Don’t Just Slap Your Webinars Together
Webinars can be an extraordinarily effective marketing tool when carried out correctly. But often marketers don’t understand how much planning and preparation is needed to execute an engaging, professionally produced webinar.
For example, earlier this year, we produced a webinar with two inexperienced speakers. They thought presenting would be easy. But in early rehearsals, it became clear that they needed a LOT of coaching to make their content relevant and useful for their audience. My team spent hours with the speakers, preparing, rehearsing and helping them streamline their slides. We had at least 5 different versions of the plan before we were ready.
But it was worth it. The event went smoothly, the webinar was well received, and it attracted several sales leads, which was the goal. But if we had not planned the content far enough in advance, we wouldn’t have had time to properly coach the speakers.
In addition to allotting ample time for planning, there are a number of other key ingredients that go into a successful web presentation. Here are 14 best practices that help ensure your webinar goes smoothly.
Great webinars require ample time for set up. A good rule of thumb is to allot eight weeks (or more if possible) for planning and promoting your event. The time you spend on the details will directly correlate with the quality of your webcast and how effective it is in achieving your goals.
Define your audience and objectives
The most important part of the plan is deciding what you want the webcast to accomplish and for whom. Whether you want to educate early stage leads to create needs awareness, help prospects in evaluation mode better understand what you offer, or train new customers – document your goals. Identify the target audience, the stage in their buying process, and your desired outcome. Don’t target too broad an audience. If you try to be relevant to everyone, you’ll end up being compelling to no one.
Pick a compelling topic and title
When planning content, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What topics are the hottest right now, and of these, which would they be most interested in learning about? Also, take the time to develop an attention-grabbing title for your presentation.
Determine the format
Decide how the webinar will be executed. Will you have multiple panelists? Do you want to foster discussion or have presenters? How will you keep it interesting? Will you allow your audience to contribute, or will they need to wait until the end for questions? Also, think of ways to encourage audience engagement such as holding live polls during the event.
Hold a pre-webinar meeting between all planners and presenters
Hold a pre-event planning meeting early on to discuss the content. Plan to inform the team of the key deadlines for submitting presentations, dates and requirements for rehearsals and the live event. But also use the time to discuss the content and brainstorm content. This discussion will prove invaluable in helping you create the promotional content to attract an audience. Be careful not to over-rehearse for panel discussions because you don’t want to lose the sense of spontaneity in the conversation. However, in the case of experts who are doing presentations, you want them as polished as possible.
Spell out the key benefits of attending your webinar
Documenting the presentation benefits and also creating an executive summary are helpful steps to keep you and your presenters focused. This information should be agreed upon in the pre-webinar planning meeting. Also, the goals and summary can be used in your invitational emails and other promotional materials. This will be a great time-saver as you go to develop your supporting content. Plus, it will help you stay consistent in your messaging.
Construct a promotional plan
Determine how and where you will promote your webinar. Some ideas include: your company website and social networking handles, your partner websites and your speaker’s social handles. Create banner ads and ask all employees to add them to their email signatures. Encourage your Sales team, executives and other employees to spread the word about your event to their contacts.
Determine your marketing materials
You will need to develop a series of emails promoting the live event. Plan to send out 3 to 6 emails leading up to the event (once a week for the month prior to the event, then one the day before and one the day of the webinar). Most webinar providers include functionality to create a registration page. But these pages are generally not well designed. If you have a marketing automation platform that is integrated with your webinar provider, consider preparing a custom landing page for registration. This will give you the added benefit of having leads placed directly into your database — no need to go through the drudgery of fussing with Excel or CSV files.
Prepare a moderator plan with scripted questions and timestamps
This will allow you to be prepared for someone else to pick up if the moderator unexpectedly gets disconnected. Recently, I ran into this difficulty when I was the content moderator for one of our client’s webinars. This client elected to handle technical moderation internally. During the live event, I lost connection five times. Thankfully, I had carefully documented each transition of the webcast and written down each of my questions and who it was directed to, so when I dropped, another panelist was able to pick up for me and keep the flow smooth. So be prepared for technical problems and plan work-arounds ahead of time.
Understand your infrastructure
When planning for your live event, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the webinar platform ahead of time. I highly recommend using an experienced professional technical moderator who has enough battle scars from doing live webinars that they know how to handle technical issues smoothly behind the scenes. Whether you choose Go ToMeeting, WebEx or another service, make sure you and all other participants know how the technology works before the day of the event.
Pay special attention to sound quality
Poor sound quality is one the key reasons why participants abandon webinars. Encourage your speakers to call in from quiet locations and to avoid using cell or speaker phones that can compromise audio. Do a sound check during the rehearsal, and guide speakers on how to improve sound quality. Using a conference bridge generally delivers better sound quality than the webinar’s built in VoIP system. The bridge can be connected to the webinar as a panelist to permit live streaming, so you don’t have to open the bridge up for all audience members.
Do a run-through
Rehearsing the presentation before the big day is important. Unless you know they have extensive webinar experience, don’t assume that your speakers are skilled in presenting in this format. Rehearse at least once with experienced people. With those less experienced, you may need a few run-throughs. Encourage storytelling, and discourage them from just reading slides. (Tip – It helps to avoid putting heavy text on the slide.)
There is nothing more boring than a series of dry presentations or a boring panel discussion. Liven things up for the audience by incorporating several stories. The more interesting and compelling your content, the more effective the webcast will be in achieving your marketing objectives (and for goodness sakes, don’t focus it on how cutting-edge your industry-leading product is!).
Remember post-event follow up is important
The promotion of your webinar shouldn’t end just because the presentation is over. Be sure to email the recording to both attendees and those that missed the presentation. You can expect 3 to 4 times as many people will watch the recording vs. attending the live event. Prior distributing the recording, edit it to remove the “um’s,” “ah’s” and other extraneous turns of speech. Doing this will often cut out 20-30% of the overall length.
Assessing the Value of a Strong Webinar
A live event gives people a sense of one-on-one communication that can increase their trust in a brand. Webinars can also be an attractive alternative to traditional in-person events because of their convenient and low-cost nature. When a webinar is carefully planned, executed, and offers valuable content, it can serve to position a company as a trusted source of information in the eyes of customers and prospects. For more webinar tips, check out our related blog post, 10 Best Practices for Driving Webinar Attendance.