Webinars or webcasts, as they are sometimes called, have increased in popularity and in effectiveness within the past 5 years or so. A common tool for today’s marketer they provide a great way to reach a large number of people with your message.
I believe in three simple rules for a successful webinar program:
- Understand and map your needs
- Choose the appropriate webinar platform
- Put in place a well documented webinar process
1. Understand and map your needs
First and foremost, you should list out all the ways in which your company will be using webinars and the platform. For example, typical uses of webinar software often fall into one or more of these categories:
- Online sales demos and presentations: a sales rep shares a PowerPoint presentation and his desktop screen while walking through a product demonstration.
- Marketing presentations and educational sessions: usually involving a moderator and a speaker, sharing PowerPoint slides and often making use of polling questions and maybe annotations to engage the audience.
- Online training: an instructor sharing PowerPoint slides, maybe sharing the desktop screen and using arrows, circles, and other annotation tools to illustrate a point.
- Technical support: a technical support representative with a customer on the phone where the customer shares control of his desktop and the rep troubleshoots.
OK, before you tell me that training and tech support are not part of the traditional definition of webinar, please bear with me for a moment and I’ll explain it in time.
Depending on the category, or type, of webinar usage you will be able to list out all the features you need. Each webinar platform has a set of features that can be useful or useless and why pay a premium if you don’t care whether circles can be drawn on the screen? An interesting way of looking at it is by making a grid on a sheet of paper or using a spreadsheet comparing your needs versus the features required.
Sample requirements grid for webinar platform selection
Why list technical support and online training? Although often outside the marketing/sales spectrum, there are tools out there that may not only help with webinars but can also help with the needs of the tech support and professional services departments. Why not kill three birds with one stone? So don’t discard them completely until you have spoken to these departments and determined whether they should be included in the requirements grid or not.
2. Choose the appropriate webinar platform
Now that you have listed how you will be using webinars, you’re ready to investigate and fend off vendors. In your first conversation with a vendor, you should list all the uses (maybe even share the grid with them) for the tool you want to buy and ask for a demo showcasing the specific requirements you have. This way you make sure you control the sales process and don’t waste time with a tool that does not have a feature you consider critical.
Some of the most used webinar providers are:
- Microsoft LiveMeeting
- Adobe Connect
- GoToMeeting / GoToWebinar
- Lotus Sametime
If you do a quick Google search many others will show up, including free ones like:
The Web Conferencing Council has some good information on webinars and has recently released a whitepaper comparing some of them.
One other thing to consider is the teleconference provider, especially for your marketing webinars that are likely to have dozens of attendees. Some webinar providers have their own conferencing service (GoToMeeting / GoToWebinar offers one for free and Adobe Connect users needs to use Premiere Global for an extra fee), so you should ask the question during your evaluation. The price for phone conferencing will increase the overall costs for your webinars.
3. Put together a well documented webinar process
Now that you have the tools in place, you should think carefully about the procedure to be followed for webinars, especially for the marketing webinars where multiple attendees are involved. Online lead generation events are more effective when there’s a formal procedure that is followed every time, preventing occasional glitches from happening. Thing of the following:
- When should a new session / room / webinar (the terminology varies according to the platform) be reserved?
- How will registrants get login information? Some webinar providers handle this process for you.
- Do polling questions need to be prepared in advance and uploaded?
- Do slides need to be prepared in advance and uploaded?
- Will registrants be contacted by email or phone prior to the webinar to ensure attendance?
- Will the online event be recorded? Should any special steps be taken in this case?
- Should a moderator make opening remarks and help with Questions and Answers?
These are only some of the questions that you should ask yourself as you are setting up your company’s webinar program.
Webinars, webcasts, online events, and whatever other name you have for this can be expertly handled once you know your requirements, have done vendor due diligence, and setup a process that can be followed and standardized.
I hope these simple tips will help you with your webinar initiative!