How to Create a Successful Webinar? Start by Asking These 7 Questions


Online learning is having a golden moment. Institutions like Khan Academy and base their entire business model around online classes.

Business people are tuning in, too: 75% of executives watch work-related videos on business websites at least once a week, according to Insivia. And “98% of all organizations will include video in their digital learning strategies in 2016,” according to eLearning Industry.

Webinar Questions

You don’t have to create an entire curriculum or online college to get into this game. If you’re already creating blog content or white papers, you can turn those into a successful webinar.

I’ve attended and managed many webinars over the years and have learned a lot. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of questions that can help you discover if webinars are a channel for you to add to your marketing mix.

What is a webinar?

First of all, let’s establish what we are talking about. I’m not referring to any kind of video content here, but specifically webinars. “Webinar” is a portmanteau word – a mash-up of “web” and “seminar.” In its simplest form, a webinar is a live or recorded seminar – delivered via web-hosted video conferencing software – that teaches the viewer something.

What makes a webinar different?

Compared with other mediums, the most obvious difference is that a webinar is guided by a host or ‘teacher.’ It may also include extras like demos, real-time chats, or workshop lessons.

It’s true that webinars require some technical prowess to create and stream. But if you have an eBook or white paper or blog post, you’ve already got your curriculum (or the basis for it). Now you just need someone to deliver that content in web conferencing format.

Doesn’t seem totally insurmountable at this stage, right? Now let’s pose some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you can pull this off.

1. Do you have the tools you need?

The tools you need will vary a bit depending on the finished product you want.

Slide deck presentations with voice over

Many webinars use slide decks as their only visuals, with one or two people doing a voice-over presentation. For these, you need good video conferencing software (such as GoToWebinar or WebEx) with the capability to serve as many viewers as you anticipate, and a high-quality microphone (headset is best). For the best sound quality, the speaker should do your webinar in a room with good acoustics and no background noise. A small office will do, especially if it’s got some soft surfaces (e.g., carpeting).

Here’s an example: Wenming Yee, a senior research program manager at Microsoft, did a live webinar on using certain languages with Azure. He gave his presentation over slide deck visuals.

Some webinars are video-only, such as TED talks.

Here’s Don Tapscott, Senior Advisor at the World Economic Forum, educating viewers on the blockchain.

Other webinars mix live-action presenters with slides and other graphics.

This MarketingSherpa webinar recaps the Top Takeaways of MarketingSherpa’s 2016 Summit, and mixes live-action. For the webinars with live-action, there are additional technical boxes to tick. First, you need a way to record – a camera and a microphone. You may have an onsite studio replete with green screens and a panning camera, as well as high-end audio. But if not, you can totally do this with your computer’s built-in camera and mic.

You’ll also want to consider what elements you’d ideally include in your webinar. Do you need to show a demo or embed a related video? Do you want to chat with your audience in real-time, and therefore need an instant messenger function?

Also, how is the internet bandwidth at your company? Can you stream a webcast without it dropping or buffering?

2. Who’s your talent?

Consider your resources. Who will be the “face” or “voice” of the webinar? In Hollywood, that’s called the “talent.” Have a look around and determine who is the best person to be on-camera. I don’t mean the best-looking. I mean the most confident speaker who has the authority to speak to the topic at hand. Look around the office and trial a few people to make sure they don’t go cold when the “recording” red light switches on. Make sure they have a pleasant voice and articulate well.

Is this person consistently available to deliver the webinars? You don’t have to use the same person for each webinar, of course, but it helps establish trust and consistency for your audience. You may occasionally also bring in a cohost or a guest speaker – someone who can lend special insider knowledge, for example. If you have two hosts, consider having them be of different genders and/or ethnicities.

3. What’s your platform?

You may have attended a webinar on common platforms like GoToWebinar, Skype, or WebEx. Depending on your content style, you may also try Periscope or Facebook’s Live function. You can host your recorded content on your own site, but you can also use Google Hangouts, YouTube, or Vimeo among others.

Consider whether these platforms give all the functionality you need – like real-time chat or polling, or analytics.

Other questions to ask yourself to help determine the platform:

  • Do you envision a live or on-demand webinar? Is your speaker comfortable talking live, or are they better recorded (with the bonus of post-production/editing)?
  • What’s the visual look for your webcast? Options include talking heads, how-tos, or even Q&A sessions.
  • What’s your budget?

