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How to Make Your First Live Webinar A Success

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After weeks of planning, you're finally ready to host your first live webinar. But while it's exhilarating to go live for the first time, it can be equally stressful, even for seasoned speakers. Because between technical glitches and speaker miscues to simply not exciting your audience, live webinars come with several risks.

However, with some advanced planning and strategy, you can minimize these risks — and focus on creating magic for your audience. Here's where to start: 

1. Confirm That Live Webinars Work For You 

Before choosing to use a live webinar as your presentation platform, make sure that the live format aligns with your audience’s needs and objectives.

Live webinars work best when: 

  • You anticipate high audience engagement: The value-add of any live event is the ability to speak to an actual person — to get your specific questions answered by an expert in real-time. That appeal exists even for virtual events.  Presenters can answer audience questions directly and attendees can leave with actionable ways to solve their business needs. 

    That give-and-take with your audience will affect the success of your session more than anything else: According to a 2019 HubSpot survey, the top two elements people would like to see in a webinar are a host that takes audience questions and anything interactive. 
  • You have an experienced and well-prepared speaker: If your speaker is charismatic, well-spoken and prepared, let them shine in a live setting. But other speakers might feel put on the spot if they present live (or they might be reading off of their note cards). In that case, consider pre-recording your presentation so you can edit any stumbles out of the final video.

  • Your topic is timely and tied to current events: Some situations, like the rapid spread of a certain respiratory virus, evolve more quickly than editors can keep up with. So if you shoot a pre-recorded session about it, your commentary may become obsolete before you’re ready to release the final product. So best practice is to go live for anything timely — and pre-record sessions for evergreen topics.

  • Your session is relatively low-stakes: Live sessions are like Saturday Night Live. The spotlight’s on you and there aren’t any do-overs. So if you’re hosting a session for top sales prospects, pre-record it so you can perfect your presentation style and content before releasing it. But if you can weather a slight technical delay or presenting misstep, then consider going live to give your session a more natural, organic atmosphere. 

Not sure if live webinars are the right fit? Ask others in your field how they conduct webinars and what kind of content delivery has worked for them. 

2. Assemble Speakers and an Execution Team

At minimum, your team should consist of four main players: the organizer and facilitator of the session, the presenter, and the producer.

Of course, the bigger the scale of the webinar, the more people that need to be involved. Each person, however, will fall into one of these categories.

The organizer develops the topic for the presentation. This individual will also locate the speaker, promote the webinar, set up the registration protocol, and communicate with each participant before the webinar and again once it has completed.

The facilitator will also introduce the speaker at the beginning of the basic webinar, and he or she will engage subject matter experts in an interview, moderate questions from the audience, and encourage the audience to participate in the presentation fully. 

Naturally, your basic webinar will include at least one main presenter, the subject matter expert. 

Here’s how to score the best speakers for your audience: 

  • Start searching early: Since your webinar’s appeal centers on your speaker’s expertise, aim to secure your speaker at least a month or two in advance of your session. This gives you enough time not just to develop your session, but to introduce them to your webinar platform and incorporate them into your marketing. 
  • Cast a wide net: For logistics and comfort purposes, it’s tempting to interview people in your network: members of your current team, past coworkers, business school colleagues, etc. And that familiarity can definitely foster a productive, comfortable dialogue. But don’t limit yourself to your immediate circle.

    Diversifying your speaker base broadens the range of topics you can cover, which positions your company as credible in more areas. Besides making your webinars more well-rounded, it also provides members of underrepresented minorities more opportunities to speak.
  • Crowdsource your speaker selection: The one foolproof way to give your audience the speakers they want? Ask your community what speakers they want. Through email, feedback surveys for other events, social media and even IRL conversations, give your audience a list of potential speakers and use their feedback to guide your search. 

If you are able, you will also want to have a producer and some assistants ready to resolve any technical issues. The more people you plan to host, the more support staff you need. Also provide attendees and speakers a direct line to this team so they know exactly who to contact if technical issues do come up. 

3. Choose an Appropriate Format for the Webinar

Your session’s format will dictate the flow of discussion and the amount of audience interaction, so think carefully about which option will shine the best light on your topic.

a. Single speaker: A single presenter delivers the presentation and answers audience questions if necessary. 

