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Simple Steps to Engaging Webinars

Posted on 5.06.2013

:: By Heidi Wong, Bigcommerce ::

Webinars can be part of the marketing arsenal for even the most early-stage businesses, because it can build brand awareness, email lists and more. Software and delivery technology has changed, putting Web-based seminars within reach of a wider group of users. Despite these changes, though, one thing remains the same: Knowing your customers and what keeps them engaged.

Webinars can be incredibly painful to the audiences they are intended to serve. Reactions are polarized, ranging from “Oh no, are you kidding?” to “Oh, that's great!”

Getting to “Oh, that’s great!” is easier than you think, as long as you understand that Webinars are not about you; they’re about how your customers benefit from working with you. If your current or prospective clients are willing to give you 20-30 minutes of their time, they have to know they can walk away with something practical they can apply to their business or their world.

Whether you are a first-time Webinar host or a seasoned veteran, here are seven simple strategies that will keep your clients interested in hearing from you, and coming back for more.

1. The Webinar doesn't have to be about your product. The most common error many hosts make is designing the content of their Webinar in the service of the company rather than the customer.

In fact, a Webinar may be of greatest use to your audience when it speaks to the lifestyle in which your product is used. For example, I am a fairly new parent. Consequently, I find myself directly in the crosshairs of the “mommy marketing machine.” This group of vendors has Webinars down to a science. One store that sells baby goods in my hometown of Boston recently ran a Webinar on “how to deal with a disruptive toddler.”

What's interesting about this approach is the company is not talking about the products it sells, or any of the benefits related to those products. Instead, they are talking about where those products are used, and how they can be used to manage situations that are of particular interest to their target audience.

This cuts across all marketplaces. With that important shift in focus, attendees learn practical information. More importantly, they start to understand that your company has an expertise on which they can rely.

2. Make sure to host your Webinar at a time when your participants would like to attend. Take the restaurant market, for example. I’ve known Webinar hosts who wanted to make their presentations at two o’clock in the afternoon. For many restaurants, that is either the end of a high-demand lunch rush or planning and prep time before the earliest dinner crowds. It's unlikely that any of their targets would be available at that time.

In that case, an early morning session — say 9 a.m. on a Monday — may be the right choice. In a B2B environment, though, Monday morning wouldn’t be optimal. Friday afternoon, likewise, is probably a bad idea. People are either wrapping up the week or getting ramped up after the weekend.

You have to understand the market you're trying to reach and plan around their down times, when business or important planning is unlikely to be done. In my previous example of the baby goods store, Webinars can run as late as eight o’clock on any given evening. The hosts understand that by that time the baby is (hopefully) asleep, and the parents will be able to participate.

3. Webinars don’t have to be live. Consider the possibility of a video-on-demand feed. Again, know your customers, what they actually care about and when they can spend time with the material. Being able to access Webinars on their own schedule improves the chances of reaching the largest group of clients or prospects.

4. Remember your time zones. The point here again is to find a time that is convenient for your participants. That does not mean, unfortunately, that it may be best for you. Depending on which coast you're on, you may find that you’re getting up much earlier than you'd like or staying in the office much later than you'd prefer.

For a typical corporate environment, a Webinar that begins at one or two o’clock Eastern time is often a good bet. It gives the broadest swath of businesses across all US time zones an opportunity to work the Webinar into their lunch schedule, so that they can multitask and eat lunch while taking in the information.

And while we’re on the subject:

5. Understand that people will be multitasking during your Webinar. Participants are unlikely to be giving you 100 percent of their attention. There should be some mechanism by which participants can, for example, download a PowerPoint presentation or other slide deck after the Webinar to ensure they don't miss any important information. Making the Webinar available in a video-on-demand format can also be helpful here.

6. Consider something other than a “lecture” environment. To improve the participant involvement, I am a proponent of a more informal roundtable or workshop approach. I will often un-mute attendees and have them share stories. People enjoy talking about themselves and sharing relevant information. They feel safer asking questions in that setting. They can relate to other attendees, and get the benefit of hearing other people's questions rather than just getting a product sales pitch. It's more about sharing information in an online environment.

My most successful Webinars have been when I was doing the least amount of talking. I’ve seen the best satisfaction responses, best conversion rates and best reviews when panels of customers talk about their experiences. Of course, not everyone is comfortable doing that, but it’s often true that your best reactions may come when you speak the least.

7. Make content relatable — tell a story. This takes us all the way back to our first point: the Webinar doesn’t have to be about your product or your company. This takes practice. You have to become a good storyteller.

Interestingly, some of the best people I've hired and trained to do this kind of work have been standup comedians. I honestly believe that the best Webinars are more of a cross between a talk radio show and a performance than a lecture. It’s “edu-tainment.” You have to entertain your participants to keep them involved.

Again, people are usually multi-tasking during a Webinar. They are checking their Twitter feed. They are answering emails. They're on Facebook looking at pictures from the weekend. You have to give them a reason to stay and pay attention.

Webinars are about more than just content. The content has to be relevant to their world. You can talk very pie-in-the-sky, but ultimately you have to offer real-life applications that make sense to attendees. Provide ideas that participants can emulate and apply to their world. That's the only way that people will leave your Webinar thinking, “Oh, that’s great! That was actually worth my time.”

Heidi Wong is Senior Manager of Distance Learning for Bigcommerce. She can be reached at [email protected]

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