Webinars: Why you must seriously think about adding them to your content marketing mix

Susan
By Susan November 7, 2017 16:45

Webinars: Why you must seriously think about adding them to your content marketing mix

Never tried webinars before?

 

Perhaps you’ve heard about webinars or you’ve been on a few yourself… But they sound like a lot of trouble. Don’t you have to invest in fancy software and a recording studio? Aren’t webinars overdone, aren’t they just for high-pressure sales pitches?

Let’s think of webinars differently…

What do you do when you need to showcase your expertise but you can’t afford the cost and time of travelling to an event? Or when you want to increase your reach but you don’t have the bottomless pockets of a huge company? Or when you want to create a community but your customers are all over the world?

 

How webinars helped me make a point in the most elegant way

 

A few weeks ago, the Meath Local Enterprise Office asked me to talk about my experience with Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), I am a vocal fan of EEN: they have supported my international ventures from the start and they do amazing work. Their work enables European SMEs to export and play their rightful part at a global level.

Ironically, thanks to the help provided by EEN, I was actually in the US at the time, in Ohio, with an American client. I couldn’t be in Meath. Webinars provided the solution: using Skype, I was able to talk to the Meath LEO attendees and toggle between my webcam and my PowerPoint slides. My presentation was broadcast onto a screen from the organiser’s laptop.

Afterwards I got several emails from people in the audience, who told me how much they had enjoyed the presentation and especially that I was “walking my talk” – the fact that I was on the other side of the Atlantic only highlighted the success I’ve known thanks in no small part to EEN.

 

Are webinars a thing of the past?

 

A few years ago webinars were all the rage. They finally allowed you to be in several places at once, and they were touted as the be-all and end-all of online learning. They were going to solve all our problems.

However, as often happens with “fads”, we’re now experiencing the counterswing: pundits announce that webinars are dead, that MOOCs with their dismal completion rate cannot replace live, in-person teaching, etc., etc.

Are webinars dead, though?

Here is what Karen Hyder (@karenhyder ?) from the E-Learning Guild has to say:

“Webinars are not dead. They continue to be an excellent way to reach learners where they are. But all web sessions are not the same. Virtual Instructor led training involves interacting with content and other participants. Webinars and webcasts are more one way broadcasts with Q&A.

They have made their way to the bottom of the training offering used by sales folk for live demos and commodity training. They are on a par with podcasts and other pre-recorded videos. Not awful, but not training.

At the Guild, we use Webinars to provide timely and short interactive learning sessions. We coach each presenter to include open and closed questions to bring learners into the conversation. More than “chalk and talk,” our sessions are compelling and memorable. Recorded sessions become excellent just-in-time resources for our community members.”

As you might have guessed if you’ve ever been in boring webinars and ended up clicking away, webinars are just a tool. They can’t make up for a boring presentation or a monotonous style. However, webinars can be amazing if they’re used in the right way.

So what does it take to use webinars successfully?

 

The basics of webinars

 

A webinar is a seminar on the web. Whoever wants to attend the webinar follows a link to join a live session where a presenter is speaking and you can either see them or their screen. Webinars offer great advantages, for example to small businesses, because they give you masssive reach with very, very low costs and almost no barrier to entry. Webinars are a great ally in a variety of business models.

  • Webinars are very effective in increasing retention

Let’s say your company has an amazing software tool. Your customers are all over the world. How can you make sure that each one of your customers has the opportunity to familiarise themselves with your software?

Because that’s the rub: if they don’t know all the things your software can do, they will stop using it – and they will cancel their membership. You can prevent that by helping them see how incredibly useful the software is, and how it is tailored to their exact needs.

To increase retention, you can offer a regular webinar to take your customers step-by-step through the functionalities of your software. From the comfort of their own home, they get valuable information in easily digestible format, which tremendously increases the value of the software.

This is the use of webinars I’ve had most experience with, with superb results. I introduced them to VectorVest Europe in 2012 as a method of increasing subscribers’ familiarity with the software, to create a community and to reach out to those who found it difficult to travel to the live seminars. On every calendar metric (quarterly, half-yearly and annually), the retention increased and this way of doing webinars has now been rolled out globally across the company.

  • Webinars make for a great engagement tool

For two years, I gave a quarterly webinar for recruitment company Morgan McKinley, on the same theme: the APAC Economic Outlook. Quarter by quarter, the companies and candidates who were Morgan McKinley clients could follow the evolution of the five countries I covered in the webinar (Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Australia). This made for continuity, and the information and analysis I shared had a direct impact on workforce planning processes (for the companies) and on job interview skills (for candidates, who were able to come across as highly knowledgeable and up-to-date).

