5 fails when adding webinars to association chapter programming

If your association chapter is like the one I lead, you’re constantly trying to deliver great programs and networking opportunities for members while motivating a bunch of otherwise busy volunteers. Making a little extra money that you can use to reinvest in the chapter is always useful, too. (see footnote #1)

The good news is that adding a virtual component to your bag of tricks can help you reach more members and generate additional revenue.

There are two ways to benefit from webinars. Some organizations do webinars in addition to regular programs, but more commonly they use technology to extend the reach of an in-person gathering.

What follows are five of the biggest mistakes chapters make when doing the latter…and some tips for making this extension of your meeting a value for everybody. (see footnote #2)

Failure #1: Not treating the webinar like an “event”

Meeting planners get to know a room, make sure the coffee pot is in an accessible place, and decide how to arrange the chairs to create the best experience they can. Unfortunately, too often the virtual component is a hasty afterthought.

Take action

  • Recruit an extra helper for the program director to oversee the webinar portion of the meeting
  • Encourage them to create value by taking responsibility for the virtual attendees’ “experience”

Failure #2: Not using enough technology

The virtual attendees’ experience is how they will perceive value. A conference call lets them listen, and Skype may also facilitate virtual participants seeing what’s going on, but a quality web conferencing tools can facilitate Q&A, chat, handouts, and even social media.

Take action

  • Source a professional web conferencing solution. A potential source is the organization one of your members works for (who has a corporate account they’d let you use). Some conferencing companies are willing to trade use of their technology in exchange for being listed as an event sponsor
  • Use a hardwired web connection. It is less convenient, but it’s far more reliable
  • Contact the meeting venue to coordinate with their technologist. Optimally, virtual attendees can hear what’s going on and can be heard when invited to speak
  • Decide whether you will use Twitter, the web conferencing solution, or both to facilitate conversation, questions, and connectedness

Failure #3: Not preparing the presenter

It is common for presenters to plan for the in-person attendees, but most aren’t thinking ahead about how they will also make virtual attendees feel like “part of the room.”

Take action

  • Start with understanding how the presenter works with the in-person audience and adapt from there (e.g., if there is a handout, also get it as a PDF)
  • Let them know what their options are. Technology will influence execution for things like how the handout is distributed, how Q&A is handled, how PowerPoint is used, how a video is viewed, etc.
  • Test the web conferencing solution with the presenter’s PC well in advance
  • Talk through the logistics with the presenter and a facilitator for the timing or flow of the meeting
  • Ask the presenter to plan to verbally address (e.g., a welcome) those who are participating remotely

Failure #4: Not having a facilitator for the virtual part of your audience

“Set it and forget it” is a surefire way for the remote attendees to be disconnected, figuratively or literally. Think of the facilitator as an extension of your door greeters or hospitality team – they help attendees feel welcome at the door and navigate throughout the meeting.

Take action

  • Encourage the facilitator to be creative with how they make virtual attendees feel welcome. For instance, use chat to “greet them at the door.”
  • Ensure that virtual participants can see/hear adequately. Monitor chat for signs of needing to make an adjustment during the meeting
  • Have the facilitator manage muting/unmuting attendees for Q&A. Alternatively, the facilitator may act as the “voice of the audience” by reading questions to the presenter (if the audience is in “listen only” mode)
  • Have the facilitator assist attendees with chatting amongst themselves. The facilitator may also help virtual attendees bridge the gap with in-person attendees by additionally instigating conversation on Twitter

Failure #5: Not communicating the value you are creating

It is common that people’s experience with webinars is limited to passive, low-interaction marketing webinars. Assume invitees have this paradigm in mind, and proactively communicate how your chapter meeting will be different…assuming you have followed some of the suggestions above.

Take action

  • Don’t just tell invitees that the virtual part of the meeting will be “interactive.” They’ve heard that before. Show them in how you communicate to them
  • If your web conferencing solution offers a link to pre-test their connection in preparation for the meeting, include it
  • Share the Twitter hashtag in advance. Don’t just use it to promote the meeting, interact with people in advance
  • Provide a field on your website registration form for registrants to submit questions in advance

The bottom line

Webinars are inexpensive and effective ways to extend the reach and value of an association chapter. The good news is that, like planning any meeting or event, they’re not hard to do…it’s just a different set of details.

And today’s bonus question is, “Are you ready to roll up your sleeves, push a little outside your comfort zone, and grow your chapter?”



1. I’m the current President of National Speakers Association of Oregon

2. Note that this post isn’t going to get into hybrid national events/conferences. I’ll save that for another day.


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