Six Tips for Hosting a Great Webinar

A webinar can be an excellent source of traffic and interest for your site. A live event offers the chance for your audience to connect personally with an expert and shows them that your publication is a great source of expert information.

That said, it’s not a simple task to produce a webinar. It can be stressful. Things can go off the rails. When my publication began offering webinars, we had the benefit of a sister publication that had been doing it for a while that shared war stories and strategies, which saved us a number of times. Of course every publication will have its own internal system that coordinates the different steps and departments involved, but the steps are generally universal. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned.

1. Start planning well ahead of time. 
First, if you haven’t looked into platforms, here are a few popular options: GoToWebinar, Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and AnyMeeting. And when you have a presentation topic and presenter chosen, you need enough lead time to market and promote your webinar so that you can attract attendees. At least two months ahead of the webinar, send your presenter an agreement to sign. Book the date in the webinar platform and create a landing page for your site where the registration link will live. Choose a day and time that make sense for the audience (unfortunately for many webinar hosts, this might be outside business hours). Then…

2. Promote your webinar.
Do you have an e-newsletter that you can use to mention the webinar? Can you run house ads on your site? Are you using social media for your publication? Use all of these and any other marketing avenues to tell your audience about the webinar, and be sure to include the URL for the registration page. Another helpful tool is an email/eblast dedicated specifically to promoting the webinar, and don’t underestimate the power of that email’s subject line. Send it around 1 to 2 weeks before the webinar to get the best response; sending it too far ahead of time means people will forget about it, and sending it too close to the webinar means they won’t be able to make the time to attend.

3. Go over all the details with your presenter. Then do it again.
There will be quirks in any webinar presentation platform, and both you and the presenter need to be prepared for them. One quirk I have to work with is that the platform I use, GoToWebinar, does allow presenters to use a microphone, but my employer chooses instead to use a conference phone line for presenters, so I have to remind presenters of this repeatedly, because the automated reminders they receive from GoToWebinar tell them otherwise. You might even want to schedule a practice run with your presenter so he or she understands how the webinar platform works. This is a great idea for first-time presenters. Send reminder emails with all of the pertinent information within a few days of the presentation.

4. Prepare, and prepare for the worst.
Your presenter could lose the passcode. He might call in from his cell phone and lose reception. She might have an emergency and be away from her computer (and the presentation file). He might have a dog who decides to start barking in the next room. There always seems to be something that goes awry, and it’s your job to plan for it and try to recover from it gracefully. Request a copy of the presentation slides, ask for multiple phone numbers for your presenter in case you get disconnected during the presentation, remind presenters to use a land line in a quiet room if at all possible. If you can, you might even want to secure a back-up presenter in case of an emergency or be prepared to present the topic yourself.  Also make sure attendees have all the information they need to access the webinar. You might also consider offering a presentation handout for attendees to download. Always keep in mind what will be most helpful for the attendees.

5. On presentation day, stay calm. 
Like many writers and editors, I prefer to stay “behind the curtain,” so hosting webinars is stressful. To combat the jitters, the first time I hosted one I wrote a script for the intro and outro. You should also smile while you’re talking – attendees can hear it! If something goes wrong during the presentation, tell the attendees as soon as you can that you’re having a problem and are working to fix it. Think ahead of time about what you’ll tell attendees in this case. Encourage and remind attendees to ask questions of the presenter – after all, that’s the true benefit for them of the live event. And be sure to thank the presenter and the attendees when the presentation is over. 

6. Check the stats to help you plan your next presentation.
You should be able to get a report from your webinar platform that will give you helpful information about how useful your webinar was for your audience. The report should tell you the percentage of registered attendees that actually attended (I’ve found that a successful webinar will have about 30% of the registered participants attending). GoToWebinar tells me, based on the computer activity of attendees, exactly how engaged and interested they were during the presentation, among other stats. This can be very helpful when you’re planning another webinar, or if you’re deciding whether to do another one. Attendee stats and feedback is important to gauging the success of the topic, the presenter and the time of day you chose to present the webinar.

I’d love to hear more in the comments from folks who have other good webinar tips, or if any of you have questions. In my next post I’ll write about managing multiple blogs and bloggers. I look forward to hearing from you!


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