  • Webinars are a superb joint venture tool

Webinars were made for joint ventures, as I found out when I worked on a range of these. You might have a large database of customers or readers. I have a product that you honestly think will be of interest to them. You introduce me to your list via e-mail, inviting your community to a webinar we will hold jointly. I deliver the session, offer a special rate to your readers and you take a commission. I gain exposure to a new audience, as well as new customers, and you get to increase the value to your existing audience by presenting them with a special offer for a useful solution. This allows you to offer more content and monetise the time you spent building trust with your audience.

I was recently working with the VectorVest team in Toronto, Canada. While there, I was explaining why and how the European markets are doing so well at the moment. The MD then asked me if I would be a guest at his “International Forum” and give a presentation on the topic. With webinars, we knew we could make it happen quickly! I ended up presenting the “inside track” on the European economy to 1500 people all over the globe (If you follow the link to the webinar, you will need to register with GoToWebinar).

  • Webinars build community and offer just-in-time information

Because webinars are live, your audience can interact with you. They can ask questions, get answers immediately, share their own feedback and hear from others in whatever environment they choose. This is great for them as they can get the solution to the exact problem they were struggling with, and they get to know you better. You get to meet your audience and deepen your relationship with them, while gaining invaluable insights into their tastes and what issues they might be facing. It’s highly useful help and information for your audience, and it’s unbeatable market research for you.

Shortly after I published The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom, we ran a Savvy Women Online budgeting webinar. It was delightful to speak directly to readers and deal with their queries in real time from all over the world.

If you have a group of new customers, it’s likely that they have similar questions. If you can answer their questions, with other people in the same group “listening in”, everybody benefits. We introduced a “First Steps” webcast in VectorVest Belgium and Netherlands for this very purpose and it’s been very useful. It’s a great resource of “Frequently Asked Questions”, it provides amazing introductory support, it onboards new customers very effectively and of course, it acts as a video library of recorded content that newcomers can refer back to as often as they like.

 

What does it take to excel at leading webinars?

 

In my experience, it is very important to be aware that this isn’t a typical presentation where you stand up in front of a group, with a supporting PowerPoint and speak about a topic. Let’s talk about the negatives of webinars.

1. People tend to be in their natural environments: their home or office. They don’t experience the feeling of being in a different place, meeting new people and enjoying refreshments. There is value in each of these and a webinar cannot offer them.

2. In a similar vein, one joins a webinar on their laptop… which means they’re only a click away from distraction: Facebook, their e-mail, or the job they were working on. If attendees know they can look back at the recording, it may be tempting to zone out completely, while entertaining great intentions of studying the recording later…

3. There isn’t any full person-to-person connection. A presenter can’t make eye contact with their audience and can’t rely on visual cues from their body language.

Therefore, to excel at giving webinars, it’s important to overcome these issues, but also to truly leverage the advantages they offer. These include:

1. Do more and make your presentation more interesting thanks to tech tools.

Make sure you master all the technology that your webinar platform can offer. From sharing your screen during a Skype conversation, to conducting an impromptu poll with thousands of attendees all over the world, webinar platforms offer many bells and whistles that can make a huge difference.

A webinar is not just a video conference. See what tech tools could enhance your presentation, and learn to use them. Something that comes to mind is managing questions: it is customary to have a chat function in a webinar, where attendees can leave their questions. This means the speaker can choose to answer them on the spot, leave the questions for later because they know they have a slide coming up that will have the answer, or make sure that an overly chatty audience member doesn’t hijack the conversation.

2. The corollary of all that wonderful technology is that – there’s a lot of wonderful technology… and technology can let you down at the last moment if you’re not familiar with it.

Make sure you have a tech person to train you thoroughly, or to be on hand during the webinar. Attendees will have many, many, many tech issues, from the sound they can’t hear to the screen they can’t see. Have a tech person with you to answer their queries and make sure everything is running smoothly.

3. Recording.

Usually, there isn’t any recording when you are delivering a session in-person, although smartphones and TED talks have changed that. With a webinar, it’s a very easy choice to offer a recording. Simply have recording software running in the background (sometimes it’s an integral part of your webinar platform), and you could be building a valuable video library every time you give a webinar.

4. You don’t have to worry about capacity… at all.

Whether you have one person or a thousand people online, there isn’t any reason why anybody’s experience needs to be compromised by a crowd… or the lack of one. Webinars truly are a great way to scale. There can be hundreds and thousands of people on a webinar, at no additional cost. On the other hand, if there are only four or five registrants, it’s still worth your while to go ahead with the webinars, test it out, get feedback, share the recording, etc.

