What Makes a Webinar Work
by Linda Carlson
Webinars: What are they? What’s involved? What’s worthwhile?
Let’s start with a definition. According to the many sources that Google.com cites, webinar is an abbreviation for Web seminar, a videoconference delivered by computer. One of a webinar’s distinguishing characteristics is that it is interactive: unlike a podcast or video, it allows the speaker and every attendee to give, receive, and discuss information.
Equipment may include a regular phone line or VoIP (voice over Internet). Participants usually log in to a secure URL so they can share slides and screen shots.
Only a few IBPA members or members’ authors are currently participating in webinars as speakers, but several have attended these Web seminars, and there’s lots to learn from their comments.
Critiques of Content
As Bob Daigneault of Baby Hearts Press in Temple, TX, generalized:
“Speakers on some webinars are pretty good about divulging information that authors and publishers can use. However, all that I’m aware of are produced to sell something. After a while, you have to decide if the value from the webinar is worth the time spent on the sales pitch.”
Even the webinars with fees are sometimes light on content and heavy on sales pitches, other publishers complain. And access to some webinars requires that you purchase Web conferencing software sold by the sponsoring company. In other words, think “infomercial.”
Two other criticisms from members can be summed up as “over-promising” and “same old, same old.” In some cases, promotion for webinars has promised content that is not—and could not be—delivered. For example, “How any author can be featured on Oprah.” And in other cases, speakers offer nothing new for people who have read their books, or nothing at the appropriate level for an experienced industry professional.
If You Want to Offer Webinars
Besides valuable content and a reined-in sales pitch, what else is important to participants?
Format and technology. You may be able to get away with your author as a talking head on a podcast, but not in a webinar. Remember, a webinar is a conference, and that means an opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions. Like good in-person seminars you’ve attended, it should have visuals during the presentation to reinforce or elaborate on the speaker’s points.
For a free overview of format and technological logistics, check the Web Conferencing Buyer’s Guide at insidecrm.com. It points out that the bandwidth of the conference provider is important, and that you can’t expect to offer audio, video, and your screenshots over the same channel. It’s also important to remember that each registrant must be using broadband Internet service.
Kevin Aguanno, managing editor at Multi-Media Publications (MMP) in Oshawa, Ontario, provides more specifics: “Over the years, we’ve discovered a lot of problems with incompatibility, odd network firewall settings, and other issues that have blocked some people from our webinars,” he says. “The good news is that many of these issues have been resolved as the technologies have evolved.”
Still, he reports, “When trying out a new service provider, we usually set up a trial webinar with our staff or friends at different locations and with computers using different operating systems (Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux), different browsers, different Internet service providers, and different corporate networks.”
Currently, MMP uses two providers: Cisco’s Webex (webex.com), which can automatically record synchronized audio and video elements for later download, and Calliflower (calliflower.com).
With Webex’s software, you can convert its recordings to Windows Movie files (.WMV) or to Flash movies (.SWF), says Aguanno, who explains, “We usually convert them to Windows Movie files and then use some other software to burn those movies onto a DVD. So we generate revenue by selling tickets to the live webinar, and we have ongoing revenue from the DVD sales.” And clips from the films can be used on YouTube as promotional videos.
But Webex has two significant disadvantages for MMP, Aguanno adds. First, everyone needs to call in to the central telephone number in California, which can be costly for some attendees; and, second, because the basic package covers only 24 participants, including the presenter, a webinar for large groups is costly.
Aguanno describes Calliflower as a great service for teleconferences, in part because it lets you include as many as 900 callers, with many local call-in numbers across North America and some on other continents.
Calliflower records audio as MP3 files for later download, and, “for a nominal additional fee, you can host webinars with slides, but the video cannot be recorded, and the host has to also be the presenter,” Aguanno reports.
