How to grow your business with webinars
Our entire 68-point workflow for setting up and presenting successful webinars
What you’ll get on this page:
- Three reasons why we host webinars—and why you probably should too.
- Some great technology that will hugely improve the quality of your webinars.
- Proven templates for all the documents you’ll need to create (emails, blog posts, etc.).
- Pre-webinar tasks you must complete before you start.
- Some easy-to-make embarrassing webinar blunders we’ve made, and how you can avoid them.
- How to edit the slides and video and post them to your blog.
Why you should consider hosting webinars
Webinars are highly effective for communicating with your target market. In fact, this year we have experimented with turning down almost every conference speaking request we have received, and instead we have spent that time giving webinars. We have even presented remotely at “real-life” conferences:
It doesn’t appear to have hurt our business. This year, we have reclaimed a whole month that we would otherwise have spent visiting conferences, and we have had our highest sales ever.
Webinars have three huge benefits over other marketing channels:
- They allow a level of rapport that articles don’t.
- They are time-efficient, for you and for the attendees, who don’t need to travel to a conference either.
- They are highly scaleable. It’s unusual to have more than 100 people attend a talk at a web conference, but this is normal for a webinar.
However, no other marketing medium presents more opportunities for messing up. They are like a stressful cross between organizing an international conference, giving a presentation and making a VoIP call. Over the years, we’ve accumulated many tips for getting the best results from webinars, usually by making mistakes then asking ourselves, “How can we safeguard against that ever happening again?”
Step 1: Get the right technology
- If you’re wondering how our voices sound so professional (why are you laughing?), it’s because we use a great microphone (the Blue Yeti) with an anti-pop screen (like this one). We’ve recorded a comparison of the different microphone options, so you can hear what a huge difference it makes.
- Find a quiet, echo-free room from which to present: When we first moved into our offices, they were very echoey. So we had the walls lined with Ecophon Texona acoustic wall panels, and we had Ecophon Solo panels suspended from the ceiling. Now it’s like a recording studio in there.
- We have a “Do Not Disturb” sign for the door. This kind of thing, (not this one!). We just wish we could find one that can be read by delivery people, who appear to be blind to it.
- The webinar software we use is GoToWebinar.
Step 2: Have a kick-off meeting to agree the details of the webinar
We recommend you co-present webinars with other companies. That way, you provide valuable content to their subscribers, and in return you get exposure to a new audience. The following points will be useful when you have the first phone meeting with the people with whom you’ll be presenting:
- Before or during this call, send out a Google Doc that contains the planning templates for the call. To save you loads of time, here’s our template.
- Agree on the title of the talk. (Ideally, it would be a subject about which you have already created content.) As with all good headlines, a good title will compel the visitor into wanting to know more, probably by speaking in terms of benefits to the viewer. Our talk about usability, for example, was called “How to make millions from usability testing.”
- Agree who will be presenting, who will be moderating and who will be organizing (e.g., setting up the webinar software).
- Create an outline for the call, so each presenter knows how many minutes they can speak for. It’s a good idea to have 15 minutes for questions at the end. Agree now who will answer the questions.
- Assign one of your colleagues to join the webinar as an attendee, so they can see and hear what the attendees see and hear. If, at the start of the webinar, you accidentally start showing your screen without realizing it, this person can run into the office shouting and waving their arms.
- Agree upon the time and date for the webinar:
- Should you have multiple sessions for different time zones? Remember that time zones vary by date, so don’t just look at the time differences as they are today. Instead, use TimeAndDate’s Meeting Planner.
- Don’t have a webinar on a national holiday. Use Google Calendar’s “interesting calendars” feature to automatically add different countries’ national holidays to your calendar.
- Ensure that the presenters, moderators and organizer will join the webinar half an hour before it starts (so they can check that the technology is working).
- Agree upon the time and date for a “dress rehearsal” several days before the webinar, to agree on the final details and to test the slides and the technology. A 30-minute call should suffice. Twice during such calls we’ve encountered major problems. On one occasion, the other presenter took half an hour to get the technology working. On another, only a quarter of our screen was visible. You don’t want to leave that kind of problem till the day of the talk.
- Agree upon the time and date for a post-webinar call, so you can review any remaining tasks that need to be completed.
- Agree if and how each party will we be promoting the webinar to its followers.
- Give the presenters, moderators and organizers the URL of this article, so they can follow the checklist themselves.
- Ask for photo(s) of the presenters, and the email addresses of the presenter(s), moderator(s) and organizer(s). Also, share cell phone numbers in case any one of you needs to be contacted in an emergency.
