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How to Host Successful Webinars in 2021

Updated

All your webinar hosting questions answered.

Over three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies host webinars for one simple reason: They work.

Webinars support your customer through each step of the sales funnel in a more personal, lower-pressure way. Customers can watch on their own time and own their terms, and ask questions along the way, so they get a more autonomous sales experience without sacrificing interactivity 

At the top of the funnel (the Awareness stage), webinars can help you introduce products and services to your audiences, and position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. 

Once you’ve earned their attention, webinars can help you build relationships with their prospects to gain their trust as well. 

And when prospects are ready to decide, webinars deliver specific content that nudges them to sign the dotted line. Even after they pick you, onboarding and training webinars can help your customers master your product and become an advocate for your brand.  

That means webinars are a high-stakes game—now more than ever. So if you’re planning on having your CMO ad-lib for 45 minutes, then blasting the link on social media, you’re costing your company an opportunity to grow. 

For 10 years, we’ve hosted webinars with thousands of companies, from Fortune 55 and flagship media companies to start-ups and nonprofits. In that time, we’ve figured out what tactics and strategies drive the greatest ROI for webinar hosts.

Here are the most common questions we get about hosting webinars–and how to harness them to power your business: 

Why should I host a webinar? 

Webinars cost an average of $3000 and $5000 to run. Not expensive enough to break your budget, but not cheap enough to host without a clear finish line in mind. 

Before you start booking speakers and whipping up ~whimsical~ tech art, figure out the business objective for your webinar. Common use cases include: 

Most likely, you’re pursuing more than one of these goals at once. But for the sake of simplicity and cohesion, pick the most pressing one and plan your webinar with that in mind. 

Once you’ve identified your North Star, work backwards from there to figure out the details of your content, marketing and execution. This will start with your target audience. 

Who should attend my webinar? 

First things first: You’ll need about twice as many people to register as you think. That’s because 44% of pre-registrants typically attend the live event. So if your webinar room has a 10,000-person limit and you want to hit capacity, do some backwards math to determine your target registration number (In this case, 10K attendees divided by .44 to yield 22,727 registrants).  

From there, your guest list and outreach strategy will depend largely on your goal decided above. 

If your goal is increasing product mastery and retention, you’d invite all of your new customers via a segmented email list. But if brand building’s your biggest challenge, you’d blast invites on social media as well as your general email list and personal connections. For conversion, you’d have your sales reps invite their most promising leads and/or offer them recordings of the event. 

How long should my webinar last? 

If you’ve attended a webinar, you’re familiar with the general structure: 40-45 minutes of programming followed by a quick call-to-action and a 10-minute Q&A. There’s a time and place for getting creative. This isn’t it. The 45-15 structure is the way to go, and research supports that: 

According to our webinar engagement stats, almost half (44%) of attendees prefer that events run for 45 minutes. 

Feel free to cut your webinar early, but definitely don’t extend it. Another 41% of attendees believe that 30 minutes is the ideal runtime for a webinar. So if you’re pushing an hour of programming, your webinar will have the distinct feel of that virtual meeting gone long, and nobody’s got time for that. 

How should I pick my webinar topic? 

You can have your positioning, landing page and webinar platform dialed up to a 10, but none of it will matter if your content sucks. 

If your “presentation” is your VP of Sales reading off your industry benchmark report, or reciting your latest sales deck, nobody’s sticking around. And if they do (to be polite)? They’re not signing up for that dog and pony show again. 

If you’re asking people to give you an hour of their workday, you better give them something they can’t find on Google

These can be stories, insights and/or tactical tips that help them work and live better tomorrow. Whatever the format, you need to provide actionable ideas that your viewers can use to improve the way they work and live. If your webinar is just a copy-paste of their LinkedIn feeds, it’s a waste of time and money for your audience—which will reflect poorly on your brand long past event day. 

When choosing your webinar topic, take a hint from journalism. What kind of stories get the most attention? They’re timely, personally relevant and backed by research. Choose a webinar topic with all of these qualities and you’re sure to attract guests. 

