7 Golden Rules for Hosting Webinars that Engage and Convert

"There are just too many damn webinars." – Jerod Morris

Webinar shock.

Familiar with it? Probably not, because I just made up the term.

But you’re probably familiar with Webinar Shock’s sister term, Content Shock.

It’s the idea, first described by Mark Schaefer, that we have entered an age in which “exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.”

In other words: there’s just too much damn content.

And, well, it’s tough to argue with that. Just open up Twitter, perform a web search, or check your inbox. Good luck consuming even a fraction of what piques your interest.

That’s a major obstacle for content creators, but not a substantial threat to content marketing.

What it does mean is that your content marketing strategy better start with creating the highest quality, most audience-focused content possible — because that is the only way to have a smidge of a chance at getting and keeping your target audience’s attention.

Which brings us back to webinars.

The problem with webinars

I love webinars.

I’ve hosted hundreds of them during my time working at Rainmaker Digital. I’ve attended a bunch as well.

When they’re good, webinars are helpful and useful. When they’re great, they’re transformative.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, my ratio of webinars attended: webinars registered for is … not good. I’m guessing yours isn’t either.

And I don’t always stay until the end — sometimes because something else more important comes up, and other times simply because distractions get the better of me.

It happens. Why?

Well, let me also say this about webinars …

There are just too many damn webinars

And most worthwhile webinars need a minimum of 30–45 minutes to teach you something valuable. That means every webinar demands a huge percentage of its audience’s available time in exchange for delivering the promise of its pitch.

Oh, and good luck keeping people’s attention for that long when Instagram, text messages, and their to-do lists are just one click away.

And all of this is, obviously, a major dilemma for webinar hosts. But far from a death knell.

Because webinars are just another form of content, so the same techniques for mounting an offensive against Content Shock will help you overcome Webinar Shock as well:

You need to create the highest quality, most audience-focused webinar possible.

And here are seven golden rules of hosting webinars I’ve learned over the years that will help you do exactly that.

1. Deliver good audio quality

You might not think “good audio quality” would be the first golden rule for a great webinar: What about the content!?

But you can’t separate the two.

If your audience can’t hear you, or doesn’t want to strain to listen, the quality of your content doesn’t matter.

And as I thought about my own experiences as a webinar attendee, I realized that poor audio quality had caused me to drop off of more webinars than any other reason.

Granted, this was much more likely to happen 2–3 years ago. Now I rarely encounter such poor audio quality that I feel compelled to drop off. But the flip side is that poor audio quality is also much more noticeable now.

Here’s what you need for good audio quality:

  • A professional microphone. But you don’t have to break the bank for it. You can get an Audio-Technica USB microphone for less than $80. I can vouch for it because I bought one for all my co-hosts on The Assembly Call. It does the job.
  • A strong internet connection. Nothing kills a webinar like the host’s audio going in and out, or being choppy, or, in a worst-case scenario, dropping out entirely. Make sure your connection gives you at least a 2–3 MB upload speed, and connect your computer to your modem directly via an Ethernet cable if possible.
  • An adequate voice. Don’t worry — you don’t need to invest in voice training, and you don’t need to hire The Movie Trailer Guy or Morgan Freeman to host your webinar for you. So long as you have a voice, it can be good enough for a webinar. Just be self-aware. Are you naturally loud and boisterous? Maybe tone it down just a tad. Are you naturally meek and soft-spoken? Maybe tone it up just a bit. Either way, speak clearly and know your material — so you sound confident.

2. Define the transformation

Your audience is going to arrive at your webinar in one state. They should leave your webinar in another state. It’s up to you to make this transformation a positive and productive one.

Otherwise, why would they invest time in your webinar?

You should be thinking about the transformation from the very beginning of your planning. It should be the crux of your content. And anything that isn’t leading the audience on the path toward the transformation should be tossed out.

Say you’re planning a webinar to teach clumsy people how to walk and chew gum at the same time …

Your title might be something like Never Trip Again: Learn the 5 Indisputable Keys to Walking and Chewing Gum at the Same Time.

That’s a compelling promise. If I attend this webinar, I expect to be transformed into someone who knows these five previously elusive keys to walking and chewing gum at the same time. I’ll just have to put them into practice in my own life, and tripping while chewing gum will be a thing of the past! Rejoice!

That enthusiasm for the transformation is why I’m attending.

So anything in the presentation that isn’t setting the stage for the five keys or directly describing them is a distraction.

And you never want to distract from the transformation — because the journey to the transformation is what keeps people engaged, and the successful arrival at the transformation is what compels people to convert.

