By Daniel Craig
I love giving webinars. Attendees can’t see me, so I can wear pajamas and drink wine. I can’t see them, so I don’t know when they’re rolling their eyes or falling asleep. And if anyone asks a hard question, I can just mute them. Try doing that at a conference.
But seriously. Done well, webinars are a cost-effective way for companies to reach a large, global audience and drive sales leads without having to travel or pay conference fees. This may explain why it seems like everyone is doing webinars these days.
Problem is, today’s corporate webinars are often poorly organized, sparsely attended, rife with tech issues or thinly-veiled infomercials—a waste of time for everyone involved.
How can companies produce webinars that are both well attended and worth attending? Here are a few of my recommendations.
1. Be Hyper-prepared
Today’s software platforms make broadcasting a webinar easy (check out Capterra’s list of solutions). The hard part is assembling all the elements that make for an informative, fast-paced and professional broadcast. That requires a lot of preparation.
I’m hyper-organized about planning webinars—some might even say obsessive. I start by working with my client to pick a timely, relevant topic, one that is broad enough to appeal to a large audience but narrow enough to cover meaningfully in under an hour.
Popular topics include industry trends and best practices, how to overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities, and how to compete with (or work with) dominant players in the industry.
Next I write a title and description. Make it catchy and enticing but avoid hype and clickbait; the content should deliver what the title and description promise.
Then I wrangle presenters, build a presentation deck, create an agenda and hold a rehearsal.
2. Carefully Vet Presenters
Lining up guest speakers is always a challenge. They should be knowledgeable, articulate, and willing and able to commit the time and effort required. My clients often want high-profile executives and big-name companies, thinking they will draw a crowd, but these people can be hard to reach and difficult. They think they can wing it, but that rarely results in compelling content.
I had one CEO commit to a webinar, enthusiastic about the opportunity to get in front of 1,000+ expected registrants, then disregard my follow-up emails, no-show for the rehearsal, and deliver a rambling, off-topic sales pitch during the broadcast. It was all I could do not to mute him.
I’ve had far better success with mid-level managers of smaller companies who are eager to prove themselves.
Once committed, I stay on top of presenters, stopping just short of harassment. You can’t expect them to share the same sense of urgency as you do, so you’ll need to apply pressure to coax the best possible performance out of them.
To help them prepare I send a list of questions and a slide template, asking for materials a week prior to broadcast. The materials usually arrive late and require work, but that’s okay because I’ve factored that in. If the content is generic or salesy, I ask for changes. Sometimes I prepare the slides for them.
Next I hold a rehearsal. Speakers always underestimate how long their presentation will take and how smooth their delivery will be. A rehearsal gives everyone a chance to practice, fine-tune their presentations, and hear what other speakers are covering.
During this process, I’m quite sure that some speakers grow to resent and loathe me, but in the end they’re grateful because the extra efforts make for a much smoother, tighter webinar.
3. Deliver Quality, Educational Content
In a webinar you’re competing for attendees’ attention with all sorts of distractions at their desk. If your content and delivery aren’t compelling and concise, listeners will multi-task and only half-listen. Keep them engaged by asking thought-provoking questions, taking polls, and encouraging them to send in questions and comments throughout the webinar.
Attendees expect a bit of promotion in exchange for free content, but if you overdo it, you’ll lose them. Provide a short company overview and a brief look at how your products tie in to the topic, then focus the rest of the time on educational content. This may include trends, insights, research, data, tips, examples, case studies, best practices and takeaways. Leave the selling for the sales department after the webinar.
For formatting, I recommend widescreen, an average of one slide per minute, and slides with large, quality imagery and minimal text. Don’t get hung up on presentation “rules” like a maximum of 30 words or three bullet points per slide. People watch webinars from a computer, not a conference room, and some will download the deck without audio, so your slides should summarize key points.
4. Anticipate Tech Issues
I’ve hosted close to 100 webinars, and I still get nervous. It’s a live broadcast, and you’re juggling multiple duties while trying to sound calm and in charge. I’ve been dropped from webinars in mid-sentence, and once I accidentally activated the video camera. (For this reason, I no longer give webinars in my PJs.)
Anticipate technical issues and have a contingency plan for every scenario. What will you do if a speaker cancels at the last minute? If your internet access is cut? If a garbage truck pulls up outside your window?
Keep a backup computer running and the call-in number close at hand. Ask a colleague to help with the backend, fielding questions from attendees, liaising with presenters and handling tech issues.
During a webinar there’s nothing more distracting than background noise like voices, heavy breathing, chewing, traffic and lawn mowers (I’ve heard them all). Find a quiet room, post a note on the door, and close all unneeded computer programs. Ask speakers to call in fifteen minutes early for a sound check, keep them muted while not presenting (don’t forget to unmute), and keep in contact with them via live chat.
I find that writing out the script makes for a smoother delivery. I keep a note pinned to my computer that says, “Breathe. Deep voice, confident, enthusiastic, humorous, warm, intimate, like talking to a friend. Avoid monotone voice, up-speak, uhs, ums and you knows. Smile.” The suggestions come from listening to my own recordings, an excruciating but vital exercise.
5. Think Long-term & Holistic
Last, make webinars part of long-term content marketing and client engagement strategy. To maximize attendance, you will need to promote them shamelessly. This includes emails to your database, social media posts, paid media and cross-promotion with partners and clients.
One-offs won’t get you very far. Plan a series of webinars and build your audience over time. To maximize returns, develop a portfolio of materials around each topic such as blog posts, articles, a case study, white paper or guide, and content for demos and event presentations.