The main advantage of a single speaker format comes down to logistics: It’s easier to onboard one person to a webinar platform than potentially performing troubleshooting for multiple speakers in multiple locations. However, a singular voice can result in a lack of variety and lower the energy level of the session. 

If you’re set on the single speaker format, here’s how to make it work for your session: 

  • Create a ROS: Stand up comedians aside, nobody can ad lib on their own for 45 minutes without losing their train of thought. So single speakers should go into their sessions with a tight outline of which topics they’re covering at what times in the presentation, broken down into specific subtopics as needed. That’s not to say there’s no room for improvisation. But since single speakers can’t rely on anyone to bail them out in moments of forgetfulness, a strong outline can provide an invaluable sense of security. 
  • Submit Video Q&A via our Capsule integration: Worried that your speaker will become monotonous after 45 minutes? Encourage audience members to record themselves as they ask a question, then play the recordings during your session’s Q&A. This introduces new voices into the webinar while minimizing risk and logistical concerns.
  • Use Video and Visuals Strategically: Single speakers should sprinkle video, visual assets, and audience questions into their presentation to switch up the stimulus and keep their audience’s attention. The specific distribution of speech and visuals will depend on the topic and flow of discussion, but aim to speak for no more than 5-10 minutes straight. 

b. Interviewer: Ubiquitous among podcasts and webinars, this style has a moderator ask a series of questions to a subject matter expert in a structured manner. Members of the audience can also get involved by chatting in their questions during a live webinar.

The biggest benefit of an interviewer format is the back-and-forth between expert and moderator. The natural flow of conversation mimics our daily interactions, so we’re more likely to pay attention. If the interviewer is well prepared and knowledgeable in the topic, they can also draw more insightful and surprising thoughts from the expert than the expert would share on their own. 

However, this format requires more coordination to be scheduled and executed properly, so build extra time in your roadmap to account for it. 

  • Select the right moderator: If you’ve ever clicked out of a promising podcast within 20 seconds, you know the moderator can make or break an interview. So select moderators with previous experience or train them in interviewing best practices, audience interaction and the topic itself. 
  • Don’t overscript your session: We recommend preparing a question doc with pre-written questions and talking points to keep the session focused. Pay attention to the chemistry in the session and if the speaker shares something particularly profound or interesting, pursue it further! Because they’re unexpected and by nature personal, these anecdotes can often yield even the most interesting insights of the session, even if they’re not 100 percent related to the topic. 
  • Conduct practice sessions with each presenter: If your speaker takes 10 minutes to turn their mic on during the live session, or their audio is muffled, your session is going nowhere. So two weeks before your session, conduct a 45-minute-long practice session with each speaker. If your speakers are busy and don't have time, we recommend doing a dress rehearsal the day before.

    Ensure that they know how to log into the platform, use their microphone and camera, answer audience questions in the Q&A, roll videos, distribute polls, etc. Also, since nothing’s perfect, give them a contact from your technical support team to assist them in case any issues arise on event day. 

c. Moderated panel discussion: In this format, several panelists discuss the topic at the same, with a moderator serving as a facilitator.

The pros here are similar to that of the interview format: The group setting yields an interesting interplay of perspectives and takeaways. The more voices involved in the session, the more variety and debate you will have, which makes the session more insightful as a whole.

But with multiple people and personalities at the table, things can get a little too exciting. To avoid any live arguments, we recommend conducting a dry run of your panel to see how everyone interacts with each other — and prepare for any personality clashes. Better yet, send all potential participants a document outlining your community standards, so you can set a tone of civility and filter out anyone who might be inclined to become argumentative.  

Learn more about hosting productive virtual event panels here

d. Interactive live webinar: An interactive webinar gets the members of the audience to participate in a series of exercises and a discussion facilitated by the host. We most commonly see this format in breakout rooms at virtual events or at smaller internal events, but they can also work in larger settings. Just make sure that:

  • Your audience is knowledgeable enough to generate questions: If your audience is struggling to grasp your presentation, they won’t be able to hold an equal part of the conversation. So in your marketing, emphasize that the session will be interactive and tell people how much background knowledge they need to enjoy the session. 
  • Prepare yourself for a quiet audience: Sometimes, people just don’t feel like talking. Especially in a virtual setting, many people are reluctant to be the first to speak, but are more open to engaging once others have. For that reason, encourage one of your team members to join the session and ask the first question. This breaks the ice and, if the question is good enough, gives other people ideas for questions of their own. 
  • You host your session during midday: Unless you’ve got a celebrity involved, good luck getting people to participate actively before 10 a.m. Instead, aim for a noon to 2 p.m. start time.  This way, you’ll reach people when they’re at their most alert.

