Hear that Thump?…

Photo Credit: thirstforwine on Flickr

..that’s the sound of your last remaining audience member’s head hitting the desk.  Now, as this is a webinar that you’re hosting, the thump is imaginary because the communication is primarily in one direction (please put your phones on mute.)

Is it any wonder that people dialled into these sessions take other calls without muting their microphones, or process email or catch up on facebook and twitter?  How rude of them since you have taken the time and trouble to prepare your content.  How rude of you!  Not to take their needs into account during that preparation.

I confess to a crime: I wasted 45 minutes.

I participated in a webinar yesterday, hosted by the regional manager for a large technology company.  I use the term “participated” very loosely as my host was definitely in broadcast mode.  He used a monotone voice with slide after slide of market research results with no conclusions, no engagement (save for a few questions submitted via the chat window at the end) and no value for me.  Worst of all, there was no call to action.  In my view this was a huge waste of time, resources and opportunity.  I wasted my time, he wasted his time as I’m sure that he has not achieved his aims.  Most of all, we have all wasted an opportunity to move our games forward by exchanging value.

Webinars, or web conferences or webcasts or what ever you want to call them, are becoming a standard feature on today’s business calendars.  It could be internal to your company for training or information transfer, it could be external to partners or customers or prospects.  The benefits of using this channel of communication are many fold and the barriers to entry are low.  They are relatively cheap to host and to attend, much more flexible because they’re cheap and because there is no physical location associated with them.  You can record them for people who miss the live version or want to review the content later and they still allow for a modicum of interaction, live or queued, between the host and the audience.  The disadvantages are that you cannot see your audience so you can’t gain immediate feedback on their levels of interest or whether they seem to agree with you or are skeptical.  The barriers to exit are very low so your audience is free to disengage at any time and you won’t even know it.  People will be reading email, surfing the web, sending IM and tweets, walking off or taking other phone calls.  Anything but listen to you droning on about your topic of the moment.

8 Ways to Deliver Better Webinars.

Here is my take on how to make the most of hosting a webinar.  Keep in your mind that your audience is more likely to do something else than to listen or engage with you, so you have to amplify your engagement tactics to keep them with you. Here are some ideas:

  1. Tell your audience where you will be taking them during the session. At least they know when you arrive at the punchline and whether they should stay for the ride.  Tell them how they will benefit from staying with you for the duration.
  2. Vary your presentation tactics and delivery to keep interest.  Change your tone of voice, change the presenter, use video, take questions two or  three times during the session and not just at the end, hold a straw poll to set up your next point or to verify your assumptions.
  3. Don’t lean on your slides for support.  As with face-to-face presentation, your slides are only visual aids to the delivery of your messages.  The slides are not the presentation.
  4. Liven up you presentation by making it real; include anecdotes and case studies, add real customer quotes or sound bytes from industry leaders, ask your audience members to contribute their own experiences.
  5. Use the tools available to you to engage the audience and gather feedback.  Most web conference tools have chat facilities.  Have an assistant handle questions via chat or via an external IM system so that you can gauge how the messages are being received and where potential areas of concern or confusion exist.
  6. One of the best tools available to you is Twitter.  Create a hashtag for your webinar and publicise it in the meeting invitations and at the start of the session.  Have your assistant monitor the hashtag and respond throughout the session.  Mention some of the tweets during the session to show that you’re listening and that feedback is important to you. There are multiple benefits to doing this;  questions will come through this channel, you’ll get feedback on what people think of your presentation (“I love this guy!” or “Groan! What a waste of time!”)  If you’re really good, members of your audience will be tweeting key points of your presentation to their followers, they’ll be competing with each other to do it first, almost as the words leave your lips.  Think about that for a moment.  You may have 50 people dialled in to your webinar.  If 30% of them are tweeting about it, and each of them has an average of 150 followers (low estimate), your message could reach another 2250 people.  That’s leverage.
  7. Use a chat show format to spice things up a little.  Present stimulus content up front to set the scene then hold a conversation with a domain or subject matter expert followed by a summary.  Use the feedback channels to put audience questions directly to the expert.
  8. Make sure that you have a call to action to complete the session.  Even if it’s a simple case of having people register for a newsletter, or to download accompanying content.  Preferably, the call to action is actually the primary aim of the session; generate sales appointments, sign up to a partner programme, enroll in a training course.  Offer a prize or a reward of some sort as an added incentive.  If you don’t do this you are wasting an enormous opportunity. 

Remember, even though they’re invisible to you, the members of your audience are real people.  You have to treat them as human beings and not as little coloured icons on your webinar dashboard.  Think about what they want in return for giving you their attention.  Ask yourself what would make you rate the webinar as 5 stars if you were in their shoes.

Used correctly, web conferences are a really valuable way to touch a lot of people an a time and cost-effective way.  Done badly, you could turn people away from your company, products or messages and you won’t even know that they have gone.

Leave your own tips, good and bad, in the comment section.

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3 Responses to Hear that Thump?…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Hear that Thump?… | Forward Balance -- Topsy.com

  2. Steve Fritzinger says:

    I think part of the problem is presenters think their job is to present information. It isn’t.

    Their job is to inform their audience. That’s not just flipping through PowerPoint slides or locking them in week long 8:00 am to 7:00 pm training sessions (with 1/3 of the audience doing e-mail, 1/3 asleep and 1/3 simply skipping class).

    If you pay attention to your output (better informed co-workers or customers) instead of your input (# of hours of material presented) you’ll run a very different type of meeting.

  3. You make a very good point Steve which reinforces one of the main tenets of marketing; know your audience and you will know what to say to them and how to say it. Doing it that way increases the chances of your messages resonating and sticking in the minds of your audience.

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