May 11, 2015 | By

How to Plan and Run a Webinar with GoToWebinar

The thought of running your first webinar with webinar software can be quite overwhelming. You want to make sure that everything runs smoothly and nothing goes wrong. In case there’s any doubt, it doesn’t look great when a phone starts ringing and your presenter decides to take the call. Yes, this actually happened to me

Like any big project or event, it’s worth planning ahead and putting together a detailed webinar checklist to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Here are some useful tips from the experts here at GoToWebinar to help you effectively plan and host a webinar with confidence.

Before the live webinar:

1. Decide on your title and content
Once you’ve decided on a topic that will resonate with your target audience, finalize your webinar title, description and duration and be sure to answer the WIIFM question ‘what’s in it for me?’ that will undoubtedly pop up in the minds of your target audience as they decide whether they should register for your virtual event.

If you’re stuck on title ideas, use this list as a springboard and adapt an idea for your next webinar:

  • What you need to know about <top prospect problem>
  • How to take control of <your environment>
  • A sneak peek at <product name>
  • How to make your <business activity> up to <X> more effective
  • <X> secrets of winning <business activities>
  • The <X> common mistakes most <prospect job title> make and how to avoid them
  • The truth about <solution category>
  • New breakthroughs in <big prospect problem>
  • How to evaluate and choose a <solution category>

2. Confirm your speakers
Make sure your speakers are available and confirmed for the big day. Ideally, everyone should join 30-45 minutes before the live event to get themselves ready to present and to deal with any last-minute questions that may crop up.

3. Set up your webinar in GoToWebinar
GoToWebinar is a simple web conferencing solution that is well suited to novices. You can log in and start setting up your webinar by simply going through each step; however, if you’d prefer to look at step-by-step instructions, with screenshots, check out this guide on how to schedule a webinar.

4. Set a rehearsal date
Next it’s time to arrange a practice session with the presenters. Make sure that you set up a rehearsal webinar so that you get another chance to practice using GoToWebinar. All you need to do is clone (copy) your live webinar and call it a ‘Rehearsal’. To do this from within GoToWebinar:

– Click My Webinars
– Select the webinar you wish to clone
– Click Schedule Similar Webinar

This will save you having to type in all of the information again.

Schedule similar webinar

Having a rehearsal ahead of the live event will give your speakers the chance to become more familiar with the technology. The more at ease they are with the technology, the more comfortable and confident they will be when presenting on the big day.

5. Decide who will show their screen
With GoToWebinar, there is no need to pre-upload a PowerPoint presentation. You simply have to click the Show My Screen button and your audience will see what’s on your screen.

Show my screen

Figure out whether your speakers are going to show the presentation from their computer or yours. They may find it easier to advance their slides if they are the presenter.

But please don’t feel that you have to be a slave to the standard presentation format. GoToWebinar is all about screen sharing, so you can drop out of PowerPoint and show something from a Word doc or web page or even run a live demo of your newest piece of software. I’m sure your audience will love you for showing something a little bit different.

6. Set up email notifications
With GoToWebinar, your registrants will automatically receive a confirmation email upon registering. This will provide them with everything they need to know ahead of the live event, including the date, time, joining instructions and the option to save the webinar to their calendar.

You also have the option to send out reminder and follow-up emails after the event with a link to the recording should you decide to distribute it.
All emails are automated, which means you just need to set them up and they’ll drop automatically.

To set up your email notifications, select My Webinars and then click the webinar you wish to modify. Emails can be found towards the bottom of the page, as highlighted in this screenshot.

Email notifications

7. Plan audience engagement
By planning moments of interaction with your audience, you will deliver a far more effective, persuasive and memorable event. Set up poll questions for use during the webinar, prepare seed questions so you can kick-start the Q&A immediately and plan for interactions with the audience such as asking them to raise their hand or submit a comment via the Questions pane. You can find 7 tips for better webinar engagement here.

To set up a poll, scroll down to the bottom of your webinar page (just beneath Emails) and click Edit.

Set up a poll in GoToWebinar

Follow the on-screen instructions and click Save. One note here – you have the option of asking a question with just one possible correct answer or multiple correct answers. You can select the type of poll you wish to run at the top of the page:

Create a new poll

8. Create an exit survey

GoToWebinar has an integrated survey tool that allows you to present your attendees with a survey either as soon as they leave the webinar or via a follow-up email. We find that using a survey immediately after a webinar generates more responses. Set up your survey in advance, with up to 25 questions (I’d recommend using no more than six though – even less if you can do it! The more questions you have, the less chance your participants are likely to complete the survey).

You can create your survey by clicking Edit next to Survey at the bottom of your webinar page.

Create a survey in GoToWebinar

Follow the on-screen instructions and enter your survey questions. You can choose from single answer, multiple choice, rate on a scale of 1-5 or a text box.