But that’s easier said than done when you’re spending 40+ hours per week on the rest of your responsibilities. So here are some ways to glean the best topics for your audience: 

  1. Read the news (or even skim your industry’s verticals) and consider their implications for your audience. How will this news change the way your audience works—and what risks should they protect themselves against? For instance, you can use the colonial pipeline cyberattack to start necessary conversations about cybersecurity and oil dependence, etc. In today’s hyperactive news landscape, this alone could source you a year of good webinars. 
  2. Consult LinkedIn posts from industry leaders, as well as their comments. Reactions to these viral posts tell you how “everyday” people perceive industry trends—and they can serve as good proxies for your audience members. 
  3. Identify knowledge gaps among current customers through voice-of-customer surveys and incoming customer support requests. Then create a series of product onboarding webinars focusing on those topics, so you can help your customers master your product and achieve the goals you promised. 
  4. Use Reddit or Quora to see what people in your field are talking about—and where they need more knowledge. The more… colorful… nature of these platforms can lead to more blunt and useful revelations for your team. 

Once you’ve decided on a topic, figure out how to frame it in the context of your presentation. Strike a balance between general and actionable. Ideally, a viewer will have enough background knowledge on your topic without consulting Wikipedia and/or the NYT. From there, you can provide expertise that most viewers wouldn’t have arrived at on their own. 

Learn even more about optimizing your content strategy for online events

How can I use my webinar to drive sales? 

45 minutes into your webinar on BigMarker, introduce your call-to-action. Use pop-up offers with clickable (and trackable links) so interested guests can learn more (and buy!) before leaving the room and getting swallowed by their to-do lists.

But nobody likes a hard sell. Instead, your content should guide your viewers naturally along your sales pipeline. This way, the pitch reads as a natural conclusion to the conversation, rather than some opportunistic ask. 

So rather than talking up your marketing automation tool for 45 minutes, recruit a marketing operations leader to talk about different ways to relieve marketing admin work. They’ll contribute several research- or experienced-based points—and the last one just happens to be marketing automation. And oh, would you look at that, your company actually sells marketing automation software, which the audience should check out at this link if they’re interested. 

That’s it. It’s that easy. 

And the more engaging your content, the easier the ask will be. Because if you’ve given your audience enough good insights for the last hour, that call-to-action won’t feel like a pitch so much as another solid piece of advice that oh so happens to support your business model too. 

How can I interact with my audience during the webinar? 

Throughout the webinar, use interactive elements like polls and offers to increase attention and comprehension among your viewers, while also garnering additional data for marketing purposes. 

BigMarker includes polls, Q&A, public chat, offers and handouts, all of which keep your audience engaged and generate more marketing data for your team. 

Here’s an example webinar run of show demonstrating how to use different interactive tools to your advantage: 

  • Start the session with a poll prompting guests to tell you where they’re from or how familiar they are with your topic. This breaks the ice and also helps you understand how to frame your presentation. 
  • Midway through the presentation, use a poll to test your audience’s understanding or to introduce a call-to-action (e.g., ask “Have you ever tried marketing automation?” and then introduce your marketing automation software.) 
  • Distribute a pop-up offer that directs viewers to your company website on another tab. 
  • Allow attendees to download your slide deck and/or another PDF via the Handouts tab. 
  • Direct attendees to send questions through the Q&A function and answer the most common/best ones during the Q&A portion of the webinar. 

We also recommend using video and a visually appealing slide deck to maintain your audience’s energy levels. 

How can I conduct a good Q&A? 

Although the Q&A can feel like an afterthought, don’t treat it as such. Why? More than anything else, that face-to-face interactive exchange of knowledge is what distinguishes your webinar from a video or livestream. 

Attendees value this opportunity and research bears that out: 92% of webinar attendees want a Q&A at the end of the session, according to our research. 

But besides pleasing your guests, it’s a great way to help your customers solve their specific problems. If your guests walk away from your event ready to tackle their challenges, they’ll see your brand as one that provides solutions and provides value. 

One that talks the talk and walks the walk, if you will. 

But for every productive Q&A, there’s a silent one that sucks the life out of the session. People clear out of the room faster than the Savasana after a hot yoga class and you’re left wondering if you made an impression at all. 

Don't be this guy.


So plant one of your team members in the room to ask the first questions. Once someone’s broken the silence, other guests can build off of the first question and feel more comfortable asking follow-ups. 

Another common stumbling block is the opposite—when a guest asks a question that’s too technical for the marketing representative hosting the webinar to answer. 

To give your guests the best answers possible, set up a relay from your virtual event platform to Slack. This way, incoming questions are sent directly to a Slack channel including your most knowledgeable team members. There, your engineers, support staff and other employees can answer questions as they come in through your session on BigMarker—without leaving their other tasks. 

