How to Host the Perfect Webinar

Want to host a webinar that your clients will love and remember? Check out this handy guide to getting it right.

Hosting a webinar can seem daunting at first — there's software to learn, ideas to collate and perhaps that lifelong fear of public speaking to conquer. But with a little practice and some essential knowledge, you can put together an online presentation that's entertaining, informative and memorable.

In this column, we'll share some useful tips for crafting a webinar that achieves your key goals. 

Pick the Right Topic

Step one is to pick a topic that people genuinely want to learn about. The most common mistake for first-time presenters is droning on and on about everything they do, or about everything they think.

As in all presentations, less is more in webinars. Choose a tightly focused topic that addresses a specific pain point, issue or need of your target audience, and you'll have a far greater chance of locking in high attendance. 

Pick a Great Title

Speaking of attendance, take some time to come up with a good title. Trivial as it may sound, webinars that sound like college lectures rarely earn the kind of standing-room-only crowd that their savvier-titled counterparts do.

Think of a name you'd want to click on if it were a news headline. Contrarian ideas, provocative language and handy list formats are all widely known to attract more traffic on the web. These same qualities extend to naming a marketing tool like a webinar as well. 

Be Entertaining

Here's a widespread misconception: Webinars are simply slide shows with a voiceover track. Not so! A webinar can be anything you make it, including a multimedia presentation or an interactive Q&A.

Many speakers also assume that the webinar format doesn't lend itself to personality. The best webinars, however, shine precisely because of the people behind them. Be funny, spin touching narratives and inject your passion into every part of your presentation. No matter how far-flung your audience, there is simply no substitute for a human connection like this, even on the web. 

Be Brief

This is a tricky one for many presenters. After announcing a webinar, it's a common urge to think of this as your one chance to show the world everything you know. But just as choosing a more focused topic is wise, so is limiting the length of the webinar itself.

Stick with a few key points and speak in simple, clear sentences. Remember that your audience is busy, and that many of them might even have multiple tabs or windows open while they "attend" your presentation. If you keep things punchy and move it along quickly, you have a better chance of holding their interest and fulfilling that crucial call to action at the end. 

Use the Format

Webinars are like in-person presentations in many ways, but you must account for some important differences. You have a more robust set of media available to you during a webinar, including slides, animations, videos, screencasts and digital models. Many presenters shy away from these tools, fearing that they'll distract from the main message. In fact, multimedia can be a great teaching tool and an uncommonly effective way to make a point.

Memorable images register in a deep part of the brain, providing a visual exclamation point that's likely to stick with your audience long after the words have faded. Work with a talented graphic specialist on these for maximum impact. 

Be Interactive

Take advantage of the webinar's potential for interactivity. The tools of online broadcasting go both ways, allowing presenters to collect responses in more or less real time. Think polls, surveys, web forms and chat. Features such as these let you collect valuable data from your audience and keep them invested during the show. They can be used for entertainment purposes ("How many of you have done this stupid thing?") or to solicit actionable data ("Which of these describes your business?").

Of course, the most powerful interactive feature is also the most common: the Q&A. Consider including a segment for questions at the end of your webinar to ensure you've provided a useful and complete presentation. 

Be Prepared

The best presenters choose their words carefully and practice exactly how they're going to pace the show. Although a few freakish savants can speak off the cuff in flawless compound-complex sentences, the rest of us usually need a bit more help.

Write out a script, then memorize it and throw it away. The key to good public speaking is striking a balance between preparation and authenticity. You want to seem prepared, but not robotic. Once you have your webinar down, practice it before the big day. If you're using unfamiliar software, this is especially important for working out the kinks on a given platform. 

Test and Repeat

Webinars are ultimately a form of marketing, which means they can benefit from all the tools of the trade. Collect surveys and response rates after your webinars, and analyze this data for any opportunities to improve what you do. A/B testing and constant tweaking are the surest ways to develop a webinar that entertains, and works. 

Get Started

In the end, there may be no more effective tool for learning how to host a webinar than just doing it. Keep detailed notes on the presentations you've seen and write down anything especially unique or compelling that you recall. Then practice, practice, practice.

With some talent and hard work, you can make your own webcam the next viral hotspot in the business world.

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