4. Carefully Select Visual Aids

Since a live webinar is online, you’ll need to supplement your presentation with audio and visual tools to maintain your audience’s attention.

Here, go beyond the standard slide deck to include videos, screen sharing and whiteboards, graphics and data visualizations. The more senses you can engage, the longer you’ll keep your audience invested. 

Also use polls, Q&A and upvoting, public and private chat, and pop-up offers to engage your audience — and capture valuable information about their needs. 

Since you can’t use body language and eye contact to judge how your audience is responding, consider running your presentation — engagement features and visuals included — by your coworkers and friends/family to see what sells and what doesn’t. 

5. Select Your Live Webinar Software

You wouldn’t host your in-person event in the noisy conference room with no Wifi. Take similar care in selecting the webinar platform you’ll use for your session. 

As webinar platforms become more and more sophisticated, it’s harder to narrow down the most important features for your session. So below are the biggest factors to consider before selecting a webinar platform: 

  • Branding opportunities: Events are your brand’s time to shine. So why settle for your webinar platform’s branding and URL? Look for a webinar platform that allows you to incorporate your branding into your video player, landing pages, emails and other event collateral. This way, your audience members will leave your event knowing exactly who you are and where they can find you after the event.  
  • Engagement features: Select a platform that provides polls, Q&A and upvoting, public and private chat, handouts and screen sharing so you can fully involve your audience in the experience. If you’re hosting a small event, consider allowing guests to turn their cameras on. (You can do this on BigMarker by hosting your event in interactive mode.) 
  • Reporting capabilities: Any webinar platform will tell you how many registrants and attendees you attracted. But the best ones can tell you which attendees clicked on which offer, how each attendees answered each poll question, and how many attendees were watching at each 5-minute interval during your session. All of this information can inform not just your post-event follow-up, but your content and marketing strategy in the long term. 
  • Integrations: But all that information becomes less useful if you have to transfer it to your sales team, upload it to your CRM, transfer each lead to the right list, then finally reach out to each lead two weeks after the event. Instead, look for webinar platforms that integrate with the CRM, MAS and email tools you’re already using.

6. Develop an Agenda for the Webinar

Once you’ve finalized your topic and speakers, create an agenda for your session. This will keep the discussion on track while ensuring your team shares offers and sales messages at the right times in the presentation. 

First things first, keep your session to 60 minutes or less. After the one-hour mark, your audience will begin to lose focus — and in the virtual setting, there’s nothing stopping them from signing off. So plan to present for about 45 minutes before turning your session over to the Q&A. (If that means you can’t cover everything you need, great! You’ve got another webinar idea on your hands.)

From there, set your agenda. Below is a best-practice agenda outline for a lead generation webinar: 

  1. Introduction (2-5 minutes) 
  2. Speaker’s presentation + live poll (20 minutes) 
  3. Call to action (2-5 minutes) 
  4. Q&A (10 minutes) 
  5. Survey (immediately after the session ends)  

7. Host a Dress Rehearsal

If you do not have a great deal of experience hosting webinars, host a dress rehearsal to make sure that everything is working properly. Ensure that all of the tools on your webinar platform (microphone and camera, engagement features, screen sharing, etc.) are working as they should and that everyone involved in the presentation understands his or her role in the process. 

They also need to know who to turn to during the webinar if any issue comes up.

This is also a good time to go over the agenda, review the visuals, and make sure that everything else is in order.

8. Reserve All Necessary Equipment and Space

Seems obvious, but it’s the easiest thing to forget about while planning a webinar. So as soon as you set the date of your event, reserve space at your office or a coworking space if needed (or tell your roommates/partners/kids not to come into your office at X time). 

Similarly, create a checklist of necessary equipment that you’ll need for event day. That includes your laptop and charger, microphone (if necessary), and any lighting you’re using to make your space seem more inviting. When you’re running around to get ready on event day, having a list handy will help you remember everything you need and avoid any unforced errors. 

