Webinars 101: How to Plan and Execute a Successful Virtual Seminar
During the alternate reality that is the COVID-19 crisis, you’ve likely been inundated with promotions for and invitations to webinars. Which is great! And also has me thinking “welcome to my world”, having worked on the production side of webinars for the past five years. Call me a webinar hipster - I knew them before they were popular.
Webinars are the perfect way to widely disseminate information virtually, while allowing for participants to ask questions and have direct access to the speakers. But they require a lot of work behind the scenes to keep them running smoothly and to ensure a seamless experience for both the attendees and the speakers. So in a time when many people and companies are being forced to pivot to virtual events quickly, with no warning, there’s a lot of room for error. Webinar horror stories can honestly be hilarious, but for now let’s focus on avoiding the common missteps.
Topic Choice and Breadth
When choosing the topic for your webinar, you want it to have a broad enough appeal, but also to focus in on specific, actionable steps people can take and give them best practices to take away. This is also important in your marketing of the event. Keep your title clear and descriptive, and not too long. In the event description, a brief intro paragraph and then a bulleted list typically result in a high conversion rate.
For example, if you’re doing a webinar on social media marketing, you don’t want a vague description of “learn why social media is important and best practices”. People won’t really understand what they’re getting or what value you’re providing. A better description would be:
In this webinar we’ll explore the ins and outs of social media management for businesses. We’ll hear from experts in the field on what they’re doing that’s new and different, and how you can implement these ideas on your brands accounts. Topics to be addressed include:
Writing compelling copy for higher engagement rates
The most important social media analytics to pay attention to
Hashtag optimization and why it matters
Clear, descriptive and concise.
Practice Makes (Nearly) Perfect
In the 1-2 weeks before the live webinar, you should have a prep call with your speakers. They don’t have to go through the presentation in its entirety, but you should ensure that they are familiar with the technology and platforms you’re using, that they can navigate the slides or share their screen if needed, and that they’ve downloaded any necessary programs or add-ons (Flash, Zoom, etc.). It doesn’t matter if they’ve done webinars before or have given the same talk to other audiences. As the organizer, you need to be confident in their ability to do so on this platform, to this audience.
There is nothing that will make you sweat more than seeing the clock hit your start time the day of the event and learning that your presenter didn’t realize that Microsoft Edge isn’t really a thing, or they don't have a strong internet connection at home, or didn’t know that the audio would be coming through their computer, not their phone. Have the prep call. Control what you can!
Day of the Webinar
There are many things to consider for the actual event, but I’ll touch on a few of the most important here.
Start and end on time. This is respectful of the attendees time and the presenters time. If people took time out of their day to attend your event, try not to run long or start late. This will also save you from answering 50 “have you started yet?” questions from attendees.
Start with housekeeping. Address commonly asked questions at the beginning. Will the webinar be recorded? Will attendees get the slides after? Will there be a transcript? Again, this will save you time and let people focus on the content of the presentation.
Be flexible and have backup plans. If a speaker drops off unexpectedly, have a designated person who will step in to fill the time until they get back on. Understand how to take control of the screen or slides if needed. If someone misspeaks, it’s ok for them to laugh about it, and honestly, it’s humanizing.
I could write MANY more words on webinars (hello, look at the sweater), the marketing of them, and using them as a lead generation tool, but I’ll leave you here. I’m currently working with a few clients on transitioning their in-person events to virtual or expanding their current webinar programs, so if this is something you could use some guidance on, don’t hesitate to reach out.