Webinars 2.0 – we’re not there yet

Feb 21, 2019 | Hot Topics

I tune into a lot of webinars, whether product announcements, investor updates or the occasional training session and, while things are much better since I first mused on the state of the art in 2008 and 2010 (here and here), it’s time for a refresher on how to get the most out of the effort you put into your webinars.

First, consider why you are doing this. You have a message you want to deliver and decide that a webinar is the best way to do that. You send out emails to your likeliest attendees, advertise it like crazy and work with outside parties to generate interest. You’re so excited; hundreds of people have signed up!

Next, the how, or logistics. You line up technology, get the speakers to create their presentations, test everything and think you’re ready to go.

And that’s where things can start to go wrong. Here are some common problems (listed in order of annoyance to the audience) along with suggestions for avoiding/solving them:

  • Your webinar technology doesn’t work. There’s nothing more frustrating for attendees than a screen the speaker thinks you can see, that you can’t. Always set up an attendee screen near the speaker (no audio to avoid feedback) so that you can see that they see and time your speech to the visual. This is especially important in demos or training sessions, where the details of mouse clicks matter so much. You might also want to ask your audience to use the webinar tech to message or raise hands if they can hear you.
  • If you do identify a show-stopping problem, don’t soldier on. Announce the problem (by the chat mechanism if all else fails) and reschedule. Realize that your attendees don’t have time to watch you try to fix whatever is wrong.
  • All your best stuff is in the conclusion. That’s bad. If you were able to see the data webinar service providers give to their clients, you’d see the attrition rate as people drop off the session. Stuff happens to even the most dedicated webinar attendee: phones ring, emails arrive, bosses walk in the door. Identify the 5 or 6 most important things you want your listener to know, and put that up front. Maybe in a Key Takeaways-type of slide; if you want to stick an agenda slide in the front, turn that into your top messages. (Similarly, put contact info early in case someone disconnects from the webinar but wants to follow up with you.)
  • Speaking of follow-ups: FOLLOW UP. If it’s all you can manage, thank attendees for their time. Better is a (not from the webinar hosting service) email that directs people to a recording, more information, a list of upcoming webinars — something to establish and maintain this fledgling relationship.
  • You’ve spent so much time and energy on creating great content — now look at it from the point of view of the listener. What are you presuming that they know? Is that reasonable, based on how you invited people? For example, a demo shouldn’t be targeted at expert users, unless that’s the stated purpose of the webinar.
  • Your visuals are too dense. Remember that your audience is listening to you, possibly checking their emails or responding to messaging apps and looking at whatever you’re presenting. Keep it simple. It’s the same as a presentation-in-person: don’t drown people in tiny print. Put the details in a handout.
  • While you’re thinking from their perspective, scope your content. I love webinars that are styled as problem definition / problem solution. It gives me context and tells my why I should spend my time listening. But don’t start with Industry 4.0, or the geopolitical situation or other huge topics, unless that’s what you’re solving (really?). Fit your presentation to your audience’s real-world situation. Industry 4.0 creates lots of opportunities; what few, specific things are you talking about here? How does what you do help your customers navigate Brexit? Details!
  • A customer / vendor session works so well (or industry analyst / vendor — but ensure that the analyst quickly gets to the point) because it’s first-person problem / solution. “Here’s my struggle and how this vendor helped” is incredibly powerful marketing and can be great storytelling.
  • Don’t overwhelm. Yes, you’ve got the audience’s attention for the moment but don’t drown them. It’s better to give less info and schedule a second session than it is to drown people in slides and content. 10 user examples, 5 parts in a demo … too much. Narrow down, remember that people can only absorb so much. Some of that other stuff may be perfect for follow-up!
  • If you read or use pre-recorded content, try to keep it engaging. Reading leads to monotones, especially if nerves speed up delivery. Practice varying pitch and pace, throw in short pauses. We all get nervous and sympathize, but remember that your audience is staring at a small screen; work to keep them interested.
  • End strong. For those that hung with you until the end, make it worth their while. If you’re going to take questions, draft a couple to answer while your audience comes up with their own (or use those if no one has any, so you fulfill that part of your promise to attendees). Go over your key points again and tell attendees what their next steps are: are they waiting for an email from you? Clicking on links to other information (I’ve never actually had that work, so test it)? Invited to an in-person meeting (when and where, and how do they RSVP)? And if you’re a software vendor and want to get people to download an evaluation copy of your product, DON’T just put that at the end; it also belongs at the front to maximize the number of people who can do it.

Webinars are a great way to get your message out to an interested audience at a very user-friendly cost. But don’t blow it because it’s so inexpensive. Spend time to get your message right, consider the user experience and figure out what you want them to do after you disconnect. Don’t waste the goodwill you just generated!

Do you have a superstar webinar tip? Leave it below!

The title image is from Pixabay.