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Webinars 101 | A step by step guide if you are hosting one for the first time...
Cathy Hutchison, LEED AP, CPSM
Katie Muth, CPSM
The first time I was ever responsible for hosting a webinar, I really could have used a "Webinars 101" synopsis. Since I didn't find the synoptic version I was looking for, I thought I would create one and share it here:
What it is
A web conference (or webinar) is a presentation live via the Internet. While desktop video conferencing is great for smaller groups with bi-directional communication, webinars are primarily one-way with a speaker presenting content to a large audience. In a webinar, each participant sits at his or her own computer and is connected to other participants via the internet. The thing that makes a webinar different from simply watching a video presentation is the real-time aspect. Webinars are typically an “event.” The content is presented live and there is opportunity for Q&A from attendees.
Webinars can be a valuable way to present content to geographically diverse audiences or for local audiences to receive content from geographically diverse presenters. Also, webinars can be an effective way to gather groups around topics about which they are passionate.
What to look for in a platform
There are a variety of webinar host providers such as GoToWebinar, Cisco’s Webex, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, AdobeConnect, InstantPresenter and others which vary greatly in pricing structure and features.
On the pricing side, some charge a flat rate on a monthly basis, others charge per attendee and for some the minutes involved are a factor. Some services allow you to have participants register and pay their own fees. (You can charge more for the presentation than the actual cost of hosting.)
Another influence (especially for international participants) will be the method used for the audio portion of the presentation. Most of the services give the option to participants for connecting via VoIP (voice over internet protocol) which requires a microphone and headset or using a call in number to receive the audio by telephone. (Depending on the country, the telephone option can be very expensive for the participant.)
While attendees will access the webinar via their browser, most will typically need to load a plug in the first time they attend. When selecting a service, you will want to go through a demo to make sure the process is intuitive—not just on the attendee side, but also on the organizer/presenter side.
Planning your webinar
It is helpful to look at the webinar in three phases: promotion/registration, the event itself, and follow up. The best hosting software offers support for all three phases including automating registration and reminders, easy tools for the presenter and response surveys to attendees.
While you can host sporadic webinars, those with the best traction are typically part of a series so it helps to think of your sessions holistically. So, you might ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of the webinar? Would it work better as a series?
- Who is the target audience?
- How many should be in the series and how frequently should they occur?
- What is the optimal time frame for the people I would like to attend? (Note that bridging time zones will be the limiting factor here.)
- What is my promotion strategy (frequency of communication, outlets, etc.)?
It is probably significant to mention that you have to provide content that will draw an audience. Even if you do not charge for the webinar, time is a valuable resource for your participants. The content has to have value to them or they won’t attend. Spending time “thinking like your participants” (or better yet asking your desired participants) is absolutely essential for success.
Phill Martin, Director of Education for NACBA has hosted Webinars for membership over the past seven years. Phill recommends beginning promotion no more than two weeks before the session and says that most attendees won’t make the decision to register until the day of the webinar, so don’t be discouraged if there are no early results.
Most software handles the invitation and reminders once participants register via the weblink.
There are multiple roles in the event: organizer, presenter and participant (attendee).
While the organizer and presenter could be the same person in sessions of 25 people or less, for larger groups, it is helpful to have an organizer separate to the presenter. The organizer can monitor the participants and answer questions (typically sent in via text) and allows the presenter to focus solely on delivering the presentation.
Presenters will essentially be sharing their computer screen allowing them to show content from virtually any program: MSPowerpoint, PDF, a web browser, document, spreadsheet, photo file, video, etc.
GoToWebinar allows you to easily schedule a practice session prior to your event which can be very helpful for your organizer and presenter to make sure that things run smoothly prior to the event. Note that there are differences in support for Mac and PC. Find out where the gaps are ahead of time because you will likely have mixed platforms on both the attendee and presenter side.
One of the best things you can do for your audience is to set expectations up front. Quickly explain the format of the presentation, how Q&A will be handled and what control they have in the presentation (if any).
Though webinars are presentational, most of the webinar hosts/software allow you tools to engage participants. For example, some hosts allow guests to “raise their hand” which enables presenters to ask questions and ask for a “show of hands.” Most have a text feature which allows participants to text questions to the organizer. Some have polling features which allow participants to click their screen and answer a question with the posting of results in real time. GoToWebinar even allows you to put up a blank screen and allow some participants access to drawing tools.
Be disciplined to keep your webinar to the scheduled time frame. You won’t be able to get the same sense of engagement (or lack thereof) that you get with a live audience. It is important to fulfill expectation.
Most of the providers offer reporting on your audience and the registration information (including questions you select for the registration process) are reported back to you.
Some offer features allowing you to record the webinar which gives you the option to either use for archival purposes or to redistribute.
It is important to decide your follow up methodology in the planning session so that you don’t miss opportunity and are able to get the full value of the webinar.
Peter Kienle, FSMPS, CPSM, MBA
Thanks for writing this up. I have had many professional services marketers ask me how to do a webinar.
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