How should I structure my webinar? 

From the presentation itself to videos, polls, Q&A, calls-to-action and simply keeping your audience excited, webinars contain a lot of moving parts. 

Without air-tight organization, your webinar will look and feel like that rambling History 101 lecture you quickly learned to skip. So as you plan your presentation, outline all of the necessary parts and the time required for each in a Google doc. Get started with this example webinar run of show (ROS) below:


Strike a healthy balance between storytelling and sales.


When should I host my webinar? 

Since our focus peaks about midweek, we recommend hosting your webinar between Tuesday and Thursday. 

Host your webinar in the hour before or after 12 p.m. in your viewers’ most common timezone. This way, you’re catching people either immediately before or right after their lunch break, and you’re not conflicting with common meeting times or deep work opportunities. 

You may hesitate to schedule your webinar at the same time as your peers, but consider this point: People are unlikely to attend more than one webinar per week (Would you give up two lunches for webinars? Neither would we.) So feel free to schedule for the same time slot as everyone else.

How should I promote my webinar? 

Most hosts will judge their webinar’s performance by the amount of one-on-one meetings/demos they book with attendees. But even the most brilliant presenters can’t convince leads to sign up for a meeting on their own. You need to complement your presentation with a solid marketing pipeline that guides customers toward booking a meeting. 

Below is a marketing flow tailored to drive registrations and follow-ups. We’ll go through each step briefly to make sure you nail each one. 


Webinar marketing from start to finish


Email Invitations

76 percent of online event hosts consider email their most important marketing channel, according to research from Markletic. The majority of webinar registrations come via email, so if you’re going to prioritize any one marketing channel, email is it. 

To minimize the manual labor of email marketing, we recommend choosing a virtual event platform with a built-in email service. This ensures that your event’s information and guests are automatically loaded into each email template. All you need to do is tweak your email copy, add your logo and colors, then press send. 

Each webinar or video you host on BigMarker gets its own email management dashboard, where you can configure, design and schedule the right email flow for your audience. 

To further increase conversions, you can also enable one-click registration. This allows recipients to register for your event just by clicking the CTA button in the email (no landing page needed). When it’s turned off, they’ll be directed to the registration page, where they’ll have to fill out your registration form. 

For more on optimizing your email strategy for online events, check out our email marketing guide

Webinar Landing Page

The CTA button in the invitation email or ad will lead to the landing page, where guests will decide whether or not they want to register. 

As you can imagine, the design, layout and content of your landing page all have an outsized effect on your webinar’s sign-up rate. Strike a balance between showcasing your brand while driving people toward the Register button. 

(PS: If you’re using evergreen webinars to build your pipeline, then your landing page design is even more important, since you’re investing real money to direct traffic to the page.) 

Our goal is to give you options to help you successfully build webinar landing pages, regardless of if you’re just starting out, or if you’re running big time

sophisticated evergreen campaigns.

For the 90% of webinar hosts who need a solid (but not over-the-top) landing page builder, BigMarker provides 15 conversion-optimized landing page templates that you can customize in minutes. For those who need more, we offer Unbounce and Hubspot integrations, so you can build landing pages with the higher levels of customization on the most powerful landing page builders.

Finally, for those who need maximum customization, we offer embeddable registration forms and a robust API (docs.bigmarker.com), so you can go nuts building completely custom pages and integrating them with your BigMarker event.

Registration Forms

If you’ve done your job thus far, you’ll have lots of people signing up via your registration form. While this step is pretty straightforward (if they’re on the form, they’re going to register), you can still optimize your registration form to collect additional marketing information from your guests. 

Collecting more specific data allows your sales team to personalize their follow-ups after the event. This increases the chances that your guests become customers—and the ROI of your webinar. 

Common optional fields include Job Title, Company Size, Industry, etc. Stick to only one or two extra fields, though, since registration forms with 3+ additional fields see steeper drop-off rates. (Also, it’s 2021. Everyone with an internet connection knows you’re going to use that info for marketing purposes.) 

Confirmation and Reminder Emails

Remember that only 44 percent of webinar registrants end up attending the live webinar. So once registration opens, gradually shift focus from maximizing sign-ups to maximizing show-ups. 

