How to host a successful webinar

Webinars are a popular way to engage with employees and clients and generate sales leads across the globe. They are a cost-effective marketing tactic for businesses to have a “face-to-face” conversation with a large audience. But they aren’t just about televising a live event. You need to come up with fun and innovative ways to keep the audience tuned in and interested in your topic in a situation where you can’t gauge their reaction, boredom, or participation through the web.

Before heading down the webinar path, first things first. Is a webinar really the right method for connecting with your audience? Do you have enough information to span an entire webinar? Do you have the time and resources to commit to creating a compelling presentation? Is the information engaging enough to hold your audience’s attention? These are all questions you should ask yourself before embarking on hosting a webinar. Although it is an effective way to hold a worldwide presentation, you want to be sure it is the best business move for your company.

Once you have established why you want to run a webinar, the next hurdle to tackle is how. During our yearlong journey of hosting a series of Pre_scribed webinars, we learned a thing or two about managing an effective virtual event. Here are our top 10 webinar tips and tricks.

1. Timing is key.

Schedule the webinar around lunchtime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Listeners are more likely to tune in when they don’t have to sacrifice another meeting and can multi-task while eating lunch.

2. Capture lead information.

Whether the goal of your event is to boost awareness, educate the audience, or improve sales, you need to know who your audience members are. Use a sign-up form to get contact information, and follow-up with attendees the day before and an hour before the event to remind them to attend. Reengage with attendees after the webinar to further the relationship. (Of course make sure you’re complying with all SPAM regulations, too.)

3. Test your equipment.

We cannot stress this one enough. Test the webinar system ahead of time to ensure all plug-ins and screen-sharing software functions as expected. Sound quality and volume should also be tested. If attendees need to download plug-ins or take additional steps before the webinar, be sure to inform them ahead of time.

In addition, you’ll want to make sure you’re recording your webinar for later content syndication. Recording is an out-of-box feature in many webcast software suites. Make sure the recording system captures all visuals and sound during the testing phase.

4. Keep it moving.

It just takes one click for a webinar audience member to leave (a lot easier than walking out of a live event!). So be clear and concise and use visually compelling slides. While it may not always be possible to do depending on the topic of the day, try to switch speakers every 10-15 minutes in order to keep the audience engaged.

5. Cap it at 45 minutes.

Nobody wants to sit still for longer than an hour. Try to keep the presentation between 30-45 minutes with a few minutes for questions.

6. Silence is okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s the norm. (We’re not talking minute upon awkward minute, but a few seconds here and there are fine). Practice growing accustomed to the dead air during the dry run in order to increase your comfort level with the silence.

7. Interact with listeners.

When possible, engage the audience by asking questions or conducting polls. Many webcast software suites come equipped with this type of functionality (e.g., chat, polling, etc.) to encourage such dialogue. Try to encourage audience interaction every 15 minutes.

8. Integrate social media.

Provide a Twitter hashtag for visitors to tweet during and after the webinar. Include this hashtag on all of the presentation slides so that it is prominent for the audience. Tweeting with your audience gives them the feeling of individualized attention and allows you to easily respond to questions or comments before, during, and after the webinar.

9. Prepare for the worst.

Have a back-up plan so that you remain cool, calm, and collected in in the event of a computer freeze or slide share malfunction. Make sure you have a person on your team who is watching the webinar as an audience member and can alert you to any problems during the event, such as loss of sound, so you can promptly get the event back on track. Speaking of your team, you can’t pull this off alone. Make sure you have team members in place to assist with various components of the webinar. For example, there’s no way you’re going to be able to tweet and talk at the same time. Have colleagues assist with the various content streams you’re creating.

10. Practice, practice, practice.

This one needs no explanation. Practicing for silence, interaction, and emergency situations will allow for the best webinar possible.