Tweet of the day from @CoreyBreier:
I can digest the same amount of information about five times faster through a white paper than a webinar. #Webinars are frivolous.
Is this my cue to argue with Corey and defend the hallowed webinar? I hope I don’t surprise you, but while I don’t agree with the blanket generalization of his three-word conclusion, I absolutely agree with his premise. And truth be told, in far too many specific cases, his conclusion is also correct!
So is this the final nail in the coffin for webinars as a communication medium? Should I fold up my Webinar Success business and go back to writing product marketing white papers?
No. Let us not damn the container for the contents found within. PowerPoint is not evil, but many of the PowerPoint presentations I have seen created with it are a crime. There is nothing inherently wrong with books, but I have read some truly lousy stories in my time. And webinars can be valuable or frivolous… It’s up to you to decide which yours will be.
The business marketing community has a lot to answer for here. Many times the value of a marketing webinar is calculated purely from the perspective of how many people you can entice into registering. Once you have a nice list of names and email addresses, the webinar content is a secondary matter. Grab some guest speaker. Cobble together a topic. Anything to fill the slot on the calendar that says “Marketing webinar needed for Q3.” This type of webinar is almost certain to be perceived by your attendees as frivolous. Of course it is… It was never created for the purpose of bringing value to them!
But let’s say you aren’t quite that cynical. You really do want to provide useful material to your audience. Maybe they are customers learning about product features. Maybe they are students taking a course. Maybe they are sales prospects who need to evaluate your product or service as compared to alternatives. Maybe you are giving information of public interest concerning civic issues, medical tips, entertainment news, or any of a hundred other topics.
Corey’s perception of webinars comes from the fact that the overwhelming majority of business webinar content is written and presented like a white paper. If you fill slides with data and text, then read the facts to your audience, you are wasting their time. As Corey said, he can read faster than you can talk. He can search through a table of contents to find the information he is interested in. Why should he sit in front of a computer and listen to you move tediously through a recitation of facts and figures?
If your webinar is to provide audience value, it has to give them a benefit they cannot receive through other communication channels. What can a webinar do that a white paper can’t do? It can bring people together to share knowledge and insights about a topic. It allows attendees to ask questions and delve into details not presented in the initial information flow. It can present live demonstrations to show examples of product usage. It can test comprehension and adjust the presentation of information accordingly. And it can build a sense of community and shared experience around a subject.
So how do you create webinars that are perceived as valuable? Here are some quick checkpoints (each of which deserves expansion into a white paper of its own!)
- Find engaging speakers who have training and expertise in engaging a remote audience. Your subject expert may write a great white paper. But if he is dry and monotonous online, he provides less value than the white paper itself.
- Don’t concentrate on facts and figures. Nobody has ever memorized 40 slides worth of bulleted data items while watching a one-hour webinar. Reference information exists to be referred to! Make the data available in an electronic document. Then spend your webinar time telling your audience what is important in the data, how they can use it, why they should care about it.
- Spend more time on interaction. Get the audience involved in a conversation. Ask questions. Refer frequently to their comments. Adjust your presentation based on their responses.
- Tell stories. Use pictures. Demonstrate activities rather than talking about them. Stop trying to replicate a printed white paper on your slides.
Creating and delivering a webinar that stands out from the norm takes time and effort. So does writing a really good white paper. The trick is to recognize that they are two different activities for two different purposes. Stop conflating the two and frustrating Corey!