12 Principles for Better Community Webinars

The best webinars are focal points for everyone to check they are doing it right.

The best webinars are like radio shows for an enthusiastic topic group.

Webinars can tell members they’re going through the same challenges, same joys, and the same experiences as one another. They tell people what to care about, how to feel, and provide a point of common connection.

Webinars should integrate with the current affairs in the community and increase activity. They should draw in newcomers and engage them within the group.

At their worst, webinars are an unmemorable waste of time for everyone concerned. They don’t educate or entertain.

If your webinars aren’t boosting activity, they’re (sadly) wasting everyone’s time.

Don’t settle for doing another ok webinar. You’ve attended and hosted as many as I have.

You know the drill. The webinar begins. A speaker is introduced. The speaker speaks for 45 minutes with 15 minutes allowed for questions.

These webinars exist to fill gaps in a content calendar. They don’t increase activity.

We can use a few simple principles to undertake much better webinars for members.

Principle 1) Integrate Webinars With Topical Community Affairs

Imagine your webinar as a radio show for your community. The goal is to leave members feeling highly informed, entertained, or better connected to one another.

The webinar should be integrated with current community activity.

A webinar should tackle key issues that have arisen, draw attention to the key people, and highlight what’s going on.

Don’t invite experts at random. Invite experts who can help resolve the toughest challenges members have highlighted.

Which brings us to setting a good webinar topic.

Principle 2) Use Your Data To Identify Good Topics

There are 3 good approaches to determine a webinar topic:

1) Surveys. Use your member surveys to highlight good discussion topics.

These should have a specific focus. You can find examples of our surveys here. Provide members with an open-ended way to highlight issues that may not have been addressed yet.

Be sure to spend a few minutes here too.

2) Recent discussions. Review the most popular discussions in the past month. Invite one or two of the key participants to join you in a webinar and publish the registration link in a reply to that existing discussion.

3) Call for Ideas. A simpler option is to call for ideas. Ask what topics members would like to be covered in a webinar. What are the sub-topics of each.

Principle 3) Try A Non-Lecture Format

Lectures are the easiest way to do a webinar, but not the best.

Webinar recordings don’t attract many viewers, which means you’re designing for the live audience – not the subsequent audience.

You can test different formats here. The best webinars should be:

  • Highly educational.

Comprehensively tackle a big challenge members have or inform members about any upcoming issues. Be time-efficient with this. The shorter the webinar is, the better.

A traditional presentation format can work, but so can having an hour-long Q&A.

You might do an online workshop. Imagine this as a classroom and have attendees do exercises.

You can have a facilitated panel discussion between 3 to 4 top experts. Go far beyond the traditional format.

  • Highly entertaining.

This doesn’t have to involve telling jokes, although humour is great. Have members share their most emotive or remarkable stories about the topic. Tell them during the webinar. Better yet, let members tell them live.

You can solicit questions from members and answer them yourself during the webinar.

You can highlight the funniest stories you’ve seen around the web that week.

Perhaps imagine your webinar is an hour-long show. You might have the first 10 minutes for the latest news in your sector, the next 20 might for a guest interview, another 20 minutes on member stories. You can then use the final 10 on individual member announcements.

Look at what radio shows and entertainment shows do. There are many different formats here. You can mix and match these too to keep it fresh.

One week have an expert, the next tackle member problems, the third do your own lecture, and the fourth share some of the most engaging stories recently.

Principle 4) Don’t Use Default Options

Don’t rely on the default options of your webinar software.

Check every feature and setup every option. You will only need to do this once.

In future you can replicate a previous webinar and change the key details. Here are a few key things to set.

Webinars.001

  • Title: Define the webinar as part of an ongoing series. List either the known people involved or the specific problem you will tackle. We’ve found people and organizations trump a specific challenge, but this will depend how well known individuals within that sector area.
  • Description: Outline the problem that the webinar will tackle. Don’t explain the solution here. The purpose of the description is to persuade people to register. Use your survey data to highlight the specific emotional appeals (usually hope, fear, or belonging) within that topic. If someone is worried about mobile design, what are they really worried about? Probably appearing incompetent, seeing engagement begin to decline, or not keeping pace with new trends?
  • Create a series: One-off webinars can be fine, but it’s far better to create the series. You can change each individual webinar anytime you like. This requires people only to sign up once and receive notifications of all future webinars.
  • Set a time that is around lunchtime or the beginning of the evening: We’ve found 5 to 6pm UK time to be ideal for our international time. Largely because it catches lunchtime on the east coast of the USA. If your audience is more concentrated, pick a time that is close to lunch or the end of the day.

