As restaurants switch from dine-in to take-out and delivery, and conferences switch from a 3-day stint at the Vegas convention center to a 3-day event hosted on Zoom – we are searching for more effective ways to serve our audiences.
And we are going to see a lot more webinars being offered as the economy starts to re-open.
That can be a good thing – our a really bad thing, depending on who is producing the webinar and what they know about producing a great experience.
And since no one wants to invest their time in a bad experience, I thought I should share what I have learned from producing dozens of webinars.
Your Success Comes From Your Focus
The funny thing about webinars is that the really great webinars are based on what your audience is interested in.
And what makes that funny, in a warped kind of way, is that most producers of webinars think a great webinar is based on whatever the hell they want to talk about.
And that’s why so many webinars stink up the Interweb.
Who is your audience?
What do they want to learn?
And what’s the most effective way to help them learn something of value?
Answer those questions before worrying about creating a PowerPoint deck or lining up guests.
Do NOT start off by identifying what’s important to you, and then create your deck without thinking about your audience. That is a recipe for disaster.
Identifying The Perfect Topic
Some time ago, I was working with a mid-sized company that provided education management services to elementary and high schools.
Long-story-short, a shift in the market, and suddenly large public school districts needed the technology this company developed. But the district superintendents didn’t know this company from Adam’s off ox.
We put together an integrated marketing effort that included webinars.
Now, the audience is older, well-educated leaders in the public school system. Trying to get them to register and show up for a webinar about the technology wasn’t going to work – but, bringing in well-known subject matter experts to address topics of interest made more sense.
First, their name recognition with this audience caught their eye.
Second, the topics caught their interest because they addressed current events, and delivered answers to the questions our audience was trying to get answered.
And lastly, we included a free offer to all attendees that included bonus questions the guest speaker answered but were not part of the broadcasted webinar.
That free offer motivated hundreds of school district superintendents to register and attend our webinars.
And within 12-months, sales went from zero to more than $12M.
What's Your 'Big Idea'?
The Devil, they say, is in the details.
And when it comes to great webinars, a specific topic can generate more interest than a general topic.
For example, “Marketing 101” might not generate as much interest as “5 Steps to SEO Success.”
Well, based on the business people I have spoken with, and the results I have seen from a lot of webinars, going too broad with your topic is seen as “trying to cover too much and lacking tangible takeaways.”
To get to that point, I strongly suggest you ask some of your clients and top prospects what they are interested in. Make sure you give them some choices versus asking them to come up with topics on their own – it’s easier to get reactions to choices.
Who and How?
When most people think about a webinar, they think about one person with a PowerPoint deck.
But that’s just one possible format.
What about a host that leads a discussion with one or two guests?
Or will you have a host that simply welcomes everyone to the webinar, introduces the guest(s), then steps back so the guest(s) can deliver their presentation and returns to present questions from the audience to the presenter?
Just remember that whoever you put in front of the camera – and the audience – needs to be a subject matter expert. And it helps if they have a style and presence that comes across well on video.
And don’t feel that every webinar has to have the same format or even host (if you go that route). Do whatever is best for the audience’s experience.
Promotion is Key
Paid and unpaid promotion is key – and offline and online should be considered, depending on your audience.
Are there others that might want to co-promote the webinar? Do you work with suppliers/vendors that offer a non-competing product to your audience? Why not approach them about co-promoting or sponsoring a webinar or a series?
Do You Really Need PowerPoint?
Creating a presentation with lots of slides tends to be a default response to “Let’s put on a webinar!”
Then what gets created in the PowerPoint from Hell – slides crammed with text. Bullet and sub-bullet points down to Level 5. Text that goes from 36 points down to 10 points.
Basically, it’s the entire script and the presenter intends to read from it – probably in a monotone so that the audience can go blind thanks to eye strain AND fall asleep from Boring Storytime.
My suggestion is this – keep it simple if you go with slides.
Studies have shown that the right image will make a stronger impression and stick in long-term memory. And that’s important to your audience’s learning process – and the impression you make.
The right images also transmit the message faster and can trigger emotions, if that’s your goal.
I limit text on slides to no more than five words. And I typically use slides with an image that works well with my script.
Take the image below – what do you see? Some of you will see a duck. Others will see a rabbit. A few will see both.
This is an image I use when teaching consumer behavior to college students and it is extremely effective when discussing the consumer perception process – and how people can see the same thing differently.
Write a Script
If you ever watched Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton, you saw the stacks of cards he used to write down the questions he planned to ask his guest.
Make sure you write a script too.
For starters, a script forces you to organize your thoughts.
Second, a script allows you to rehearse, and rehearsing makes for a much better audience experience. And during rehearsals, you make sure you have enough information to fill your time – because going long is disrespectful to your audience, and going short could be a lost opportunity. (Though it can be a good thing – more on that in a bit.)
Third, webinars can get distracting – and if something happens when you are live and on camera, the script can save your life.
How Long Is Just Right?
Getting people to sit through a 60-minute webinar is a lot tougher today than it was 5 or even 10-years ago. It can be done – but ask yourself if it’s necessary.
Give some serious thought to shorter, bite-sized webinars. After all, if you can give the audience what they want in 15 or 30-minutes, do it.
Showing respect for your audience’s time goes a long way. And you might just see greater interest in [ex] 30 Minute Brown Bag Lunch Series than in a one-hour webinar.
What's The Best Webinar Platform?
Okay, this one is like asking a parent which child they love the most – there isn’t one child or platform that is better than the other.
Webinar platforms, like children, are wonderful in their own unique ways.
Many offer a free trial so take advantage of it. And I strongly suggest that when you do this, walk through the entire process of setting up the webinar, registering for the webinar, sending out reminder emails to registrants, delivering the webinar and recording it.
(It was by doing all of the above that I learned that one leading webinar platform wouldn’t broadcast or record my audio – and that working with tech support was an exercise in futility. Best to learn that in a test with friends than in public and in front of prospective clients.)
Prepare For The Worst
Bad things happen.
Once, the featured guest insisted on using their cell phone to call in for the webinar. Their battery died about 5-minutes into the webinar, leaving the guest scrambling for another phone while the video captured it all.
I happen to own a high-quality microphone that connects to my laptop. The result is clear, crisp audio.
I have also used my headset and microphone with success. And of course, I have dialed in on a good, old fashioned landline.
But I never, ever use my cell phone thanks to that one guest experience.
Now, one final story about problems.
I once had the power go out, along with my Internet connection, about 30-minutes into the webinar. About 50 people in the audience and the screen goes dark on their end because I was the producer of the event and I controlled the platform for the event.
What did I do?
Well, I won’t repeat the first question I asked myself – but it did take me a few minutes to process the fact that the power and Internet were down.
I then found the email list of all registrants and sent it to my smartphone. And then I sent out an email to everyone explaining the technical difficulties and apologizing for the inconvenience.
Once things returned to working order, I finished recording the last part of the presentation and emailed everyone a link to the webinar archive. And I included a special offer as a way of apologizing.
It sucked. They understood. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not life and death – it’s a webinar.
A Few Closing Thoughts
Webinars can be an important tool in growing your business – but they aren’t something you do successfully on a whim.
And there will be times when you think you have a surefire winner of a topic and guest – but the world disagrees and you wind up with a small audience.
Remember the importance of rehearsing and showing up early on the day of the webinar.
When promoting your webinars, treat that as you do all promotions – and track performance so you know what works and what doesn’t. That helps improve results as you move forward.
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