Right now I have four clients in various stages developing webinars with me. Next week I’m teaching a class on designing webinars at the University of Wisconsin Business School. Yesterday I workshopped a new webinar with a client and tomorrow I’ll workshop another one with a different client. And still another the day after that!

What’s the deal with webinars? Why should you care?

Webinars have huge potential as part of a thoughtful content strategy and marketing strategy. The conversion rate for webinars is 20%-40% higher than other lead generation tools, and people who are signing up tend to be better qualified leads, too. For most of my clients, one of the things we explore is what’s a thing we do that we’re confident usually leads to sales. For many of them, the answer is just get in the room. This is true for many of us in small business – if we can get a face to face meeting, schedule a showcase or demonstration, or just get personal time with a prospect or customer to listen, explore, and share, we like our chances of earning new business.

Webinars can be an easy and natural conduit to this when they’re done right. Last month in a workshop a gentleman told me he never did webinars because those he had attended were a waste of time. I relate and understand – I’ve sat through some terrible, awful webinars and online presentations. Like any content marketing, when done poorly the costs can be high – we can actually turn business away or sabotage our own efforts by making stupid, careless mistakes. When done right, however, webinars can be a rich opportunity – and some of my clients have seen significant successes directly related to doing webinars right.

Webinars fall into the Ready phase of the trusty CARE Funnel. These are people interacting with our content who have said, “I have a problem and hey, it looks like maybe you can help.” They’re willing to spend 30, 45, or 60 minutes with us to explore a solution to that problem in a webinar. Think about what you can do with 60 minutes of somebody’s time! It’s a tremendous opportunity with a lot of potential.

What can do with 60 minutes of somebody’s time! Webinars have tons of potential.

I have a model called Designing Webinars That Work that I teach to my clients and facilitate with them. It revolves around what I call the  Successful 5, or S5 – the five things a great webinar has to do well for it to be effective.

S1: Strategy

As usual, nothing good happens without strategy. And as usual, this is where most webinars fall flat and fail. Without a thoughtful approach about why this webinar and who cares about it, you’re just sharing your screen. The first part of my process involves answering 10 questions around your ideas, your products, your content and your prospective audience. We don’t even open Keynote or Powerpoint or whatever delivery method until we know why we’re doing this.

That said, sometimes companies aren’t sure they have any content that would be useful for a webinar.  This is almost never true.  Whatever you built your business on, the reason it exists, to to address some kind of problem, need, or want.  And inevitably you get questions about those things, or obstacles in the buying process, or common questions.  All of that can be rich material to strategically build a webinar around.

S2: Structure

Having a structure to your webinar is like learning a piece of music and teaching it to your awesome 80’s hair band. Only when everybody in the band knows the amazing power ballad can people be free to improvise an amazing guitar lick or keyboard solo.

If you’ve ever sat in a webinar or presentation where the presenter goes off on a random tangent, starts telling a meandering story, seems to forget or never get to the point, or – and I’ve seen it happen – nervously make an off-color joke and basically shut the whole thing down – it’s because the webinar (and presenter) lacked structure. A well designed webinar moves with a purposeful flow from helping the audience understand to teaching them something to moving towards a business opportunity. There is freedom and improvisation, but it stays on time and on key.

S3: Story

Most webinars are very dull and boring. They’re focused on knowledge transfer. They’re dry and uninspired.

Our minds love stories. We’re drawn to them and captivated by them. This is a trick widely known in journalism – you’ll often see the lede of an article start with something like, “Bruce Wayne knew he was on to something when he asked his director of R&D Lucious Fox if he had anything in the works that was bulletproof but flexible.” Right away the reader is engaged and curious.

A great webinar revolves around a story. A hero’s journey. It details the problems, the failures, the resourcefulness, and ultimately the success. And it does all this while guiding the participants along a trajectory that benefits them and you. Fail to tell a story and you’re just rolling mindlessly through slides.

S4: Solutions

I think with every point of S5 I could say, “Here’s the most crucial thing that people forget about,” but it really feels true with this one. Here’s an important truth: Your audience does not care about you. They don’t care about your business, they don’t care about your fancy widget or your amazing service. They don’t even care about your webinar. Remember that they showed up because they have a problem. They care about your solutions.  (By the way – they will come to care about you, your business, and your amazing service.  That’s the point!)

Every webinar should be a high quality, no-holds-barred training session. You should give away important, useful, helpful materials, information, resources and intelligence to people who are hungry for it.

An analogy I often use is this: In your webinar you’re going to teach people the critical things they need to build a house. You’re going to talk about foundation, framing, drywall and shingles. You’ll talk about plumbing and electrical. By the end of your webinar your audience (who to this point have just been itching to uncover the mysteries of home structures) should leave with a clear and enthusiastic understanding of just what it takes to build a home. Their heads might be spinning with possibilities of what they’ll do in their home and how they might build one of their own.

It’s critical that a webinar focus on the solutions its audience wants and expects. Without solutions and just diving into the products or widgets you sell, people will feel taken advantage of, bored, and “sold to.” Nobody signed up for an hour of being sold to.

You want one of two things to happen at the end of a webinar: Either they do business with you, or they have a great experience with you and will look to you again for valuable content. Which means in time, they’re more likely to do business with you.

S5: The Switch

Okay, no, THIS is the most important part of the webinar.

For 5/6th of a webinar, you’re on your audience’s time. It’s all about them. You’re just spooning them awesome content that will change the world, even if you never see them again. But for the last section, you need to flip a switch so that they’re on YOUR time. This is when you make your pitch.

To continue the analogy above – you’ve taught them the essentials of building a house, but it’s only in working with you that they can get the house built.  They don’t know how to hang drywall or install electrical – you do!  And you do it better or less expensively or with better innovation than anybody else.

The two ways this usually goes in poorly performing webinars is: The pitch is so soft it’s useless (I once audited a webinar where the presenter said, “You don’t have to do business with us!”) or it’s so heavy-handed that the switch gives people whiplash, leaving them feel too sold-to. The Switch has to be elegant, natural, and like a continuity of the solutions you’ve been offering. One way to do that is to simply remind your audience of the complexity of the problems they’re facing, and position your products or services as a reliever to those pains.  In fact, when The Switch is done well people will feel relieved that they have somebody to manage this complicated concept for them.  Part of what they’ll learn in a webinar of uncovering solutions is just how sophisticated this issue is, and how going it alone can be more difficult than having a trusted guide to take that pain away.

I’m a big believer in the potential of a well designed, well run webinar. Of course there are many other aspects at play to complement and complete S5 – the technology you use, how you market the webinar, how easily you move to close in the webinar – that can impact performance. But if you start with these 5 tips in mind, you’re much further along than most people out there (including your competitors!)

What I’d like you to do next:

If you’re running webinars, how’s it going? Are you winging it or are you going in with some preparation and structure? Are you telling a story or just meandering through some talking points? In short, where can you improve – because if and when you do, it’ll have a positive impact on your audience and potentially your business.

If you’re not running webinars, what’s holding you back? Logistics? Time? Skepticism? They’re not right for every business or every audience, but generally webinars are powerful. Consider adjusting your content and marketing strategies to include them.


%d bloggers like this: