Several people have sent me a link to a January 12 article by Michael Kolowich on the Content Marketing Institute’s website. The article is titled “How Content Marketers Can Reinvent the Webinar for 2012.” I’m not sure what my helpful correspondents want me to do… Challenge Michael to a cage match?
I’m delighted to see that webinars are being talked about in a general marketing context. Michael is absolutely right… We all need to think about ways to constantly improve our approach to webinars, our techniques for delivery, and our dedication to measuring goal-specific results. Right on, brother!
Michael starts with the contention that “traditional webinars just aren’t working as well as they once did.” He calls out a slow erosion in sign-up rates and attendance. Well, that’s certainly true as well when compared with years ago. When I first started using webinars as a product marketing manager, they were a novelty and our live attendance rates were sky-high. We’re not going to see those days again. But as Michael also says, webinars continue to be effective (and I will add “cost-effective”) as part of an overall marketing program.
I had to laugh when I saw him write “It’s certainly not time to pull the plug.” It certainly isn’t! LinkedIn groups and other marketing discussion sites are filled with people still asking “How do I get started with webinars?” Webinars are still in a growth and mass adoption phase, not a tail-end obsolete technology phase.
Michael’s article is long and well thought-out. Anybody who creates and delivers marketing webinars should use it as a springboard for re-evaluating what they are doing and how it is working. I will add a few additional thoughts and comments to his points as a way to extend the conversation.
1) Employ video to add personality and energy. This is the point I have the most problem with. The sad fact is that adding video does not automatically solve presentation problems. Many (if not most) times it compounds existing presentation weaknesses and makes the webinar even worse than the audio+slides approach Michael argues against.
The vast majority of people presenting on webinars are simply terrible. They may know their subject, but they are woefully undertrained, under-incented, and uncomfortable with mass presentation to an unseen audience. They read word for word off their slides or off a script in a monotonous voice. They pay no attention to questions, comments, or cues coming in from their audience.
Now we say to them “Hey! We’re going to put you on webcam so people can benefit from your facial expressions and gestures!” They’ll still be a lousy presenter, but now they’ll be distracted by their own image on the screen. They’ll be fixed rigidly in place to stay in the webcam frame. They’ll look shifty-eyed and untrustworthy as their gaze moves away from the camera. They’ll have awful lighting and an unprofessional setting behind them.
Yes, it is possible to overcome all these issues and create a fun, engaging, and compelling video presentation. It takes a lot of setup, a lot of training and practice, and a lot of additional support from people who know how to support a video broadcast. If you are willing to go that extra mile and use someone who can present a great image on camera, fantastic… You will indeed stand out from the rank and file competition. If you have a guest speaker coming in with minimal preparation, who views the webinar as an interruption to their “real job” you are probably much better off keeping them off camera.
2) Pair on-demand presentations with live and interactive sessions. This is a marvelous approach. Try it. And definitely experiment with cutting down your presentation time. Give a great 30-minute webinar and people will come back for more. Give a mediocre 60-minute webinar and people won’t waste their time with you in the future.
3) Use interactive engagement mechanisms. I like the main idea Michael promotes, but not necessarily some of his specific examples. Yes, you need to get people clicking and working with you. But I don’t think the way to do it (ESPECIALLY in a marketing context) is to give them worksheets to fill out with information on their businesses or handouts to read during your presentation. Instead, keep challenging them and inviting commentary as you talk. Keep constantly acknowledging their contributions and referring to their questions and comments. Use polls and other tools available in your conferencing product, but give people a reason to participate and make sure they see value from the poll (value for them, not for you).
In the end, I’m not sure we need to completely reinvent webinars. But I agree that we need to break out of the comfortable rut Michael mentions, where the marketing plan starts with “we will host 8 60-minute webinars this year on some topics, from which we hope to collect 1000 email addresses as leads.” Why not start with “What have our customers and prospects been asking about? What are their priority problems/issues? Do we have someone who is really interesting to listen to who can address those topics in an engaging manner? How can we put our knowledge out there in a way that people will want to take it in?”