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32 Things You Need To Know Before You Can Produce A Successful Webinar

32 Things You Need To Know Before You Can Produce A Successful Webinar
By B.L. Ochman

Nobody likes rubber chicken lunches or wasting a whole day (or more) traveling to a conference with two hours worth of real information. That's what makes Webinars ?hich allow participants to interact with live experts without leaving their computer -- such a potentially huge industry. Yet, despite the fact that I've produced three successful whatsnextonline Webinars, even some of my best friends have trouble understanding what the heck they are.

In addition to providing my own experiences producing Webinars, I asked Gary Goldhammer of Webcast Wire, a new Webcast directory service, to add his insights on the ins and outs of the technology. His company also produces online press conferences and other events.

Let's start with definitions. Web conferences, also called Webinars and Webcasts, are simultaneous communications over the Internet using data, audio and/or video. Voice can be transmitted through the Internet or via telephone, which allows the integration of call-in questions.

Presentation of videos, instant polls, quizzes and the creation of new documents are also possible. Audio and video content can be streamed, either live or from an archive, through a Web-based server or ISP. Depending on the software the conference producer is using, all participants may be able to not only view, but also make changes to documents shown online.

Web conferencing has possibilities for a wide range of applications from audio and PowerPoint presentations to training conferences to broadcast of live news and online events including press conferences. Webcasting is somewhat similar to a television or radio broadcast but with added elements that create long-promised interactive programming.

The presenter can control slides or they may be pre-synchronized with the presentation. Q&A is handled through text chat, e-mail, a moderated Q&A application, and/or via telephone.

Beware of most Webinar software

One of the first things I learned, when I presented my first Webinar, is that any Web conferencing software based on the platforms of Placeware or WebEx require that all participants download a small program in order to participate. This immediately eliminates the participation of anyone in a company behind a corporate firewall or who works in a large media organization where the IT department will have to be grant permission for any downloads.

There are several companies with proprietary technology that does not require any download by anyone except the conference presenter. Two I have used and like are SpiderPhone and Genesys.

PR Uses for Webcasting

Should you incorporate Webinars into your communication programs? Their low cost, broad reach, trackability and ease of use certainly make them an attractive tool.

Here are just a few possible PR uses of the technology.

  • Press conferences and announcements with strong visual elements.
  • Media briefings where, for example, a health care client will have doctors explain a new surgical process or service.
  • Sales training.
  • Internal employee training and education.
  • IR quarterly earnings reports, with the CEO and other officers speaking and taking questions.
  • An inexpensive way to produce and archive video press releases.

An online press conference is not a pain in the butt to get to, Goldhammer says. You do get live attendance by reporters, but most use is on demand from the archived presentation. Journalists can get their quotes from the Webcast and the pick up other information from the company's online newsroom.

Online audio allows you to have broadcast quality sound bites online, and make them downloadable for radio. Broadcast quality video is not available yet. But you put the B-roll online, so they can view it online before requesting broadcast quality from you, Goldhammer says.

Tracking capabilities are built in to the software, he notes, so you know exactly which reporters come, how long they stay, and what they download. The technology is all about results, Goldhammer says.

The Webcasting industry is growing exponentially. Online audiences during the first six months of 2002 accessed a total of 1.822 billion video streams across film, Internet TV, news, information, finance, general entertainment, sports and music content categories, 65% higher than the first half of calendar year 2001, according to Accustream iMedia Research.

Tips based on my experiences

Before you try your hand at Webinars, here are some tips to help you succeed, based on my experiences:

  • Make sure that your instructions on how to participate are really simple, clear, and understandable.
  • Make the conference interactive. Don't lecture or give a speech. (I have actually fallen asleep listening to Web conferences with only one speaker.)
  • Have large, clear graphics because participants will have different resolution on their screens.
  • To increase interactivity, let people ask questions; take polls or show live Web pages to illustrate points.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse ? matter how many times you have done Webinars before.
  • Make handouts, like the PowerPoint, available for download so participants don't have to scramble to take notes.
  • Prepare enough material to continue through the scheduled time even if there are no audience questions.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. For 20 minutes after ABC TV tech guru Sree Sreenivasan began to speak at my second Webinar, unexpected construction workers started banging on the floor above him. Webinars are live broadcasting and that's like early live TV: everything that can go wrong will. Maintain your sense of humor.

Caveat: MAC users who don't have OS10 and above, and those with dial-up connections may be unable to view Webinars or have connectivity problems. Only 57 percent of Internet users now connect at DSL speeds or higher, according to Siebel.

Goldhammer's advice for Webinar success
  • It is a good idea to have seeded questions because people tend to lurk and don't like to be first.
  • Sometimes video isn't necessary at all. Maybe run a short video clip to illustrate a point.
  • Ideal number of presenters: don't use more than three.
  • DNA overlook humor. Relax and have fun with the presentation. Can't totally simulate sitting around a conference table, but you can create an interesting and engaging environment online.
  • Make sure to archive the event and make it available on demand afterwards.

About the author: Internet and Outernet marketing strategist, publicist, journalist and sought-after corporate speaker B.L. Ochman heads the creative team of whatsnextonline.com Her articles on Internet marketing and public relations strategy are published regularly online in WebReview.com, SitePro News and Internet Day, and offline in On Wall Street Magazine, The Public Relations Society of America?s quarterly The Strategist and PR Weekly, among others.

She publishes the bi-weekly marketing tactics newsletter What?s Next Online.

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