3. Make it memorable (with three key points)

It’s one thing for your webinar attendees to feel triumphant and transformed when your webinar ends. It’s quite another for them to put what they learned from you into practice in their own lives … a day, a week, or a month later.

Want to maximize the trust-and-authority-building potential of a webinar? Help people achieve a transformation or solve a problem long after the event has ended.

And the way to do that is to make your presentation memorable.

Here’s an especially important point …

As soon as your webinar ends, what are your attendees faced with? Emails to catch up on, dogs to walk, Facebook rabbit holes to get lost in.

It is unnervingly easy for the lessons learned during your webinar to get nudged aside and fall behind in the race to make it from short-term to long-term memory.

But if you give people something memorable to walk away with — something that sticks in their heads, something they might repeat to themselves later on — then you’ve got a better chance of helping them.

And people can remember three main points a lot easier than they can remember four or 10 or 47.

So even for my hypothetical webinar about walking and chewing gum at the same time, I’m not expecting most people to remember all five keys. I want them to remember three main points that stick and become the gateway to recalling and reusing the rest of the keys.

4. Plan your “tent poles”

As you structure your webinar, you want to be constantly putting yourself in your audience’s shoes. (Hopefully you’re noticing this theme running through these golden rules.)

What sections are the most dense? What sections require the most sustained focus? These may be sections where your audience’s attention can drift, or their energy and enthusiasm can wane.

It’s your job, as the webinar host, to prop up your audience members if they start to sag.

That’s what a “tent pole” does. (Major hat tip to the great Victoria Labalme, who introduced me to the concept.)

Do you have three slides in a row filled with detailed bullet points? Perhaps the next slide should be a funny image, or a short, entertaining video.

Do you have a complex concept to explain? Perhaps you should follow the explanation with a compelling story that illustrates it.

You can lose an audience member temporarily without losing them for good.

Planning your “tent poles” ahead of time helps you keep attendees engaged.

5. Manage questions strategically

Getting questions during your webinar is a great thing. It’s a sign of engagement.

However, questions can also derail you if you haven’t already decided how you’re going to manage them.

Here’s some guidance based on my experience:

  • If the goal of your webinar is to sell something, and someone asks you a question about the product, stop and answer the question. Don’t expect that person to wait around until the end. Plus, if one person has a question, then other people probably have the same question. By stopping to answer it, you might overcome 10 objections at once.
  • If a question comes in that seeks immediate clarification on a statement or slide, stop and answer the question. One surefire way to lose attendees is to confuse them. And, again, if one person has a question (and it’s not a silly or especially mindless question), then other people likely have the same question.
  • If you haven’t addressed how you’ll handle questions, and questions start coming in, stop and answer the questions or let people know how you’re going to respond to them — they’ll be saved for the end, not answered at all, etc. Asking a question and being ignored stinks. You don’t want to create that experience for your audience. So set the proper expectations about questions.

In general, you just need to think through your plan, decide on it ahead of time, and then communicate it to the audience at the beginning of the webinar. If you do that, you’ll most likely get your approach to questions right.

6. Record evergreen content

You may be hosting your webinar at a particular date and time, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only moment when the webinar can or will be seen.

The time you invest in creating the webinar should pay off long after the live session is over. You just have to plan for it to be used in an evergreen way.

And there are many ways to do that. Here are a few:

  • You can use the same slide deck and presentation for multiple live webinars, or even a recurring series.
  • You can record the webinar once and then use the replay as an opt-in incentive, or as part of a course or education library.
  • You can even use the recording as part of another event, if you’ll be there for a live Q&A at the end.

Don’t make the webinar date/time dependent (or at least be willing to edit out those elements of the webinar before you give it again).

It may take you a little longer to prepare, but if you do it right, you’ll create a valuable content asset.

And finally …

7. Make the replay available in multiple formats

This is actually pretty standard, basic stuff — but it’s worth reiterating.

It’s not difficult to record the video of the webinar and then extract the audio file and have that available as a replay option.

From there, it’s pretty simple to have a transcript created from the audio. The readers among your audience will thank you.

You can also make your slides available. Some people may want to just skim through the slides in lieu of watching the video; others may want the slides so they can print them and take notes.

The more accessible and inviting you make the replay experience, the more reach your webinar will have.

And since we’re doing everything we can to overcome Webinar Shock, getting as much reach as we can is paramount.

Over to you …

You may have hosted your own webinars in the past. Chances are certainly good that you’ve at least attended one, or registered for one.

What advice would you give to help webinar hosts knock their next event out of the park?

Share in the comments below!

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