Last year, I did the speaker's circuit, traveling to some lovely conference centers and some not quite as opulent. At first it was exciting. Eventually, my days on the road grew tiring, and I longed to be seated at my desk, getting some work done.
Truth is, traveling to a conference is great. Watching a presentation from a remote location isn't bad either, if it's produced well. For years, I cringed at the word "Webinar." It just seemed to presage dull-as-dirt PowerPoints, cobbled together with a tired template and sterile Arial fonts.
I've been proven wrong on several occasions. There are Webinar creators who can craft an interesting presentation and make their sites much more valuable to users. Webinar technology can reach a wide audience, include interactive Q and As, and be digitally archived for playback.
Results aren't bad, either. According to a study by Bitpipe, 71 percent of business leaders surveyed were likely or extremely likely to consult a Webinar when making a critical buying decision.
The key? Good planning and creative content will keep people glued to their desks, instead of wishing they were on a plane to Hilton Head.
Some tips for Webinars:
Choose a compelling topic. Astonishingly, hundreds of Webinars are held on effective telephone skills. Who wants to sit through this stuff? If you're going to go to the trouble of creating an effective Webinar, don't tell people to "talk with a smile." Give them something new and interesting. Don't make it just a sales pitch, either. Offer information that will help your target audience learn something new.
Choose the technology. You can opt for audio streaming (usually less expensive) or a teleconference call (great for two-way interaction). Also, consider features such as "chats" and polling. The more it looks and feels different from a standard conference presentation, the better.
Be aware of the time. If you're targeting the U.S. only, try scheduling after 12 p.m. in the East and before 11 a.m. in the West. I once hosted a Webinar at 8 a.m. EST, which meant rousing myself at 5 a.m. PST and trying desperately to sound alive.
Publicize. Generate excitement before the event. Issue a press release and send out "thanks for signing up" email, followed by reminders. Post announcements on your site. Talk about the speaker's expertise and the benefits of participating. Create an intriguing landing page that lets potential registrants know they're in for something special.
If you're the presenter, take note:
Practice your pitch. Your attendees can't see you, so your voice must carry the day. Know when you're going to emphasize key points. More important, scrap the jokes. You don't have the capability to "work the room." Don't even try.
Get a moderator. I can tell you it's extremely odd to conduct a seminar without making eye contact with an audience. You have none of the usual cues that help you know whether you're a hit or a bore. Good moderators can help get a speaker through this awkwardness. She can monitor Q and As to check participants' mood. Additionally, a good moderator will lob in some easy questions to keep you on track.
Work on production. I'll admit I'm predisposed against presenters who think they can get by with shoddy slides. In a Webinar, the stakes are even higher. First, you expect rapt attention from someone who's sitting at his desk. That's not easy. Phones are ring. Coworkers interrupt. There's always the temptation to switch screens to email or other projects. Second, your hosts will most likely want to replay the Webinar for those who couldn't make the live event. A presentation that will be replayed repeatedly demands top-notch production values.
Start and end on time. You can't scan the audience to see whether they really want more. Your best bet is to end when you promised you would.
And for Webinar producers:
Offer a takeaway. Most conferences take hours, sometimes even days, to get to. People who make the effort to register and travel aren't likely to blow off your session. That's not the case with Webinars. Registrants can drop out just minutes before it starts. Therefore, it's important to offer a takeaway or prize to those who complete the process. Offer a report, white paper, or transcript they can share with others.
Ask for feedback. Don't forget to call Webinar participants and ask them for feedback. Like everything else, it takes a while to adapt to the Webinar format.
Now if they could just include a round of golf or a free trip to the spa, Webinars would truly beat out most conferences.
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.