Webinars: They’re like that new shiny toy that every company in the world is suddenly using. Everywhere you look, some organization or another is inviting you to its upcoming webinar or webinar series, promising that you’ll learn a great new productivity tool or an exclusive industry secret.

But at an hour or so a pop, webinars take a lot of time, and you might be wondering: How can I make sure I’m getting the most out of them—and not totally wasting my afternoon?

Luckily, I’ve attended quite a few webinars in my day, and I’ve found that there are a few ways to ensure these sessions are the best thing to ever happen to your career. Trying out these tricks before your next webinar will ensure that you’ll not only learn something from whatever presentation you attend, but that you’ll actually want to go back to another one in the future.

1. Do a Background Check on the Webinar

As you can imagine, reputable companies typically give great webinars; companies that aren’t so awesome usually give subpar webinars.

At an internship for a marketing firm, I was once asked to sit in on a content marketing webinar from a website I’d never heard of. After I did some digging, I thought that the organization running the webinar was a little sketchy. The website itself wasn’t all that great, nor was the advice, so I was pretty skeptical going into the session. My suspicions were correct: The 60-minute webinar was a complete waste of time. It was horribly organized, the speaker was terrible, and the content wasn’t particularly inspiring.

It seems obvious, but people always forget to do this when it comes to webinars: Check out the company beforehand. If you like its content, chances are you’ll like its webinar. If you find yourself saying “meh” as you scroll through pages, I would highly recommend not wasting your time on a long webinar.

This applies to the speaker, too. Many people take the company’s word for it and assume that the person giving the webinar is an experienced professional—but this isn’t always the case. If possible, take a quick look to see if the webinar host has done other speaking engagements, and take a minute or two to see if he or she is legit. You can tell within a couple of seconds who will be an engaging and interesting speaker and who will be a flop. Even if a person has great content, if he or she can’t articulate thoughts clearly, you’re going to spend your entire webinar wondering what’s going on.

2. Find Out if Slides Will Be Available Afterward Beforehand

Most webinars that are on the longer side (at least 15 minutes) are accompanied by slides, so see if the company hosting the webinar will send out its PowerPoint after the fact. This will help you figure out what types of notes you want to take during the session so that you can get the most out of the webinar.

There’s also nothing worse than feeling like you’re typing a mile a minute instead of listening to a captivating speaker. If no slides are available, try emailing the organization hosting the webinar to see if you can get a special copy of the session notes. Again, it makes remembering what you learned during the webinar much easier.

3. Always Take Notes

It can be tempting, especially if slides are provided afterwards, to just sit back, relax, and listen to the webinar without writing anything down. However, there are a few issues with passively listening. First, it’s easy to get distracted—during my webinar from hell, I found myself wanting to check my email, read the news, and just generally not listen to what was going on. Had the webinar not been part of an assignment, I probably would’ve followed through and not paid attention.

Second, there’s also the fact that you won’t remember the vast majority of what the webinar was about, nor how to relate it to your own career. Writing down webinar points isn’t just good for keeping tabs on the things that were said verbatim—notes make it easy to reflect later on. I have a friend who attends many webinars, and she keeps all of her thoughts in a notebook specifically for these occasions. It’s no surprise that she’s able to easily reference things that she took away from any of the multitude of webinars she’s attended.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Interact

The most surefire way to get what you want out of a webinar is to ask for it! Feel like there was something important that wasn’t covered? Was there a point the speaker made that still left you confused? Raise your virtual hand and ask about it! Most good webinars will give instructions beforehand for when and how you can ask questions, and you should take them up on that offer. Getting exactly the advice you wanted from the webinar’s speaker is a great way to feel like you took full advantage of the session.

Most webinars also have chat functions that allow you to get involved with other participants and get their input. Doing so can be a great way to connect with others in your field, get a variety of perspectives on questions you may have, and potentially even grow your network.

Just remember: There are other participants trying to enjoy the webinar, too. If the speaker or host asks for participants to wait until the end to ask questions, listen to him or her and don’t press that “ask” button beforehand. Additionally, try to ask only one or two questions, depending on the size of the audience—you don’t want to come off as the way-too-eager beaver sitting in the first row of class.

Overall, I’ve been to some great webinars and I’ve been to some terrible ones, and I’ve found that the key to have a helpful and fulfilling experience is to come prepared. If you do your research beforehand and set yourself up to learn, you will in fact come away from a webinar feeling more knowledgeable.

Photo of man on computer courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020