Poll survey suggestion

9. Prepare your waiting room

Next you can upload your speaker photos into GoToWebinar, under the Branding and Themes section so that they appear on the waiting room screen (that’s the screen that attendees see when they join the webinar – you can either show this or the first slide of your presentation).

Branding and theme in GoToWebinar

10. Add the presenters as panelists to GoToWebinar

Add the speakers’ names and email addresses to GoToWebinar so that they receive a link to join the live webinar. At this point they are called ‘panelists’ and you may add up to 24 of them. We tend to have in the region of three panelists per webinar – one or two presenters and another staff member who is generally there just to listen in and make sure that all is well.

Once your speakers join the live webinar, you will have the option to upgrade them to either an organiser (giving them the ability to view the questions that have come in from the audience, to start and end the webinar, launch the polls and record) or a presenter (giving them the option to show their screen). Read more about what a panelist can and can’t do here.

Adding panelists


11. Promote your webinar
Now time for the fun part! Remember that it’s highly unlikely that everyone who registers for your webinar will attend — particularly if it’s free. If 30-40% of your registrants attend, you’re doing well. If you have an idea of the minimum number of attendees you’d like to join you, try and aim to attract around three times more registrants to compensate for fallout (so if you want to have 40 people on your webinar, be sure to attract a minimum of 120 registrations).

Webinar promotion can be done by sending emails to your database, through using social media and adding an advert or even a post to your blog. Remember to ask your speakers to promote the webinar to their channels as well.

GoToWebinar provides you with a registration URL that you can embed into your marketing materials, an email that you can forward to potential registrants and a copy of the webinar information so you can build your own email. It’s also possible to build a webinar template in another system (we use Marketo, for example) and link up the two systems so that registration data flows from one to the other. More information on the GoToWebinar API can be found here.

Share your webinar

12. Set up two computers (or two screens) for the live event

Ensure you have two computers available for the webinar itself. Not only does one act as a back-up in case the other suddenly dies—but that way you can have the presentation on one screen and your Question and Chat panes, polls and dashboard open on the other.

Now that you’ve planned and promoted the webinar, it won’t be long before it’s time to host the live event. You will probably feel a little nervous at this point – gulp. But fear not! Here are some tips and pointers to help you feel more confident when running your first few webinars. (Bonus tip: You might want to register for a few webinars yourself to see how others are running them – you’re bound to get a few ideas from looking at their registration page/confirmation email and from joining their virtual event. You can start by checking out our webinars here).

During a live webinar:

1. Make sure everything is closed down
Before you even log in to GoToWebinar, make sure that your email, instant messenger and any other programmes that produce pop-up notifications are closed down.

2. Open up GoToWebinar with plenty of time to spare
When you’re rushing to get something done, the chances of forgetting something are pretty high. Plan to open up the webinar nice and early—say 45-60 minutes before you’re due to go live. This way you can make sure everything is set up, the presenters are logged in, audio sounds good and slides are in position.

Now this next part is so important: Please make sure to launch GoToWebinar in practice mode. This way your speakers can join, but your audience cannot. You can then speak with your presenters before you go live and deal with any last-minute questions without your attendees seeing or hearing anything.

Start a webinar in practice mode

And in case you didn’t discuss who was going to be in control of the presentation during your rehearsal, you can decide now. Perhaps your speaker is going to show her screen. Or perhaps you’re going to host the presentation and give your speaker keyboard and mouse control so she can move the slides along herself. If this is the case, go into the GoToWebinar control panel and right-click on the presenter’s name, then select Give Keyboard and Mouse so that she can control the slides. You will always have the ability to override her, but to advance the slides herself, she just needs to click the webinar screen once to tell GoToWebinar that she’d like to take control, and then start advancing the slides either by clicking again on her screen or using the arrow keys on her keyboard (my preferred option – this way the mouse isn’t moving around the screen and distracting your audience).

How to give keyboard and mouse control

3. Will your speaker be a panelist or an organiser?

Your speaker(s) will join the webinar as a panelist. This gives them the ability to speak with the audience, show their screen or have keyboard and mouse control. If you would like them to be able to see the questions that have come in from the audience, then you will need to upgrade them to an organiser. To do this, go to the GoToWebinar control panel once you have launched the webinar in practice mode, go to the Attendee List and right-click on the presenter’s name and select Make Organiser. Be aware that being an organiser also gives them the ability to start and end the webinar. Make sure you tell them not to press Start Broadcast or exit the webinar prematurely – otherwise panic is pretty much guaranteed to set in!

4. Get the most out of your webinar tools
The GoToWebinar control panel is made up of several panes. These panes can be dragged out of the control panel so you can expand them. You’ll definitely want to do this with the Questions pane so you can clearly see all those questions coming in from the audience. You may also want to take out the Poll pane if you’re going to be asking the audience a poll question, and the Chat pane as well if you intend to use it to communicate directly with the audience (for example—you may want to chat out a Twitter hashtag or a link to a book mentioned by one of the speakers).

