How to: Run a Web-based Seminar

Web based seminars can be a lifeline to businesses of all sizes looking to promote themselves or their products to to prospects and generate content for their marketing efforts, without indulging in massive travel and location costs. This short guide contains tips on setting up your webinar and exploiting the results. 

Webinar Mechanics

Unlike a physical seminar, there's little lost (other than face) if your audience doesn't turn up and those who do attend tend to feel more relaxed about participation than a face to face meeting with a sales motivated person.

My own  experience suggests that web based presentations are more likely to generate warm sales leads than their real-life counterparts. Prospects feel more relaxed in their own offices, knowing they can leave at any time with one mouse click, than they do in an expensive hotel or conference facility. The more relaxed they are, the more open to your arguments.

At the same time webinars retain those aspects of a sales presentation that prospects like, namely the live nature of the event and the ability to ask questions of the presenter.

Theme

Despite their informal nature, all webinars must have a theme. You are still attempting to capture a slice of your prospect's (valuable) time and not making the presentation relevant and current will devalue both you and the value of this form of communication in the future.

If it's a product launch you're showcasing, make it a good one, not a minor upgrade. If your event features a guest speaker, make sure its someone that your prospects will really want to talk to - no salespeople.

Timing the Event

Mondays are hideous because nobody feels like working, Fridays are hideous because prospects are thinking too much about either the weekend or the work they have to complete before it. Schedule your event for a Tuesday-Thursday.

What applies to days also applies to hours. Mornings are not good as people generally feel that they are at their most productive before lunch and want to concentrate on their 'real' work. Late afternoons are likewise unsuitable because of their closeness to the end of the working day. My recommendation would be a 2:30pm-3:00pm start time, giving your audience time to drift back from lunch and settle into their desks.

Audience

Use whatever method best suits you to fill the 'seats', direct mail, e-mail, personal contact, adverts etc. Make sure that the joining instructions are as clear as possible and that when the event is running that there's a clear 'Join Now' button on your website to allow your late arrivals to get in with the minimum of fuss. Make sure that, like standard events, you send out reminders before the event takes place, with a webinar you can send out reminders as little as 10 minutes before the event by e-mail or tweet and still have an effect.

Don't over fill your event. Too much participation by too many people in a web seminar can be chaotic, so if your subject matter is likely to generate a long Q&A session, limit the audience numbers and advertise the fact that spaces are limited.

If you have trouble filling the events or gaining a viable audience, offer an incentive such as advance access to a relevant whitepaper.

In an emergency you can 'fake' attendees. If you find yourself with a smaller audience than you'd expected but with audience members who you consider to be vitally important, have a few staff members log in as attendees to make the event look successful. This is not an option in standard physical seminars, where staff members impersonating prospects stand out like sore thumbs.

Packaging

Just like any other audience presentation, you should take care to theme your presentation and attendance materials. When someone registers for your event, send a ticket e-mail with a specific attendee number and a link they can follow to join when the time is right.

Make sure that transcripts of the event are made available within a day for attendees to study, and tell your attendees, before the event starts, that these will be available. That way they'll concentrate on what you or your speaker is saying, rather than taking notes.

If the hosting service gives you the ability to record the session (if it doesn't then you're using the wrong one), do so and publish it afterwards.

Audience Participation

Like a 'real' seminar, someone needs to ask the first question to get the ball rolling, so make sure that you have a list of questions that should be asked and use one (or more) of your ringers to ask them. You might want to consider allowing attendees to send in questions after the event, which can be answered and copied (with their permission) to other attendees.

Follow Up

Make sure you send an individual thank you e-mail to everyone who attended, if they made a particular contribution to the event (such as asking a question), thank them for it.

If you had people who registered but did not attend on the day, contact them as well, assure them that their presence was missed, ask them if they want to attend a future event and make sure they get a transcript of the seminar.

Exploiting the Event

Webinars are content generating machines for your marketing efforts. Here's how you leverage that 30-60 minute chat to your best advantage.

Consider what you've been given

What has your webinar left you with? You are now the proud possessor of questions from your audience, answers from your 'expert' and, most importantly, unanswered questions in the minds of your audience members. Each of these can be used to your advantage, the questions received (which provide you with useful insight into the concerns of potential clients) can be used to theme other webinars, act as the spur for rewriting sections of your existing site or as the subject material for whitepapers.

Spread the word

There are many ways open to you to spread the word using the results of your webinar. You should certainly publish the transcript and, through your e-mail newsletter, make as many people as possible aware of its existence. You might wish to pick out any significant themes highlighted in the questioning as subjects for FAQs.

How about issuing a press release that highlights a 'major concern' of your target audience (along with your answers) or use the issues raised during the webinar as the core for an industry specific survey that draws out a newsworthy facts?

Extend the discussion

Don't labour under the impression that the webinar ends when the last person logs off. You can invite follow up questions for your expert and then publish both questions and answers. Both the original webinar questions and the post-event questions can spark long discussions prospects.

This list is by no means exhaustive (or exhausting) so be be as creative as possible in how you use the valuable information that your attendees have voluntarily presented you with.