Some people sign up for webinars solely to watch the on-demand recording on their own time, but many people, especially those who sign up 15+ days in advance, just forget about it. 

Use confirmation and reminder emails to avoid as many of those unforced errors as possible. This starts at registration: On your registration confirmation page encourage people to add the event to their Google calendars or other scheduling apps. BigMarker has integrations with Calendly and other scheduling apps for that purpose.

From there, use your automated email suite to send reminder emails. Our hosts generally send two reminder emails, one 24 hours in advance and another 30 minutes before showtime. However, as with invitation emails, hosts can schedule BigMarker emails to send whenever it works best for their audience. 

Integrations with CRM Tools

During the marketing process, and the webinar itself, you’re obtaining information about your attendees: their name and email, job title, interests and pain points, etc. 

If guests participate in a Q&A, answer a poll question or click an offer, it’s recorded in the BigMarker event reports. Hosts can obtain moment-to-moment engagement stats not just for their entire session, but for individuals in the room. Minutes after the event ends, hosts can identify their most promising leads and prompt their sales team to reach out with specific offers, using the information obtained from the event report. 

Sounds awesome and efficient, as long as your team receives that information right away. 

That’s where integrations come in. BigMarker integrates with 30+ CRM, MAS, email and payment platforms, so that all your event’s information is automatically sent to the marketing tools you’re already using. This empowers your sales team to reach out and turn attendees into customers more quickly than ever. 

What are your best practices for webinar presenters? 

Focus on controlling the controllables, starting with your own preparation. This includes the following:

Practice, practice, practice. 

We’ve heard some wild stories over the years: like the presenter who forgot he wasn’t wearing pants, or the other who thought it was a good idea to host a high-stakes webinar while his airplane was taxiing to the runway. Hint: both ended badly. 

Don’t turn yourself into a story: Practice using your webinar software in the weeks before your event, so you can turn your mic and camera on, use engagement features, etc., without interruption. We advise running 1-3 technical rehearsals to ensure a smooth online webinar event.

From there, focus on the talk itself. Don’t ad lib your whole presentation, but don’t read from a script either. Strike a balance by preparing some bullet points, then speaking “in your own words” around those main ideas. 

Presentations that are well prepared but spoken extemporaneously (rather than read from a script) come across much more authentically, which tends to drive higher levels of attendee satisfaction.

Technical concerns aside, presenting to a remote audience is different than speaking to a crowd. You need to gaze above your camera to appear as if you’re making eye contact with your audience. You may need to articulate more so that your speech doesn’t sound garbled, or you may need to change your background or office space to fit the format. 

And it just feels weird to speak passionately to a computer screen. Most of these things, you won’t realize until you’re on screen for the first time. 

So practice delivering your presentation on your virtual event platform before going live. On BigMarker, organizers can schedule practice sessions with presenters, so that presenters can practice using the virtual event platform and its engagement features, etc. before the big day. 

Reduce risk by using automation 

We’ve all heard about Justin Timberlake’s and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. Now imagine if that concert had been pre-recorded, then uploaded to the live broadcast only when it was optimized for public consumption. The production crew would’ve caught the moment that violated the FCC’s broadcasting guideline, reshot the song and released an error-free concert recording to the world. 

That’s the idea of automation (although on a much smaller scale). Your team can pre-record webinar content, add videos and interactive elements to the presentation, then release it as if it were live. While rolling the recording, your team remains on hand during the presentation to engage with the audience and answer questions. This way, you can have the interactivity of a live event without the risk of error.  

Record your session and upload to a media hub 

We can see you rolling your eyes right now because, of course you’re going to record your session. But when you’re scrambling to rehearse your talk one more time, ensure attendees can access the webinar room, get your mic and camera working, something’s going to fall by the wayside. And it’s usually starting the recording. 

So if you have another host with you, remind them to hit the recording button as soon as the session begins. 

Once you’ve recorded your webinar, upload it to a media hub or video library so that on-demand attendees can watch weeks or even months after the fact. That way, your company receives a steady stream of new leads without needing to create a new piece of content. 

Because why pick between working hard and working smart when you can do both? 

Want to learn more about the world's most innovative companies are harnessing webinars to grow their businesses? Our Webinar Marketing Playbook offers even more actionable advice from planning to presenting and promoting your big event.

And for more information about our webinar hosting services, check out our pricing page or schedule a demo with our team of Account Executives.

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