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February 24, 2016
Marketing  |  9 min read

How to Run a Webinar: The 4 Biggest Things I Learned

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A few short hours ago, I wrapped up my first appearance as a host of our monthly webinar series. During these webinars, we cover a wide range of topics—from web design to reporting on the right metrics. For February, I elected to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: “How to Create Content that Doesn’t Suck.”

But, I’m not here to rehash the what I covered earlier today—I’m here to talk about how to run a webinar.

Yes, there are tons of blog posts out there telling you how to set up a landing page that converts leads into attendees or how to create a webinar deck that dazzles. But, taking up the mantle as webinar host proved to be an unexpected but invaluable educational experience. So, in the name of radical honesty, I’m going to share with you the four biggest lessons I learned about the process of developing a webinar presentation, while this is all still fresh in my mind.

But first…

Before I get too carried away with littering this post with nuggets of webinar wisdom, let’s first talk about why webinars are great for marketing.

If you’re not seasoned inbound pro, here’s the scoop: Webinars can be a powerful vehicle for delivering a premium content offer. They are interactive, live presentations or workshops that can provide a lot of value to your target audience—information, actionable insights, access to experts, etc.—while also giving you a prime opportunity to engage with leads, establish credibility, demonstrate experience, and humanize your brand. It’s basically a win-win for everyone involved.

Now, with that out of the way…

No. 1: Going outside of your comfort zone is a good thing

I’m a writer and editor. I’m happiest when tucked safely behind the walls of my blanket fort of the written word, where I can run every statement and idea associated with my name through at least three (okay, five) sets of revisions. I’m also self-aware; I know I don’t like to stray too far from my beloved 600 to 800-word blog post format, because it’s safe. Plus, it’s human nature to consciously or subconsciously gravitate toward pursuits that play to one’s strengths.

The problem with being safe, however, is that safe is often synonymous with boring and unchalleging. So, in front of the whole Quintain family, I volunteered to host a webinar in 2016 at our yearly retreat in January. (Hooray! Go me!) And then I immediately recoiled in horror, because I couldn’t invoke the “takesies-backsies” clause—I would look like a wuss. (Boo.)

Now that it’s over, and I’m on the other side of my webinar, I can honestly say the whole experience was divine. As soon as the spotlight hit me, I was transformed into a charismatic and eloquent creature who could inspire the masses to climb to greater heights.

Just kidding. It was traumatic, and I’m not Oprah.

There’s something hilarious about watching a writer who hates public speaking try to string thoughts together on the fly or sound coherent without an editorial process. Kind of like those videos where you watch puppies try walk around in shoes; it’s adorable, but not their strong suit.

Even so, I totally want to do it again. Was it hard and terrifying at times? Yes. Do I need to push myself to be a better public speaker who doesn’t use the word “unique” four times in a sentence? Of course.

But if you want to get your message in front of the right people, you must embrace the reality that you can’t always package it in the same way every time. Each person processes information differently, based on their preferences and learning style, as well as how much spare time they have in their day. That’s why great content comes in a variety of forms—SlideShares, infographics, e-books, blogs, vlogs, Pinterest boards, podcasts…I could go on.

So yes, it was scary to take on a new medium for storytelling, but now I have another content hammer in my proverbial marketing toolbox that I didn’t have before…on top of feeling a bit more confident about myself. Always a bonus.

No. 2: Pick a webinar topic that is specific and appealing

Once you’ve volunteered yourself as tribute, the next big milestone on the way to webinar glory is to pick your topic. Choosing a topic is a challenge unto itself. You don’t want to be too general, as vague subjects rarely make for interesting presentations for attendees, if you’re able to attract anyone at all. On the other hand, you don’t want to go too granular.

You need to find that sweet spot between broad appeal and focused content with a clear message…

Too broad: “Social Media 101”

Too specific: “How to Schedule Tweets in Advance”

Just right: “How to Define and Measure the Right Social Media Metrics for Your Business”

It’s kind of like you’re a domesticated bear and your target audience is Goldilocks. But in this case you want her to choose your porridge.

I could probably spend more time on this particular lesson, but now that I’ve used a fairy tale as a metaphor, I think it’s best for me to quit while I’m ahead.

No. 3: Don’t try to cram everything into one presentation 

This is the most important lesson I learned today. While the topic I chose was “just right,” there are a lot of reasons why content can suck, and there are scores of ways to address that pain point.

But as I was outlining and drafting my presentation, I thought this abundance of material was a great challenge to have. I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of things to talk about! And when I rehearsed it last night and again this morning, I was downright pleased with how many bases I was able to cover in a single webinar.

It wasn’t until this afternoon, when I was in front of a live audience, that I realized my error: I had tried to cover too much.

Truthfully, about a fifth of my presentation should not have been included. Was it a relevant part of the discussion? Yes, but it required too much background and explanation to be covered in a way that was meaningful. Had I omitted that portion, I could have devoted more time to the remaining points to create a more focused experience for those who attended.

Again, the lesson here is to find that sweet spot. Don’t be so light on content that there’s is no room for actionable takeaways or in-depth discussion, but also don’t try to bundle too many ideas together at once. You’ll either deliver little-to-no value, or you’ll dilute the impact of your expertise with information overload. And if you ever catch yourself thinking that something could be its own webinar topic—a phrase I literally put into my script—that should be a sign to you to reevaluate that point’s inclusion.

No. 4: Finally, remember it's live and stuff happens

If you’re a control freak, you might want to consider editing as a profession. From atop your lofty throne of dictionaries and style guides, the world is at your mercy. You can shape content, cut the lives of unsuspecting commas woefully short, and sit in silent judgment of all prose that dares to come before you. Muahaha!

OK, maybe that’s a touch dramatic, but whatever.

Unfortunately webinars—much like the rest of the world—don’t operate in this blissful and harmonious way, and thus will never bend to your will. And no matter how much you prep, proof, and promote, things can go wrong.

Attendees will sometimes forget to mute themselves and funnel ambient noise into your webinar. The technology gods could conspire against you and commit acts of malicious subterfuge, such as a faulty Internet connection. Or heck, you might accidentally knock your keyboard while talking and advance your presentation forward or backward by a couple of slides.

My point in telling you this isn’t to scare you—quite the opposite. Accept the inevitable and let that empower you to relax. Control what you can—the quality of your content—and stay calm when trouble arises. Also take comfort in the fact that you won’t be the first or the last person to have something go wrong on a webinar.

I was on a webinar a few weeks ago where a technical error resulted in the webinar being ended prematurely. Was it disruptive? Yes, but only marginally so. Order was restored in less than a minute, and I ended up learning a ton during that session. More importantly, since I’m a human being who has used a computer once or twice before in my life, I didn’t hold it against the presenter. I knew that sometimes stuff happens.

Putting technology and attendee transgressions aside, it’s also worth noting you might also encounter some hazards of the trade you didn’t expect. For example, while I understood intellectually that folks might join today’s webinar after the start time, I didn’t realize the small act of clicking a button each time those tardy-to-the-party folks requested to join would impact my ability to focus, and it tripped me up a little bit.

Again, it wasn’t the end of the world, but I wish I had prepped myself to be more relaxed and carefree in handling those unexpected hiccups.

This article was written by Liz Murphy from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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