Tuesday, June 23, 2009

12 Essential Tips on Organizing Your First Webinar

I have participated in many webinars, and found them to be a great tool to get people together in an online learning environment. Webinars are a great way to establish your brand, increase online visibility, and establish your expertise.

I recently started researching best practices, so that when the time comes, I'll be webinar ready.

Webinars can be stressful -- will my speakers show up? Will my slides run correctly? So here are some tips you will find useful to help ensure that your first webinar will run smoothly. If you think of your webinar like a party, where you want the company, food, and talk to be interesting, fun, relevant, and entertaining, you're on the right track.

1. Organize 6-8 Weeks in Advance
Organize your webinar at least 6-8 weeks in advance, particularly if you are lining up expert speakers. You will need time to coordinate the material they will be covering, establish who will be speaking on what specific topic areas, and what materials if any will be incorporated. Typically, a slide deck participants can follow along with is a key component of the presentation. Organize a master schedule with key dates for tasks to be completed so you can stay on track.

2. Publicize at Least a Month in Advance

You want to give potential participants a good amount of lead time so they can mark their calendars, and forward the information to friends or colleagues who might find the webinar useful. Fortunately, there are many free publicity tools out there to utilize (see next tip.) If you you publicize too far ahead of time, however, you may irk the people on your mailing lists with too much repetitive copy, so limit your timeframe to a month in advance, with weekly updates highlighting various aspects of the webinar to keep the topic fresh.

3. Take Advantage of Free Publicity and Marketing Tools

Fortunately, there are many tools out there to publicize your webinar, most of which you probably have used already or have in place. Use your blog, links to the blogs of colleagues and associates, e-newsletter, and social media communications to spread the word about your webinar, and make sure you link to your sign up landing page so participants have a clear way to register. It is very important to collect the names of those who sign up - these are the people are may become stakeholders in your future products and services. You can also add the webinar info and link to your e-mail signature, and create a short video, like a movie preview, that highlights the content of the webinar, which you can post to YouTube. Send out a search engine optimized press release that highlights your key speakers and content. If you do any speaking engagements or are in any networking groups, hand out flyers about the webinar and offer an incentive for signing up, such as a free whitepaper or e-book.

4. Practice Practice...Practice

Make sure your panel of experts does at least one run-through of the webinar before the live event. If you are running the webinar alone, practice on your own or preferably with a group of friends or colleagues who can help you tweak any problems. Sometimes during the practice session, you or your speakers might discover new topics or resources that should be integrated into the webinar content.

5. Organize Great Content

You're more likely to have enthusiasm and participation in your webinar if you offer unique and valuable content. If you've already participated in a dozen workshops on Twitter, chances are your potential audience has as well, so think of content that might be slightly under the radar but still current and valuable. If you've written several blog posts on how to save time using social networks and received great comments and feedback, this might be a great webinar topic. You might want to consider a series, if you have a larger topic that could be broken out into 3 one-hour segments. Also, remember that people's attention spans are limited, so spice up the program with polls that participants can vote in. Many programs offer almost instant results, and it is a great way to keep your audience awake. Remember to keep your slide deck simple, with clear, straightforward graphics and easy to read type with clear bullet points. Everyone uses different technology, and you need to use technology that will work for all participants.

6. Technology and Equipment Testing

Make sure the webinar program you are using is compatible with most computer formats, and that clear instructions for the user are provided at least a week before the webinar. Many people don't read the details on the first take, so repeat the instructions in several e-mails, and even on your first few slides, to help people get set up. Make sure you are set up correctly as well. Print out your slide deck just in case, and some like to use two computers if possible, one that has your master controls set up, and the other that shows what the participants are seeing.

7. Delegate a Note Taker
Many participant questions come up during webinars, and you will never get to them all. You should, however, assign a designated person to scan the questions that come up and make sure you address pressing or popular questions so you can satisfy your audience. Let your audience know how many people are on the webinar so they have a realistic expectation as to whether or not you will get to their question.

8. The Day Before
Make sure if you are in a shared office space with others, or a home office, that they are well informed about the webinar and know not to disturb you will it is going on. Place a Do Not Disturb sign on your office door. Also, make sure your area is quiet. Simulate all the conditions in which the webinar will take place so you can troubleshoot any problems or distractions. If your webinar is scheduled at the same time as your garbage collection or the next door neighbor's rock concert, you will need to make an adjustment. Make sure you get plenty of rest, and try to get a good workout in as well - this will help with any webinar related anxiety and stress. Communicate any last reminders or details to those involved with your webinar, including speakers, staff, etc.

9. The Day Of
Warm up your voice and drink plenty of water. You don't want to be coughing or have a dry throat in the middle of your webinar. Make sure you go to the bathroom before the start of the webinar, and keep a pad and paper handy to take notes on any questions or issues that may come up during the session that you will need to revisit.

10. Plan a Freebie for Participants

Live webinar participants are taking time out of their busy days for you, so you want to reward them by offering them a nice freebie, such as an access code to a special link with resources off your web site, an e-book, a discount off a future service, etc.

11. Survey Your Participants Afterwards
Feedback is crucial in running your webinars, particularly if you plan on making then a large part of your online marketing. Make sure you send all participants a quick survey at the end of the program, and read through user comments and critiques carefully. Use them to tweak your next webinar....and you're off!

12. Do Post Webinar Marketing
Write up a highlights story about key themes, questions, and issues that came up during your webinar, and publish it in your blog, newsletter, and social media sites. If you had a great attendance, be sure and mention this as it's a great magnet to get attention for your next webinar or other event. Use your mailing list to obtain a few user testimonials you can use in your marketing for you next webinar.

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