Make sure you select register once to attend all sessions.

registeronce

Branding and Design

Add your brand or community logo to the webinar If you don’t have one, go to 99designs and have one designed. You’ll be using this for a long time.

Then select or customize the theme to reflect the branding of your site. The default branding designs are very plain.

branding.001

Remember in future, you can copy the template from previous webinars.

Welcome message

Most people will show up a few minutes early. Some show up 30 minutes early and do work while waiting to begin. Add a welcome message that also serves as a call to action to participate in the community.

This might provide more examples about the topic, the relevant discussion, or anything else within the community.

You can also (not shown in this box) list the hashtag to solicit early questions.

welcomemessage

Drop in a professionally taken photo of you/your speakers (about $150 – $200).

Be sure to add your guests as panelists early and check they use the link on the day. Resend these on the day and check in with any guests 2 hours early.

Develop your e-mail series

This is the biggest immediate area for improvement right now. GoToWebinar (and most platforms) offer you the ability to send out a series of e-mails to all attendees.

Don’t use the bland defaults.  Each message is a chance to engage someone further in your community.

Use these to include links to relevant discussions within the community.

You want people to share what they want to learn, their own examples, and who they want to hear from. Place calls to action within these e-mails to engage people further within the community.

emails.001

Enable the follow-up message to non-attendees. Don’t include the video, guide them to the place in the community which contains the video.

The entire purpose of the webinar is to increase engagement. You want to bring these people into the community circle.

nonattendees

Principle 5) Use A Broader Array Of Assets To Promote The Webinar

Make it easier for guests to co-promote the webinar

Create a standard image featuring the subjects of the webinar which can be used on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere.

Tag in the other person by name with relevant industry hashtags. This makes it easier for the subject of the webinar to co-promote by simply clicking share or retweet.

mozinar

Also offer the subject(s) of the webinar something exclusive just for their audience.

This can be previous videos, useful information, or anything that helps.

This increases the odds they will help promote it to their own audience (which means more members for your community).

Banner or popup on your site.

Many platforms allow you to create a banner or popup to highlight upcoming activity. Use this to drive more people to sign up for the webinar.

Again, you usually only need to do this once for a series.

Promote in the discussion posts.

In relevant discussion posts, let people know you’re hosting a webinar to tackle the problems or issues highlighted in the discussion. You can go back to former posts as well – all members receive a notification.

Solicit questions in advance.

You don’t want dead silence when it comes to questions, so solicit some questions in advance on Twitter, the community, and your mailing lists.

Use a curiosity-driven subject line “Questions about {topic}”.

This also helps to promote the session and equips you with a list of questions to ask during the webinar.

It’s usually far more effective to send an e-mail out to everyone asking for questions about a topic (which promotes the webinar) than to send out endless notifications about the webinar itself.

Other groups

Offer any other groups the ability to send the recording to their own audience if they wouldn’t mind promoting it. You can also use their questions first as an exclusive benefit to reaching more people.

ShareLinkGenerator

In your own e-mails to attendees or outbound promotion, use the ShareLinkGenerator to create a clickable link people can use to promote the webinar in their own social media channels.  There are plenty of others tools, this is the easiest.

Principle 6) Don’t Skip The Pre-Interview

Do you think most interview subjects appear on the news without the presenter knowing what she’s going to say? Of course not. Most media outlets do pre-interviews. You should do these too.

You personally shouldn’t be learning anything new in the webinar, but your audience should be. 

You should never be asking a question of a subject in a webinar you don’t know the answer to.

This leaves you no time to prepare follow-up questions and typically means you fail to extract the most valuable insights in the most efficient way possible.

I recall asking one webinar subject years ago how they got into the field. Five minutes later, he was still explaining his detailed history. Before a media outlet conducts a live interview, they do a pre-interview.

They find out the most useful pieces of information and guide the discussion in that direction.

This also allows you to prepare the subject to talk more or less about specific topics. Explain to them the key insights you’re hoping to extract from the interview.

Have methods of alerting them it’s time to wrap up their answer and to move on to the next question (e.g. if they’re speaking and you begin responding to every point in the affirmative).

Many poor webinars occur due to a lack of preparation. Simply doing pre-interview and better preparing for webinars will make most of them far better than they are today.

The webinar is the summary of what you have already discovered about the person. It’s not a free-wielding interview format.

Before the webinar begins, you should know the questions you’re going to ask of any subjects, the answers they’re going to give, how you’re going to shut down and move on to the next point, and the questions from audience members.

Principle 7) Only Deliver Handouts To Those That Show Up

If people know the recording will be available, they don’t turn up (and, curiously, they never watch the recording neither).

