Value of Webinars

Last month we mentioned our client’s plans for a CSI webinar. Now that the presentation has happened and the evaluations are in, I want to share our experience to serve as a guide for companies considering their first webinar.

Why a Webinar?

To start with, why do a webinar? There are several reasons:
  • Increased Reach: Most marketing efforts are geographically limited in reach, and increasing the geography considerably increases the time and cost of spreading the message. Traditional presentations, as face-to-face events, are of necessity the most limited. Putting the presentation online takes advantage of one of the greatest strengths of the internet. Remember, however, the impact of time zones; a presentation that starts in New York at 2pm needs to end by 3:30 or the participants in LA miss lunch.
  • Convenience: Related to the previous issue, attending an educational seminar while sitting at my desk in the middle of the work day is far easier than taking time off work, sacrificing my weekend, or spending hours traveling to get there. Making it easier to attend translates to improved attendance.
  • Reusable: Anything put on the web remains, in one form or another, forever. CSI saves popular courses for future on-demand viewing by advertising them in their course library. Presentations can be recorded for future use, posting on webpages, internal training, etc.
  • Prestige: The implied endorsement by the organization hosting the webinar can be a huge bump in your company’s image. Plus, the increased online visibility helps with search engine optimization. Even if participants do not make a direct association between the presentation and your company, as may be the case with groups that have “non-proprietary” requirements, they learn to see you, the presenter, as an expert.

Lessons Learned

Working with an organization like CSI is great; they provided the technical expertise so we could focus on designing and promoting the course. The webinar got free advertisement on the CSI webpage and newsletters, but I recommend doing additional publicity to spread the word. Draw in prospective clients by inviting all your prospects to attend; post it to your Twitter page and in forums dedicated to your target audience; be sure your local trade association chapters know you are the presenter so they can turn out in support. Our webinar was just a few weeks after CONSTRUCT 2009 so we had a great opportunity to promote it at the show.

The most important lesson we learned is practice, practice, practice. Most speakers experience a huge shock when they realize they are speaking to an audience they cannot see or hear. Good speakers learn to draw from their audience, adjusting pace, tone, and detail level to keep people engaged and excited. The most common webinar interfaces, however, only allow participants to give feedback and ask questions in a text-based chat box. Anyone that doesn’t understand why this is a problem has obviously never started a fight with their girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse by attempting to use sarcasm in an email; all emotion gets flattened out, and you can’t tell if a challenging question is asked in anger, curiosity, or excitement. Worse, you only get feedback when people feel strongly enough to start typing, meaning there is no way to tell who is falling asleep at their monitor.

As a result, speakers tend to speed up, get too loud or soft, mumble, and get ahead of the on-screen slide (especially when dealing with slow internet connections) without realizing they have lost the audience. Radio personalities undergo extensive training and practice to overcome this feeling of talking into a vacuum; most people do not have this experience to draw from, so it is important to practice using the actual technology, if it is available. We did not have prior access to CSI’s program, so we practiced with our client over the phone. For extra realism, try putting the phone on mute and only respond in text. Skype works well for this.

I also recommend getting a good microphone. In the past I have used a telephone, and it sounded like it. It was understandable, but there was that slightly canned sound and occasional static. Again, practice with your mike so you know how close you need to be and can speak naturally instead of shouting into it.

Lastly, remember that the webinar is not, by itself, a sales tool. No one closes a deal because of a great webinar. What it does is pave the way for future sales efforts – because you are now the expert in the field, and have an educated consumer base – and it generates a list of prospects for future calls. Be sure participants know how to find your website, and you, for additional information. Sending out a copy of the slide show or other handout is another great opportunity for follow-up. As part of a larger marketing plan, a webinar is a great way to reach and educate your prospects.