- Confirm in writing everything that you’ve just agreed. You can do this by emailing the URL of the Google Doc to the presenters, moderators and organizers.
Step 3: Set dates in your calendar
- Send calendar invitations to the presenters, moderators and organizers.
- Reserve the meeting room from which you’ll present the webinar. You don’t want to start the webinar out of breath because you’ve just had to wrestle several people out of the room. (Incidentally, this task is in the “calendar” section because we book resources using our online calendar. The room from which we present has its own calendar.)
- Invite a colleague to be in the same room as you during the webinar—so they can be a “runner” if you need anything. This could be the same person who will be attending the webinar as a guest.
Step 4: In Google Docs, draft the blog post
- The blog post is surprisingly fiddly to set up, partly because the time zones are difficult to explain (and GoToWebinar doesn’t make things easy). This example of an announcement blog post has all the necessary parts. By drafting it in Google Docs, you can show it to the other parties before it goes live. This also saves you from the chicken-and-egg situation whereby you can’t publish the blog post till you have the GoToWebinar sign-up URL to include in it, but you can’t set up GoToWebinar until you have written the description of the session.
Step 5: Set up GoToWebinar
- Be careful who sets up GoToWebinar, because this person will receive all of the email enquiries (and there may be tens or hundreds of them). So give this job to your guest presenter (just a joke—the organizer should probably do it).
- Copy and paste from the Google Doc the description of the session and the follow-up emails.
Step 6: Publish the blog post announcing the webinar
- Once all the parties have agreed upon it, transfer the blog post from Google Docs to your site and to your co-presenter’s site.
- Follow your publicity plan for the post. (Email your subscribers, etc..) We usually send just one notification, because that’s what we’d do to a friend—and we treat our subscribers like our friends. (In fact, many of them are our friends.) Most companies find that they get higher sign-up rates by sending out a series of emails in the days leading up to the webinar.
Step 7: Write the talk and create the slides
- Send a slide template file to each person who’ll be creating slides.
- In this article we’ll not address how to write the talk itself. Instead we’ll focus on the activities that are specific to webinars. If you want advice on how to structure a persuasive, valuable talk then watch “How to beat most professional copywriters,” which contains a highly effective template for creating persuasive messages (and which follows those tips itself). Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate, is great too. If you want inspiration for creating slides, SlideShare’s “Featured” gallery is useful.
- Script into the talk a second introduction for latecomers.
- GoToWebinar’s interface shows how many people are actually watching the slides (as opposed to having the GoToWebinar window open in the background). You can increase the number of active viewers by regularly saying “Look at this slide” during the talk. Include in your script reminders to do this.
- When the presenters have submitted their slides, combine them into one slide deck and check that all of the fonts and transitions have worked. PowerPoint tip: when you paste in a new slide, you’ll see a small clipboard icon that asks you whether to “Keep Source Formatting” (choose this one!) or “Use Destination Theme” (don’t use this one, unless you secretly hate your co-presenter and want to hear him cry in front of a thousand people).
Step 8: The day before the call
- In case of emergency, print the following:
- Your slides (and annotate them if needed).
- The dial-in details.
- The Google Doc (which includes emergency contact details).
Step 9: About 30 minutes before the webinar
- Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the office door.
- Restart your computer.
- Turn off any software that might slow down your computer, hog your bandwidth or hijack your screen:
- Close any applications you won’t be using—including ones that only appear in the menu bar, like Screenhero and Jing.
- Close any software that is likely to seize control of your screen. For example, instant messaging software, calendar software or notification software.
- Turn off backup software (like Time Machine).
- Turn off file-sync services (like Dropbox).
- If you use Apple Mac OS X Yosemite, open Notification Centre, scroll to the top, and activate “Do Not Disturb” mode, to prevent any embarrassing SMS messages you receive during the webinar from appearing on your screen.
- If you have it (and if you don’t, you’re missing a trick) activate Caffeine (for Mac), which stops your computer from going to sleep or starting your screen saver.
- Set yourself a reminder to restart your computer afterwards, so all of the above software starts again.
- Ensure your backup internet connections are ready (your wireless card, phone tethering, etc.).
- Minimize any possible sources of noise: Turn off doorbells, unplug unneeded phones (note that a phone in vibrate mode can still make a lot of noise). Close windows. If your door is locked, take the keys out of the door, in case someone needs to let themselves in.
- If you’ll be browsing live during the webinar, open a single, blank browser window in “Incognito” mode in a browser you don’t normally use. Delete the history from your web browser, so people can’t see your history and bookmarks.