The most powerful way to get people to show up to the webinar is to provide extra value within the webinar itself.

This usually means handout information. GoToWebinar and most other platforms lets you deliver up to five handouts.

I suggest you use all 5 of them, even if some have been sent out before.

handouts

One or two can be the best material or a list of links provided by the subject of the webinar or about the topic of the webinar.

People highly value a list of recommended books, detailed resources, or even links to the top discussions on this topic. This material can also later be reused for new members to the community.

Detailed case studies and examples also work well as handouts.

This is also why pre-interviews work well. They let you prepare handouts that summarize the key points of the speaker and you can send them out during the webinar itself.

Principle 8) Prepare Engagement Activities Every 10 – 15 Minutes.

If you do public speaking, you know it’s hard to keep an audience’s attention for 45 minutes.

Now imagine doing that on a webinar where the attendees don’t have to feign polite interest.

I rarely see engagement activities used within a community webinar.

Yet every platform allows them. If you know the points you or your subjects will make, you can prepare surveys and polls to find out more information and engage the audience every 10 – 15 minutes within the session itself.

This keeps attendees more engaged. Most people right now will have your webinar running in the background while they work. You need to keep them engaged with clear activities. You need to plan these activities in advance.

These should address the biggest questions members face, their views on the issues highlighted by the subject, or broader thoughts on the industry/sector the community is in.

Principle 9) Arrive Early And Ask Questions Of Individual Members.

Show up to the webinar 15 minutes early and start the broadcast. You don’t need to begin the session yet, just start the broadcast.

Now welcome people by name as they arrive. Ask them questions they can respond to with their microphones or in the Q&A. Keep it informal and friendly.

The goal is to individualize the session to as many participants as possible. Speak openly about some of the latest things going on in the community.

Ask people for their views. Try to increase the level of engagement while people wait. Attendees that arrive early will feel they’re getting something exclusive and unique to them.

This is also a good time to ask people to share some of their biggest challenges, what topics they hope the webinar will help them with, and when they can ask questions.

Over time you will begin to build relationships with a large number of people answering the questions.

Principle 10) Act Like A Radio Show Host

During the webinar don’t act like a polite emcee, act like a radio host. Cut people off when you need to, bring in new voices, mention as many individuals as you can by name. Press subjects to answer the question if they skirt around the answers.

Have a personality, shine the light where it needs to be shone. Engage people heavily within the session. Don’t worry about replying to an impromptu question or tweet from an attendee.

Principle 11) Use The Survey To Create The Learning Loop

Use the follow-up survey to gather useful information. Ask people how informative or entertaining they found the webinar. Ask people what they liked and didn’t like about the webinar. Feed this back into your planning for the next webinar.

Make sure the survey goes out after each session and comprises of just 3 to 5 questions.

surveys

Quickly convert the video and upload it to Vimeo. Then share the video link with those that attended and your partners. Upload the slides to slideshare and link it to the video.

Encourage the subject(s) of the webinar to post the video to their own channels.

Principle 12) Always Loop Back To Fresh Community Activity

Now create new discussions in the community about any of the issues raised in the webinar. Include this link in the e-mails going out to both attendees and non-attendees.

Also include a link to the video within this community. This should drive further activity in the community and spread the knowledge further throughout the community.

Don’t Become Stale

Any webinar format or form you assume is going to become stale after a large amount of time. This means you will need to frequently test different ideas and bring new ones into the webinar.

At the moment we’re not exploring any of the possible formats we could be using to drive greater traffic in the community through webinars. Even soliciting questions in advance and creating new discussions after the webinar will drive more activity.

We have a great opportunity to explore new formats and integrate them better with community activity. If we get it right, we can deliver far more effective, valuable, and memorable webinars.

 

Comments

  1. Nick Emmett says:

    What a great, great post. Some awesome tips in here. I run a monthly webinar currently, aimed at new members, outlining the features in the Community and how to get the best out of it. I want to branch out though, into more focused sessions around products. I LOVE some of the advice in here and I’ll definitely be using some/most of them. Thanks @richard_millington

  2. Richard Millington says:

    Thanks Nick.

    I think webinars is a place where there’s huge potential to be more dynamic. We don’t do this as well as I’d like yet.

  3. joel galbraith says:

    Really a fabulous post. We run quarterly webinar events with a smattering of others in between. We do much of this, but there are some great reminders in here, and new tips as well. Some thing for everyone–newbies and experts alike!

  4. Alessio Fattorini says:

    Wow didn’t see this post so far. Love it thanks Rich!

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