9. Establish Registration Procedures and Payment Mechanisms

Now that you have everything in place for an effective webinar, create a landing page to collect registrations. 

Begin by setting the price of your session. Many webinars are free for admission. But you can charge a fee for tickets if your scope and the prestige of your speakers merit it. (If you’re unsure, go back to supply and demand. Can your audience get your insights and quality of discussion anywhere else? If they well and truly can’t, then you can consider charging for admission).   

Next, create your registration form. Besides their name and email, you can collect other important marketing information about your guests with this form. Consider asking them to provide their industry, job function or how they heard about you, all of which can inform future marketing and sales strategies. If you integrate your webinar platform with your CRM tool, all of this information will filter automatically to your database when your event ends. (Note: Because more people are reluctant to share their information with brands, we recommend asking no more than three follow-up questions and making them optional). 

Finally, design your landing page so that guests can learn about your event and sign up in one skim. In a prominent place on the page, provide the date and time of your session, and two brief paragraphs for context. This gives readers just enough information to entice them to register, but not so much that they lose interest halfway through. 

In addition to this copy, place a brightly colored Call To Action in the center of the page, with a link to your registration form. (If you’re promoting your event through several channels, attach a unique tracking code to the registration link for each, so your team can identify which channels generate the most registrations.) 

10. Promote Your Webinar

“If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t apply here. 

Nobody intends to forget to promote their event. (We hope.) But in the midst of planning the content, securing speakers, and learning a new webinar platform, it’s easy to run out of time and skimp out on marketing. 

So start promoting your event as soon as you’ve booked your speakers (so about 6-8 weeks in advance). Create a spreadsheet, including planned posts, creative direction for graphics, dates and assigned contributors, so everyone on the marketing team knows what needs to be posted on which day and can plan accordingly. 

Start with an initial email telling your subscribers to save the date, then encourage your speakers to forward it to their lists and followers as well. 

From there, promote the webinar on social media — and provide your speakers a promotional kit so they can share it with their networks as well. (Your speakers have the potential to double or triple the reach of any one post you create, making it a particularly cost-effective method for promoting your event.)

Whether you focus more of your energy on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook depends on your industry and follower demographics, but definitely use at least two of the four.  Depending on your budget and scope, also consider paid ads.

11. Evaluate Your Success 

Once you’ve concluded your webinar, reflect on what went well and where your team can improve for the next event. But that’s difficult to do without data telling you where to look. So judge your event along the following metrics to identify key wins and opportunities for improvement. 

Click through rate

Click through rates (CTR) measure the amount of people that clicked an offer to visit your company website or buy a product. 

What does it tell you?: The effectiveness of your overall content and call-to-action messaging    

What’s a good CTR?: Compare your CTR to these standards from the Content Marketing Institute

  • Excellent: 34 to 50 percent
  • On target: 25 to 33 percent. If you’re within this range, you are on target. Consider making your CTA message more specific to further improve this rate.
  • Underperforming: Less than 25 percent. If your CTR falls in this range, your content and/or closing pitch isn’t resonating with your audience. Rework your messaging to ensure it is aligned with your product offering, or consider switching speakers. 

Conversion ratio

Conversion ratio measures the percentage of registrants that went on to attend your live event. 

What does it tell you?: The effectiveness of your pre-event marketing and the overall appeal of your content/topic

What’s a good conversion ratio?

  • Excellent: 50 percent or more 
  • On target: 40-50 percent
  • Underperforming: Less than 40 percent. If your conversion ratio is low, consider tweaking your reminder emails or sending more of them. Also incorporate more of your speakers and video content into your event marketing mix.  

Audience retention rate

This stat measures how well you maintained your audience’s interest throughout the full session. 

What does this measure?: Whether or not your content delivered on what you promised in your marketing. That encompasses: 

  • Audio and video quality 
  • The level of your brand’s thought leadership
  • What post-webinar follow-up opportunities might exist

What’s a good audience retention rate?: Unlike the previous metrics, you can monitor and improve this one in real time. So we recommend your attendee counts at 15-minute intervals throughout the webinar. Typically, you want 80 percent of your peak audience to be in the room when the Q&A portion starts. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using webinars, virtual and hybrid events to grow their businesses? Our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule a demo and get started! 

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