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How to plan a webinar that delivers results

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We’ve all been there. You sign up for what you think is going to be an educational, informative webinar and by the time you block off your calendar, log on and tune in, the event is nothing more than a blatant sales pitch. Great.

This would be fine, by the way, if the intent of the webinar were to sell. But all too often, the webinars we sign up for do not measure up to the event that was promised.

Webinars are a great way to actually talk to your customers. Whether you’re launching a new product, educating your audience on a current trend or hosting a training session, prospects can get a small taste of the company’s expertise, without actually having to feel the pressure of a direct sales call.

Over the years, producing webinars has become an integral part of my job. I’ve used just about every hosting platform, devised countless planning templates, edited more PowerPoint presentations than any one person should, and I can tell you from personal experience that the process from start to finish is not at all as easy as it seems.

To help you avoid the webinar bait-and-switch we know and (don’t) love, we’ve put together everything you need to know (and then some) to help you launch your next webinar without a hitch.

1. Select the right program

We always tell clients there are two different options available – a screen-sharing-based program, such as GoToMeeting or WebEx, or a fully hosted service like the system we use, ON24. While hosted platforms tend to be slightly more expensive, they are more reliable than screen-share versions because the slides are uploaded directly into the tool. This eliminates any issues with Wi-Fi connections and allows for a more seamless user experience. Plus, hosted services have more user tracking and CRM integration capabilities. That said, if you’re looking for a more affordable tool, or are just learning about webinar production, a basic screen-share platform should do the trick.

2. Choose a relevant topic and begin slide development

The best way to choose a topic for your webinar is to think about typical questions asked by your customer base. For instance, we recently conducted a webinar focused on dealing with a PR crisis on social media because several of our clients had expressed a need for more specific training in that area. The key is to choose a topic that’s specific enough to catch the attention of a prospect while still being applicable to the masses.

Once your topic is chosen, it’s time to work on your slides (this may be something you save for your speakers depending on bandwidth). For a one-hour webinar (45-minute presentation, 15-minute Q&A), you should plan for about 30 slides.

3. Set a date and choose your speakers

Once the topic is chosen, the next step is setting a date for the event. It’s important to lock this in early to make sure your speakers are available and you have enough time to plan. From there speaker selection is fairly simple, but there are a few things to keep in mind when identifying potential candidates. First, it’s important to remind your speaker that they will need to be willing to work with you on a presentation and should be available for check-in calls before the event. They also need to be confident when speaking in front of groups. We recommend having at least two speakers for each webinar, but no more than four. Having more than one speaker keeps it interesting for the audience and allows you to introduce different perspectives.

4. Create a program calendar

This calendar will set the stage for the entire webinar. From slide development to promotions, there are a lot of overlapping efforts that should be considered well in advance. Planning and coordination for an hour-long webinar will typically take six to seven weeks.

5. Host speaker check-in calls

After the team has agreed on a general timeline, it’s time to get together with the speakers, work through the topic and prepare for the event. We typically recommend a minimum of two calls prior to event day: one to check in on slide development and review the topic, and the other to walk through the webinar platform and practice the presentation. If more time is needed to work through the topic, we sometimes suggest a third call to make sure everything is buttoned up.

6. Draft an abstract and develop the registration page

The abstract should be a page or less and will serve as the copy for a registration landing page in advance of the event. The abstract will outline all that will be covered during the webinar.

The registration page may vary depending on the program but should contain a sign-up form as well as unique tracking to ensure you know which marketing efforts helped drive the most traffic.

7. Develop promotional materials

There are several ways to approach webinar promotion, but we’ve found a combination of email blasts and social media ads tend to draw the best audience mix. Promotions for the event should take place three weeks prior to the live day. It is imperative that the registration page is complete before the first email or social promotion post is sent live. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays typically work best for email blasts. When developing your emails and social content, be sure to use links that connect with the unique tracking in your event portal.

At this time, you’ll also want to develop a series of follow-up emails for use after the event. For these, you should have two sets of emails, one for those who attended and one for those who did not attend. These emails should also contain an opportunity for the user to further engage, such as through a download offer or a link to the on-demand event recording. This is your chance to reconnect with your audience, so don’t be afraid to get creative!

8. Draft event day materials

In addition to promotions and your slide deck, there are a few things you will need on the event day to keep the program on track. First, you’ll need to develop a moderator script for the person introducing your speakers (typically you or another volunteer from your team). The script should give users a quick rundown of what to expect, while also telling them a little about the tool you’re using. We recommend keeping the script very short (two minutes or less) to avoid losing your audience too quickly.

Next, you’ll need a series of “softball” questions for the Q&A. These are questions that can be easily answered by your speakers and help fill in space if you have a quiet audience (you never want to get to the end of the webinar and not have ANY questions). Finally, we often recommend developing a post-event survey to either be shared on the event day or in a follow-up email. The event survey should ask questions of your audience to help gauge the webinar’s success.

9. Prepare for the live event

During the live event day, the speakers and event manager should call in 30 minutes before the event to leave enough time for final questions and practice. Be sure to have a designated person as a director to record the event, lead the speakers and manage the Q&A (oftentimes, this is also the moderator).

10. Analyze post-event reporting

Once your event is complete, take a deep dive of all available metrics from your platform. Some KPIs I like to look at are:

  • Registration page visits vs. registration sign-up conversion rate: Tells whether or not the abstract was strong
  • Registration vs. attendee conversion rate: Tells whether or not your promotions were adequate
  • Level of engagement: Did the audience ask questions? Did they respond to the post-event survey?

These results should also be shared with your speakers in case there is any further need to follow up with individual participants.

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