5. Tremendously lower costs.

You don’t need to rent a venue, to offer refreshments or have people to welcome your guests. You might decide that you want to run a monthly online event, sharing content from several different concepts and perspectives, as informal Q&A sessions, with a guest speaker and as a joint venture. You can test all of these ideas almost cost-free, see what works and what doesn’t, provide value to your subscribers in a variety of formats and then pin down your content plan for next year.

6. One of the most beautiful things about webinars is the diversity of a community that you can bring together.

At the international online forum I mentioned earlier, I was able to speak to investors in Canada, the US, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and so many other countries around the world. I was able to take questions with regional perspectives from all over, and to offer my own view, informed by my own regional experience, in response. This simply couldn’t have happened without a webinar.

So, are you getting excited about all the possibilities that webinars can open up for your business? Here are my six parting tips for a great webinar experience.

 

Webinar platforms in all shapes and forms

 

Once you know you want to leverage this wonderful tool, where do you start? Many people harbour the secret fear that webinar technology will be their undoing… Not so! Yes, there is a learning curve. No, it’s not half as bad as you imagine. Most importantly, the investment in time and training yourself to use the right platform for your needs will be very handsomely rewarded.

Easy and light on technology on the one side, with facebook Live and Skype; extremely complete and with high-capacity functionalities on the other side, with GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect and Webex – here are all the webinar platforms I have had experience with:

  •  facebook Live is an easy, free, no-tech way to share a short, sharp message with your existing audience. facebook hosts the video and all you need to do is click a button to “go live”. The functionality is designed for simple recording of relatively disposable content. The live nature of the recording can be quite forgiving to small mistakes. It’s an excellent choice for your very first foray into this area.
  • Skype is a webinar-lite tool where one might want to get an audience online quickly. Many people have Skype accounts and hence, it can be a great way to informally take people through your content. It’s very easy to toggle between your webcam and screen. It’s an excellent choice for testing out your content with a small number of people. In other words, it’s for beginners in this space.
  • GoToWebinar is a superb, intuitive webinar platform for people who want a good, solid platform to deliver a one-to-many presentation. The analytics are excellent and the 24/7 support is top class. It’s an excellent choice for people who want to deliver content-driven webinars regularly to all sizes of audiences.
  • Adobe Connect is a fantastic platform for organisers who want their attendees to interact in various ways. If you want to prepare several branches of polls in advance, encourage your attendees to switch on their webcams and break the audience into groups to collaborate, Adobe Connect is ideal. It’s an excellent choice for a host who is willing to plan a range of activities and deliver a highly engaging experience.
  • Webex is the eLearning lover’s dream. There are virtual classrooms where all sorts of bells and whistles are available. I used Webex to organise webinars as well as exercises to complement the learning. I could tailor the questions to suit the topic objectives and had a range of metrics. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to manage and monitor virtual learning very effectively.

 

Six tips for a successful webinar experience

 

1. Double and triple-check your internet connection.

For your webinar to be successful, it’s imperative that you, as the host, have a very robust connection.

2. Have a quiet environment.

Turn off your phone and notifications on your computer to avoid being interrupted by random pings. If you’re at home, make sure babies, dogs and lawn-mowing neighbours will not be a concern. If you’re at the office, find the quietest spot you can, on a floor that’s as empty as possible (at DCU Invent we are lucky to have a special videoconferencing room that is on a different floor, away from the hustle and bustle of offices), and make sure you are not disturbed.

3. Invest in good equipment without breaking the bank.

I record my podcasts and webinars using this Blue Yeti Studio microphone. It’s very good quality and is quite affordable.

4. Work on your public speaking.

If you’re not familiar with public speaking, get help from a coach or join your local Toastmasters. Work on your delivery to liven up your presentation, especially if you are going to show slides and attendees will only hear your voice.

5. Think in detail about the pace of your presentation.

A webinar is in some respects like a movie: it needs to have good rhythm. Ensure you give a test webinar first and then listen back. With no body language cues, your audience will be relying on your voice only to carry them through the webinar: vary your tone and delivery. Speed up to convey excitement and slow down when you want to emphasise a point. Use visual effects efficiently to make your webinar a visually engaging journey: without overdoing it, you need to make sure you add animations, graphics and transitions to highlight important information.

6. Make your webinar truly interactive.

If you’re not familiar with giving presentations generally, and delivering them online more specifically, it’s only too tempting to fall back on the time-honored format of the lecture: you talk, they listen. However, this doesn’t pass muster anymore in the 21st century. Make sure you include polls, questions and other ways to invite your attendees to participate.

So, are you ready? See you on your next webinar!

HayesCulleton Group also offers webinars as part of our content development service. From consulting to training to co-presenting, talk to us if you want to add first-rate webinars to your content marketing mix.

 

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Susan
By Susan November 7, 2017 16:45