Webinars, or ‘web seminars’, have been run online since the early days of the internet. You will no doubt have received invitations to attend a webinar from a multitude of sources, and mostly likely listened to a fair few over the years. However, hosting your own webinar might be something you have yet to tackle. So, whether you are looking to provide customer training, offer the market advice on best practice, or launch a new product, here are some useful tips on hosting a successful webinar.
Why use a webinar?
Webinars are of course audio-visual presentations, with a highly interactive element, which helps to make them such a popular means of communication. In its 2016 Webinar Benchmarks Report, leading marketing solutions company On24 stated that there has been a consistent rise in the popularity and value of webinars as an essential marketing, training and communications tool, with audiences increasing year on year.
The presentation is usually a live event, although it will often be recorded and made available on-demand afterwards. A key advantage is that attendees can join from anywhere in the world, with webinars often scheduled at appropriate times to maximise attendance from different time zones – or indeed repeated to meet that same requirement.
Hosting webinars can provide a perfect platform for subtly promoting your own products or services in an informative and educational manner, increasing your online visibility, and helping you to establish trust and credibility. By providing an audience with a learning experience, this builds trust with potential customers and displays expertise. Whilst researching the subject to be presented, this often broadens the presenter’s knowledge and understanding in the process.
Attracting an audience
In parallel to developing content for the webinar, it’s essential to secure a suitable audience. Trade media will provide not only a hosting service, but also a marketing service for webinars. They can give a webinar credibility, but these benefits will come at a cost, which might be beyond your available budget. Whether you decide to host the webinar yourself or use a third party, it is still important to use every available marketing channel to promote it – direct emails, your own website, and all social media platforms. Once you have done everything you can to attract your webinar audience, it is a good idea to obtain their contact details when they register, enabling you to send them reminders in the lead-up to the event.
Having secured an audience, it’s important to maximise and maintain their interest throughout the event. As with most presentations, you only have so long before attendees start ‘itching in their seats’, so it is advisable to be concise. Twenty minutes, plus some extra time for questions, is a reasonable benchmark, although this will depend on the content. Webinars providing training may not have the same pressure on time.
Presenters will often use PowerPoint slides as a visual aid. When performing a live presentation, slides should be light on text and strong on visuals. If the slides contain a minimal amount of text, it offers the presenter the chance to expand on them, rather than just reading them verbatim. Animation and videos can also be good visual aids, but keep in mind that they may not stream perfectly for everyone, so it might be best to avoid these, at least until you have perfected the art of using them.
When presenting, it is important to be as engaging as possible. An expert may know their subject inside and out, but being a skilful presenter is not easy. The ability to speak confidently and enthusiastically, without relying on a script, is very important. Practice makes perfect, of course, and thorough preparation will go a long way to helping deliver the correct message in an interesting way. It is worth noting that presenting online is different to having an audience physically present with which you can more easily engage. Being good at one doesn’t automatically mean that the presenter will also be comfortable with the other.
Presenters should look to make their webinar as interactive as possible. They should not be shy about inviting the audience to ask questions during the presentation, or indeed about asking the audience questions – it will keep them fully alert! If the webinar ends with a formal Q&A session, you might consider having a moderator to manage that element. It is a good idea for a moderator to have a stock question – agreed in advance – to get the session under way, and perhaps help draw out an important point. Moderators can also be useful for introducing and ending the webinar, enabling the expert to focus solely on the key aspects of their presentation. As with radio, having more than one voice is a good idea, as this can help to retain the attention of attendees.
It is important to keep your audience’s needs at the forefront of your mind. The title of your webinar will have promised them something – be it teaching them how to install a flowmeter more efficiently, how to reduce energy consumption, or maybe why your new sprocket will revolutionise their production – so deliver what you promised. The attendees are there to learn something, so ensure they get what it said on the tin, and don’t just talk about the features and functions of your new product.
Technology is forever advancing, of course, and webinars may in time find themselves usurped by a variety of live streaming platforms. For now, though, they remain a relevant means of getting your message across, and while they continue to provide attendees with knowledge that can benefit their own companies in real-life scenarios, their popularity shows no sign of