Webinar tools

Then there is my favourite part, the dashboard. The dashboard gives you an instant snapshot of your audience. You can see how many people have joined and what percentage is actually viewing the GoToWebinar screen. This will instantly tell you how engaged your audience is with the content. You want to aim for over 60% attentiveness. If that’s not happening, perhaps interrupt the speaker with a question or ask the audience a question and get them to respond via the Question pane.

Dashboard display

5. When to use the mute button
Before the webinar begins, remind your speakers how they can mute themselves. If they suddenly have a coughing fit, they’ll want to mute themselves quickly. And remember to mute yourself if you have a non-speaking role. Your audience doesn’t want to hear you typing away in the background as you respond to people’s questions.

There are three ways to mute – by clicking on either icons circled below or if someone has dialed in via telephone, then pressing the mute button on the device itself will also work.

It’s also worth mentioning that you have the option of muting everyone at any point simply by clicking Mute All. Any attendee who joins will be automatically muted upon arrival, but the panelists will not.

Muting yourself in GoToWebinar

6. Open the waiting room

You can open up the webinar so your audience can arrive in the waiting room. We tend to open up our webinars 10-15 minutes before we go live. That gives your audience time to get used to their surroundings, find the Question pane and select their listening mode (telephone or mic and speakers via VoIP). To open up the waiting room, press Start in the top right-hand corner of the control panel. At this point, the audience cannot hear you, but they will be able to see your screen if you have decided to start sharing it. Make sure the presentation is in slide-show mode if this is the case.

Start the webinar

7. Prepare to go live
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Do one final check with the presenters, ask them to turn on their webcams if they’re comfortable being on camera (this always goes down well with the audience – they do like to see the presenters), share your screen if you haven’t done so already and then mute yourself if you’re not speaking on the live webinar. Click the Start Recording button if you want to record the webinar. Now click Start Broadcast at the top right-hand corner of your control panel. You and your audience will hear an automated voice say “The webinar is now starting. All attendees are in listen-only mode,” and from this moment on you are live! Your audience will be able to hear the presenters.

Start broadcast

8. Keep the audience engaged
Now that you’re live, you may wonder how you can keep your audience engaged throughout the webinar. It’s one of the most common questions we are asked so I recommend that you read 5 Simple Tricks to Get Your Webinar Audience Hanging on to Your Every Word.

One thing you can do in addition to running polls and asking your audience to type in an answer via the Questions pane, is to ask them to ‘raise their hand’. You can select this tool by going to Options and then Attendees Can Raise Hands. You could ask attendees a question and get them to click their Raise Hand Tool icon that will appear on their GoToWebinar control panel. (The icon looks like a little orange hand.) If you go over to the Attendee pane, you will be able to see exactly who raised their hand. You could also make use of this feature in the Q&A and see if anyone would like to ask a live audio question. If they raise their hand to indicate yes, you can unmute them by clicking on the red line that covers their audio icon. (It will either be a microphone or a telephone, depending on which audio service they are using.)

Keep the webinar audience engaged

Unmuting the audience

9. End the webinar

When the speaker has finished and it’s time to end the webinar, the first thing you will want to do is click the Stop Recording button. Now mute your speakers in case the presenter forgets they’re still live. Leave the presentation on the final slide because the audience can still see what is being shown at this point. Now click File, then select End Webinar or use the X to exit and end the webinar as you do to close any programme.

After the webinar:

1. Upload the recording
Now that the webinar has finished, it’s time to upload the recording into GoToWebinar. This will convert the webinar into a link that you can share via email (perhaps in a follow-up email to attendees and those who missed the webinar), post it on your website or promote it via social media, for example.

Log in to your GoToWebinar account. From the options on the left-hand side, select My Recordings and then Upload a Recording.

2. Create a report
GoToWebinar contains a number of useful reports so you can see exactly who registered, attended or did not attend your event; responses to poll questions during the session; and answers to your exit survey. To access the reports, log in to your account and select Generate Reports from the menu options on the left-hand side.

One of the latest reports to be added to GoToWebinar is Webinar Analytics, which provides a visual overview of your webinar. It looks particularly pleasing to the eye.

Webinar analyticsMore webinar analytics


There are a lot of things to think about when running a webinar. But, as they say, practice makes perfect. Make sure you familiarise yourself with GoToWebinar before the live event. Set up test webinars and ask a colleague to attend. Try out the tools that are available to you and make sure you are comfortable with how everything works.

Webinars are a great vehicle for delivering your message to potentially hundreds and thousands of people and they are cheap to run—always a winner! I wish you every bit of success with your webinar programme. Be brave, be bold, and enjoy!

P.S. If you’re not already using GoToWebinar to host your virtual events, you can test it out for yourself with our free trial.

Insider's Guide to Better Webinars

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