources or public chat to any breakout rooms you’ve set up so that the conversation can continue in that environment. In one recent event Redback facilitated, the audience divided into groups in different chats within Microsoft Teams to have their questions answered by subject matter experts. You can link out to whichever virtual chat technology you prefer.
Benefits: This allows in-depth questions that are only relevant to part of the overall audience to be answered live. For events at which many attendees have similar questions it also helps when they can see the questions posted by others, as well as the responses.
Drawbacks: As with a live Q&A in a public chat, you may lose some control over the tone of the event, although you may be able to moderate and remove inappropriate comments. Refer to your preferred virtual chat technology provider for the best way to manage this process.
9. Ask for feedback to your event
Whether you hold a quick online poll at the conclusion of your webinar and ask your attendees to rate the event, or send a post-event survey and request more detail, it’s always worth asking your attendees what they thought. Of course, this is you asking the questions, rather than your audience, but you may learn something valuable from the responses you get.
Benefits: You can use the responses to improve your event format, presenters and subject matter. Don’t forget to canvass your speakers and colleagues, as well, for a complete picture of how your webinar went.
Drawbacks: None to mention.
So now you know there is more than one way to handle questions in your digital events.
Choose the most appropriate option — or even a combination of the options above — and you’ll not only ensure your webinars are as interactive, engaging and informative as possible, you’ll be well on your way to refining and improving your next virtual event.