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4. What are you going to teach?

Now that you’ve got the technicalities out of the way, consider your curriculum. What is the focus of this webinar or series?

You may be inclined to educate viewers about your product – after all, you want to sell it. But hold that initial thought and dig deeper. Effective webinars are way more about thought leadership than pushing product.

Here are some tactics to get you thinking about content ideas:

  • If your company was asked to speak at an industry conference, what would you talk about?
  • Consider how your product helps solve problems. What specific problems can be addressed? How did you come up with the product(s) that address these challenges? Maybe that’s also something you can unpack during a seminar.
  • How-tos – this is similar to above but more prescriptive. People love to learn how to do something, and the popularity of how-to videos keeps increasing. “How-to” searches on YouTube have increased by 70% year-on-year (over 100 million hours of how-to content watched in 2015), according to Mediakix. Will this format work for you? Maybe there is a process you use internally that would be really helpful for your audience. Use a webinar to break it down, step by step, and give people the same tools. (Keeping some of the trade secrets to yourself, of course.)
  • What do people want? Use your blog and social media to ask your audience what they want to learn next. It may spark some ideas
  • What can you re-use? You may be able to dig into your blog or white paper archives and cobble together a script or outline.

How long should a webinar be?

Many webinars are 30-60 minutes. This isn’t a requirement; you may find a shorter 5-10 minute format is great. But if you do, make sure to allow for the fact that some attendees won’t tune in right on time and may risk missing the content. On the opposite end, you probably don’t want to go more than 90 minutes, else people will check out. Check your analytics. If most of your attendees are dropping off at a certain point, then tailor your content with that in mind.

5. How many webinars will you host?

Now that you have the framework, think about your cadence. Will this be a one-off? (And if so, is it worth all the effort?) Or, will you host webinars quarterly? Maybe even monthly? You could try weekly, though that’s a pretty big commitment for your audience (and you!). You could try a weekly cadence for a short, set amount of time – like four to six weeks.

What day and time is best?

The nature of your content may lend some clues – for example, if your topic is recreational or a hobby, you might schedule your webinar for off-business-hours. On the flip side, do you plan to host a robust, business-heavy agenda that your viewers would want to watch on-the-clock as part of their workday?

Also, when are your key players – such as your host – available? If you can get them only on Thursdays at 4 pm, then that’s your time.

I caution you to stay away from Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, though, as these are less likely times for people to attend.

Also, will you have viewers tuned in from around the world in different time zones? Do you need to host more than one instance of the webinar to accommodate that?

6. What’s the style?

I touched on this a bit in the platform section, but let’s dig deeper. You have a few choices to consider here:

Do you want a lecture – like a talking head in front of a camera? Or is it best to use an interview format, with a panel of speakers? Do you wish to have a demonstration or some kind of behind-the-scenes footage? Will this be interactive, with exercises for your audience to do? And if so, will they share the answers with you? Think about the character of your brand, and what style your regular customers might expect to see.

7. What’s the ROI?

I don’t mean to put a damper on your webinar party, but it has to be asked. How will you justify this endeavor to your boss?

Webinars can be inexpensive – especially if you film them from your desk using your built-in camera and yourself as the speaker. But if you want something more polished and robust, you’re probably going to need to spring for some equipment. ReadyTalk cites the cost as $100 – $3000.

Either way, the effort will cost you time – time away from other projects.

Will your boss be on board? How can you convince him or her that this is a worthwhile effort? I can’t answer this question for you, but I do advise you to have a plan for tracking ROI for your leadership team. It’s a good idea to set goals, such as a number of leads. Your webinar costs can be counted as part of the acquisition costs of gaining new customers, or as part of your branding efforts. Or both.

Some ideas: Mention a product exclusively in a webcast and then see who inquires about it. Or maybe you mention your brand’s social media handles in the webinar and run an affiliated contest – which you can track back to viewership.

Have a plan is all I’m saying.

How much should you charge?

Webinars aren’t always free – but they often are, or they cost very little. It looks good to give graciously of your knowledge. And if people must register to watch your webinar, then you gain their contact information and perhaps permission to contact them with marketing materials.

That’s it for today. In my next installment, I’ll talk about what to do once you’ve decided to host a webinar – how to get ready, how to get the audience to tune in, and best (and worst) practices. In the meantime, think about this: What three topics would you most like to do a webinar on? Do you have existing content you could turn into a webinar?

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