When used judiciously, webinars can be a highly useful marketing tool. In a report last July, MarketingSherpaÂ listed webinars as having the highest level of effectiveness among B2B marketers. This is significant, considering that it ranked ahead of web pages, white papers and newsletters.
Yet if you read many of the comments about webinars, the general public has a decidedly different opinion on its effectiveness. The complaints go something like this: webinars are overrated; itâ€™s easy to zone out or be distracted; presenters are self-absorbed; there is a gap between what is promised and what is delivered. Why is there a difference of opinion between marketers and the general public when it comes to webinars?
Often the problem is that webinar presenters assume viewers are sitting at attention, without distractions, and hanging on every word. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that webinar hosts are competing with a large number of distractions on viewersâ€™ desktops, including email messages and smart phones, as well as visitors dropping by to chat. Viewers are shrewd, and if they donâ€™t see the value within the first minute or two of the webinar, theyâ€™ll succumb to the distractions and tune out.
With this in mind, there are some best practices that webinar hosts can put into action to help compete with the desktop distractions.
- Use a webinar platform that allows viewers to ask questions, and train your presenters to work their responses into the presentation. Direct participation is always more engaging than passive observation.
- Implement real-time interactive surveys and share the results with your viewers. The presenter should have some interesting surveys prepared beforehand and be prepared to discuss the results in some positive way that contributes to the topic of the webinar.
- Donâ€™t stray away from the declared topic. In the course of answering interesting questions from the audience, some presenters can lose focus and disappear down the proverbial rabbit hole. You may want to use a moderator that can tactfully corral the presenters and keep them focused.
- Keep a schedule for each component of the presentation. The moderator should push things along, if necessary, much like a talk show host. Furthermore, ensure that the most significant and important material is scheduled toward the beginning of the webinar, when the audience still needs to be convinced to stay.
- Rehearse the presentation on the prior day, with all presenters involved. Analyze the results and, if necessary, make last-minute adjustments to the schedule or material. This also gives you time to troubleshoot issues with audio or visual quality.
- Ensure presenters sound lively, happy and prepared. This means you should script as much as possible, especially the opening and closing statements. Coach your presenters to keep an interesting tone in their voice. One trick is to have them smile while talking. It may sound goofy, but it really helps keep the voice alive and enthusiastic. Finally, recognize that some people are not born to be presenters, and even though they may be the most authoritative person on a particular subject, they simply do not have the voice or charisma to pull off a webinar presentation. In those cases, youâ€™ll have to settle for some lesser authority on the subject.
- Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. For example, many webinar platforms allow you to broadcast the audio channel simultaneously through the computer as well as the conference line.
- Provide a Q&A session at the end as part of the webinar schedule. This allows viewers to identify areas of concern that you may not have addressed during the presentation. Generally, you donâ€™t want your presenter to both screen and answer questions at the same time, so designate someone to pre-screen the questions before theyâ€™re sent to the presenter.
- Record the webinar and make it available to download for those who were unable to attend the original presentation. Additionally, make any slides or other reference material available online.
- After the webinar, solicit feedback via email to gauge the viewersâ€™ response. You can reward their participation by sending them a white paper or some other online item of value. Ask for suggestions to improve the next webinar. This will help you continually improve.
Webinars are an effective means of communication between businesses and their customers, but it is difficult to compete for attention when viewers are sitting at their desks with many distractions available. In general, a webinar is much like a stage play, where the sequence and timing are designed to keep the attention of the audience. Unlike a stage play, however, audiences can walk out unnoticed during a webinar â€“ and they will walk out if you cannot compete with their desktop distractions. The above best practices will help keep the webinar lively and informative, thereby maximizing the value for customers and marketers alike.