After years of experience, MMP has worked out systems for handouts and for the Q&A session that follows a speaker’s presentation. Once people submit payment, the MMP e-commerce software shows them the Web page with spreadsheets, preconference readings, and other material available for download.
“The PowerPoint slides, which are not included in the attachments, are visible to those who have logged in to view the webinar on their screens,” Aguanno continues. “As for Q&A, we normally mute all lines at the beginning and ask people to type their questions into the chat window. Then, after the main presentation, the moderator either reads questions to the presenter, or asks people to press the appropriate buttons on their screens or phones to raise ‘virtual hands’ to ask questions.”
To avoid chaos and background noise, the line of the attendee who is asking a question is the only one with the mute removed until it’s time for the answer. Then all lines are again muted so the presenter can respond.
Issues to Address
Besides offering valuable information, webinars need to be well organized, and speakers need to be experienced with making formal presentations, with using visuals, and with handling questions from remote participants.
This doesn’t happen without extensive preparation. PresenterNet offers an easy-to-read guide that starts with how to email webinar announcements (presenternet.com/information/7tips/GreatWebinarTips.pdf). At Clear Skies Virtual Event Producers, you’ll find an outline of what to consider as you plan, market, present, and evaluate your use of webinars (csvep.com/secrets-of-webinar-production-and-management/2009/04/22).
Here are some of the audio issues you must address:
• telephone (toll-free or toll call, domestic and international numbers)
• digital recording
• operator assistance
• Q&A queuing
Then there’s scripting, scheduling, and rehearsals. A good webinar is more than a webcam pointed at a lecturer. Once you’ve roughed out the content, you’ll need a schedule that provides time for a technical introduction, an overview of the webinar, and an introduction of the speakers, as well as time for each speaker’s presentation and the Q&A.
Remember to create seed questions that can be used to get interaction started if necessary. You’ll also need to script the conclusion, the thank-you messages, and the reminders of how to access the archived webinar and how to purchase additional copies of a related book or books. Ideally, you’ll have both audio and video for URLs, book titles, and postal addresses.
Once you have everything on paper, run through the entire program, checking the software, timing the presentations as actually given, and checking how the authors are introduced and how the transitions between speakers work.
Web conferencing providers encourage you to think of every possible technical problem and develop contingency plans. You’ll also want to ensure that the link from the webinar to the sales Web site is live, and that you have all materials prepared, proofed, and uploaded, both those that will be used during the webinar and those for participants to download for followup.
These materials may include a poll designed to obtain immediate feedback from registrants about the perceived value of the session. Make sure counters are installed on all the Web sites you’re using, so that you can track hits.
Finally, within days—preferably within 24 to 48 hours—contact participants and ask if they have additional questions or comments. Also contact people who had registered but did not attend with information about the archived webinar material and, if applicable, an invitation to your next webinar.
As part of debriefing, determine which promotional tools generated the best response. This may be best in terms of registrations, of attendees, or of total purchases. The last will be particularly important if you’re not charging a fee for your webinar.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where she is waiting to be invited to speak on a webinar.
Webinars From the Speakers Perspective
Catherine Kitcho, who runs Pele Publications in Laguna Niguel, CA, has spoken on two webinars, once as a guest of a seminar company that did all the marketing, and later with another author. The first webinar was produced with GoToMeeting, a product from Citrix Systems (citrix.com), one of the major web conferencing vendors, and the second, broadcast with Presenter Net (presenternet.com), was marketed via email using contacts of the authors and their publishers.
The first webinar linked the PowerPoint presentation to Kitcho’s Web site so books could be purchased directly. “I had a lot of sales that day, and the following week,” she recalls. Better yet, the webinar was uploaded to the sponsor’s Web site, and a year after the event, Kitcho continues to receive inquiries and orders. “People can’t always attend, so make sure the webinar is accessible online afterward,” she advises.
With her second presentation, a copy of the e-book was included in the registration fee. “We may have had fewer participants,” Kitcho says, “but we had guaranteed sales.”