As technology continues to evolve, so too do the ways in which we interact with and market to our customers. The event field is no different. One of the interesting evolutions we’ve seen recently is events turning entirely digital. Another is the use of digital events prior to a physical event to help sell and increase participation.

This is where the webinar comes in: using a technological platform such as GoToMeeting, WebEx or one of the smaller players, you broadcast video and audio to an audience dialed in from telephones and computers around the world. It sounds deceptively simple, but with a bit of strategy and planning, webinars can be an effective marketing tool, product, or way to add value to your network. Here are some tips for getting started.

1. Topic selection

If you want to be viewed as a thought leader on a particular topic, it’s important to select a topic that is both relevant to your industry and to your customers. Consider your audience: what are their most pressing concerns? What information would they drop everything to spend an hour obtaining? If your topic ties to the answer of that question, you’ve got a head start on a successful webinar.

Carefully select your topic, then stick to it on the call – try not to get off track. It can be easy in a conversational setting to start drifting. But put together a schedule for the webinar, perhaps even a script, and then stay on message. People will view the call as an efficient use of their time, and you as a credible thought leader. If you schedule a hot topic event for your first webinar, people are more likely to register and attend.

2. Promote your webinar

So you’ve been working on an amazing presentation for your webinar. You’ve chosen a webinar host and a date. So how do you get the word out to potential attendees? Aim for cross-channel exposure when you are marketing your webinar. Think first about effective ways to reach our own audience. Your blog, social media accounts, newsletter, and email list should all be notified (and reminded) about your webinar.

You may also want to consider doing a promotional video illustrating what people should expect from your event. Potential attendees will appreciate the preview! Use all the opportunities to you available to get the word out to new audiences. Post information about it on all of your company’s social accounts. Consider doing an email marketing campaign leading up to it. This can be a great way to leverage guest posting on other people’s blogs with a clear call to action (obviously, slant your post to connect directly with the topic of your webinar). You may also want to list your webinar on a free webinar listing site like www.webinarlistings.com

3. Set up opportunities for engagement

The best webinars we’ve attended have built in opportunities for audience participation. If you think back to some of the classes you’ve taken in the past, what are some of the most memorable? It’s pretty much a guarantee that you aren’t going to remember much about the class where your professor droned on and on in an exhausting 1.5 hour lecture. Instead, the best learning opportunities (and marketing opportunities) are a two way conversation. It allows you to share information, but target that to the needs of your audience in real-time. It also helps you keep people’s attention.

Think about that while you are planning your first webinar – you want to be engaging and actively engage your audience, so that they get the most out of your session. If you set the tone of the call early, letting them know that you plan to have various opportunities for participation, participants will be more likely to listen and interact with you. Technology selection also plays a role here. Many hosts allow you to patch in a caller to ask a question, or allow participants to raise their hand and type a question. Newer platforms like Spreecast actually allow the webinar host to invite participants on video to create a Google Hangout like effect.

4. Do a Q&A session

This goes along with setting up opportunities for engagement, but it is definitely worth mentioning separately. Conducting a Q&A session can be a great way to engage your audience via Twitter chat, and will likely get the attention of potential customers for future webinars. Encourage your audience to tweet questions during the presentation to you using a hashtag of your choice. It’s helpful to have a colleague on hand to answer and triage questions. This kind of multiple channel engagement both expands your reach and encourages people to reach out.

5. Keep in touch

The worst thing you can do after your webinar is to never follow up with the participants. Your webinar has opened up a new window to communicate with customers and generate potential leads. Request feedback from your participants, connect with them on social media and via email, and invite them to future webinars. You may also want to consider taping your first webinar and putting it online for participant and general access. Following up 48 hours later with a link to the replay is a great, high-value way to reconnect and remind viewers of the benefits you discussed. It’s likely folks will want to refer back and having video evidence of a great event will help to drum up interest. You can even invite them to share the webinar with friends and colleagues, exponentially expanding the impact of your webinar.

Conducting your first webinar does not have to be a daunting task. If you choose the right topic, promote it across multiple channels, and engage with your audience, your webinar is sure to be a success! Do you have questions about getting started with webinars? Post them in the comments below and we’ll be happy to answer them.

Elizabeth

Liz Alton's experience in event planning runs from renting out entire South
American towns to planning intimate gatherings for heads of state.She's
particularly interested in the intersection of new technology and event
planning to make events successful, efficient, and fun. Liz is now a blogger, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Boston.

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