10 Secrets to the Perfect Webinar

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Position your brand as a thought leader and build your funnel and grow your social footprint with the perfect webinar.

After three consecutive columns discussing the white-hot topics of digital marketing best practices, content marketing, and mobile, I want to turn your attention to a less sexy, but no less important marketing tactic. It's one of my favorites, and in a way, it's the unsung hero of B2B digital content marketing: the webinar.

In short, I love webinars. Why?

They're affordable. Webinars cost nothing if you use your company's existing platform, and anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 if you partner with a media outlet that will promote the event, gather attendees, and host it on your behalf. Catering alone could cost that much at most events.

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They are fully scalable. How nice to have a tactic with no variable cost for additional attendees! (Imagine what would happen if you hosted a breakfast event for media planners and 90, instead of 50, showed up...)

They can help position your brand as a thought leader. And a partner to potential clients, rather than as a vendor.

They build your funnel and grow your social footprint. As each webinar attendee is a new lead and (eventually) a potential client.

And they have legs. Webinars - if properly recorded, posted, and shared - can yield months of residual ROI as downloadable PDFs, ebooks, sliced up and released as podcasts, written out and published as blog posts, quoted out as tweets, printed and mailed directly to clients, or distributed at industry events or client meetings.

The best webinars have 40 minutes of content, five to 10 minutes of Q&A, and 10 to 15 minutes as buffer.

So now that we know the value of a good webinar, here are 10 best practices for making yours a success:

  1. Select the right speaker. Favor passion and strong communication skills over title or seniority - or even technical expertise - when you select your speakers. Remember, this person will make the difference between an engaging hour and a snoozefest. It's alright, even preferable, to have a script - it keeps presenters on time and on task when the inevitable distractions occur. Do a dry run, and if it sounds too canned, use bullets instead. Have experts on hand to answer any tricky questions during Q&A.
  2. No speakerphone. But do your audience a favor and buy a headset.
  3. Have multiple presenters and show their photos. Listening to an hour-long anything is tough. Listening to a disembodied single voice is nearly impossible. So show your presenters' photos at the outset of the webinar. That way people can picture who they're listening to. And break up the presentation flow every seven minutes or so by having multiple speakers, be it a moderator who chimes in with an apt question or multiple presenters who do a hand-off. Practice these transitions.
  4. Start five minutes after the hour. Most folks will be rushing from somewhere else to get to their computers for your webinar. And despite your best efforts, some will inevitably have trouble logging in. Starting five minutes after the hour (periodically checking in with your listeners to let them know when you'll be starting) ensures your audience doesn't miss the introduction and context for the rest of the hour.
  5. No bait and switches. What a bummer to tune in to a webinar that purports to be a discussion of mobile trends only to find the company is hawking their new targeting capability. Webinar content should be informative and actionable, never a pitch. And give listeners a clear agenda at the outset so they know what's coming.
  6. You do have something to present. Many folks I talk to say, "I'd love to do a webinar, but I don't have money for research." Research can be expensive, it's true, but remember, your company already has loads of data...that you own. Mine it for insights, connect it with larger industry themes using third-party data, and craft your story from there.
  7. Your video won't play. You will do a test run, everything will be perfect, and then during the live event, your video won't play. Don't panic, prepare. Have a still of the video on a following slide in case there's a malfunction and speak to what it would have shown. Have a witty remark at the ready in case there's a technical difficulty. Or strongly consider foregoing videos until webinar technology catches up. For what it's worth, I've had my best experiences showing videos on webinars using the ON24 platform.
  8. Share case studies and category-specific information. Blinded or not, folks love case studies - especially with proof points, and especially in your listener's given category.
  9. Use a ringer. I learned this one the hard way. After presenting what I thought was groundbreaking research, I opened it up the floor for Q&A, and there were...crickets. Sometimes it takes listeners a moment to gather their thoughts, or a question or two to break the ice. Avoid my moment of horror by having a plant from your team on the call who can ask you an interesting, non-softball question to get the ball rolling.
  10. Close the loop. Everyone who registered represents a new opportunity to build your brand. Send an email thanking all attendees for coming, along with a link to download a copy of the presentation, and another call-to-action (e.g., download a related report, request a customized pitch based on the webinar's findings). Keep the conversation going in a relevant, authentic way.

Answer any outstanding questions or comments that were submitted but left unaddressed on the call with a personal email. Finally, write to the folks who registered but didn't attend, too. Don't just add them to your database. Instead, send them the link to the recording and to the presentation, offer to answer any questions they might have, and ask if they'd like to be added to your mailing list so they'll know about future webinars. Savvy marketers foster relationships wherever possible.

What are your webinar best practices? Have you found success with the tips above? Horror stories with pitfalls I've missed? Let me know in the comments section below or @kristinkovner and I'll address them in a future column.

Webinar image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on March 19, 2013.

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