- Tidy up your computer’s desktop.
- PowerPoint doesn’t work well with multiple monitors, so unplug any external monitors before you begin, and present the slides from your main screen.
- Start ScreenFlow (ideally on another computer) to record a backup of the webinar. And start your digital dictaphone recording.
- Join GoToWebinar. If you’re using a phone, not VoIP, check that “Mic and Speakers” is deselected in GoToWebinar’s control panel—otherwise you may hear loud feedback noise. Also, remember that when “Mic and Speakers” is selected, your voice can be heard by the other presenters as soon as you open GoToWebinar.
- If you’ll be using GoToWebinar’s “Mic and Speakers” VoIP service, then, regardless, activate the ”Telephone” option, and write down the dial-in details. Then, if VoIP fails at any point, you can dial-in with a normal phone.
- The presenter should click “Record” when the webinar starts. (Someone who has a Windows computer should do this too, because GoToWebinar’s Mac client is apparently unreliable at recording sessions.)
- Throughout the session, presenters should ensure that they view the “Chat” section of the GoToWebinar control panel, in case other presenters need to contact them. If one of the presenters isn’t paying attention to your chats (perhaps their “Chat” panel is collapsed), here’s a clever way of getting their attention: On the webinar, tell the presenter that you have just chatted a URL to them, and ask them to forward it to all of the attendees. Then chat to them the URL of the resource along with a message saying “Please pay attention to my chats!”
- Set up a spare laptop on your desk (if you have one). Join the meeting as an attendee on it. This allows you to see what time lag there is between you showing a slide and the audience being able to see it. Also, start up instant messaging (Skype, etc.) so you can use it to communicate with other presenters if anything goes wrong.
- Ask everyone in the office to use different Wi-Fi connections from the one you’re using.
- Have a last-minute wee. You’ve earned it.
- Put a glass of water on your desk, in case your voice dries up during the recording.
- Let the other presenters know that the moderator will be controlling the slides during the presentation, so to advance the slides the presenters will need to keep saying “On the next slide, you’ll see…” or “If you move to the next slide, …” or “[Presenter'sName], if you could move to the next slide.” This turns out to be less awkward than it sounds. Alternatively, you can “Give Keyboard & Mouse” to them, but be aware that their mouse movements can wreak havoc if you forget to disable them when it’s your turn to speak.
- Listen to some exciting music as loud as you can bear, to energize yourself. Here’s our Spotify playlist of exciting songs—though you’ll probably want to create your own.
Step 10: Present the webinar
- Throughout the webinar, the moderator should watch the “Questions” and “Chat” panes in GoToWebinar’s control panel.
- When the talk starts, mute any presenters who aren’t speaking, to minimize any background noise, and to reduce the likelihood of bandwidth problems.
Step 11: After the webinar has finished
- Make sure you end the session, by closing GoToWebinar altogether. It’s surprisingly easy to leave it running (we’ve discovered). Don’t be fooled into thinking that the “Stop showing screen” button will stop the audio too.
- Convert the movie file of the recording (using GoToWebinar’s conversion software).
- If agreed beforehand, export the GoToWebinar reports and send them to the other presenters. Read all of the attendees’ questions, even if you haven’t promised to reply to all of them. Sometimes they contain personal messages that require action.
- Restart your computer, to restart the software that you paused before the session (Dropbox, Time Machine, etc.).
- Upload your slides to SlideShare. If you have used any non-standard fonts, then save the file as a PDF before uploading them, otherwise they’ll look terrible.
- Edit the video (we use ScreenFlow for Mac, but Camtasia for Windows is very similar): Crop any excess content from the start and end of the video. Optimize the sound by maximizing its volume, being careful that none of the peaks get too loud (in Screenflow they appear red when this happens). Screenflow has a feature called “Smooth volume levels,” which can be useful. However, if the other presenters are consistently quieter than you (because they don’t have an awesome microphone, perhaps), then it helps to turn their sections of the audio into separate clips, and then to edit the volumes of those clips independently. Export the video on “Web – High” setting. We export at a size of 1200 by 900 pixels. Then upload the video to your video-hosting service. Wistia and Vimeo are great.
- Embed the slides and video into a blog post (here’s an example). Don’t skip this stage; for every person who attends one of our live webinars, there are more than five people who see the video recording and/or the slides. Rather than create a new post, we edit the one that we used to announce the webinar, because it’s not needed any more, but there might still be links pointing at it.
- Publicize that it’s published (email your subscribers, show off at dinner parties, etc.).
Good luck, and let us know how you get on.
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