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Webinar lessons from my annual webinars

Mastering the technology for my first webinar in 2014 was hell, as I have shared in “Tech tips for your educational webinar—learn from my experience.” Things have gotten easier since then, especially because I’ve stuck with GoToWebinar, but things can still go wrong. If you’re an infrequent webinar presenter like me, you can learn from my experience presenting my annual investment commentary webinar.

Lesson 1. Stick with the same software

There may be webinar software that’s better or cheaper than GoToWebinar. But over four years of annual webinars, I’ve learned how to manage its basics. Also, the branding and some other settings that I’ve established in past years carry over from year to year. That saves me time.

You may think that all webinar software functions basically the same. My 2014 experience shifting to GoToWebinar from an awful low-cost provider suggests that’s not true. However, I only have experience with two providers.

Lesson 2. Plan to practice early and often

Things will go wrong with your webinar software. At least, that’s true in my experience. So run practice sessions—including sessions with simulated viewers (and co-organizers, if relevant).

In my experience, moving the cursor is often a source of problems. So, manipulate it a lot. Sabotage yourself, and then practice recovering. Then, if something goes wrong in your live presentation, you’ll recover more rapidly.

By the way, if you’re only moving from slide to slide, you may be able to skip moving your cursor because you can advance slides using an arrow key. However, this means you’re not using tools like polls or highlighters. Nor are you reviewing and managing participant questions or comments. By not using those tools, you lose opportunities to engage your audience. That may hurt the effectiveness of your webinar.

If you uncover problems early enough, you can work with the webinar provider to find a solution that minimizes them. Through multiple exchanges—on the telephone and in the online support community—this year I found a less trouble-prone way to advance my slides.

Lesson 3. Be aware that software may change from year to year

Software changes. There may be “improvements” or the software may change to accommodate new operating systems, like Windows 10.

For example, I believe that, back in 2014, the lines that I drew using GoToWebinar’s drawing tool disappeared when I clicked to the next page. That was convenient. But now I have to erase those lines. That’s an extra step that slows me down so I’ve stopped using the drawing tool.

In short, you assume at your own risk that what works one year will work again the next year.

Lesson 4. The experience of your helpers matters

I’m lucky to have worked with some wonderful helpers on my webinars. One of my helpers had lots more experience in webinar presentations and technology than the others. Her experience made my experience more relaxing.

I highly recommend using helpers to manage your introduction, Q&A, and behind-the-scenes logistics. They’ll improve the experience for you and your audience. However, if you’re a worrywart like me, you’ll also do some practice sessions in which you play all of the roles. In a pinch, I could have introduced myself, launched my polls, and handled technical problems and Q&A on my own. Sure, I would have felt like an anxious mess. But I could have blundered my way through the presentation.

Consider these lessons to give yourself and your audience a better webinar experience.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Get more mileage out of your financial webinar or podcast

Webinars, videos, and podcasts about investments and other financial topics are a great way to highlight the expertise of your firm’s subject-matter experts. But are you getting the most out of your financial webinar or podcast? Probably not.

Some members of your clients, prospects, and referral sources will never watch a financial webinar, video, or podcast. That’s true no matter how professionally you produce it. Even if your topic is central to the problems they’d like to solve.

What can you do?

If your time is limited, use the techniques I describe in “Videos: 3 ways to make them palatable for video-haters like me.”

If you have the time and resources to do more, consider the techniques I list below.

1. Create an infographic

The visual learners among your target audience will appreciate an infographic of tips or a key process from your financial webinar or other presentation. For a sample, see my “Infographic: 5 Ways to Add Personality to Your Financial Writing.” After they look at your infographic, they may be more willing to sign up for your presentation.

Your webinar, video, or podcast audience may also enjoy your infographic as a review of your presentation. You could offer it as a “thank you” present for audience members who join your email list or respond to a survey that follows your presentation.

An infographic can also do double duty as a blog post.

2. Create a worksheet

Repackaging your tips or process into a worksheet makes it easier for readers to act on your information. They love worksheets.

I’ve created worksheets using Adobe Acrobat Pro that are nicely formatted, but can be filled and saved by the reader. The combination of nice formatting and the ability to save is a winner. A one-time effort by you gets big results for your readers.

Like an infographic, a worksheet can be a reward for people who participate in your presentation or join your email list. It’s less appropriate as a blog post because worksheets typically don’t fit in the available space. Still, you could offer it as a free download from your blog.

3. Write blog posts

A typical webinar or other presentation holds the seeds of multiple blog posts.  Plant those seeds by writing the blog posts.

Of course, your presentation may have its roots in earlier blog posts or other written pieces. If so, congratulate yourself for having learned “A top technique of financial advisors who blog successfully.”

4. Create an e-book

For the die-hard readers in your audience, you can turn your financial webinar or other presentation into an e-book. Your notes—or a transcript of your live presentation—is a great starting point. The fact that you’ve attracted people to attend your presentation confirms that there is a market for your book. My book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, grew out of my blogging class for financial advisors.

5. Use the audiovisual format that you skipped earlier

If you produced a great webinar, consider converting part of it into a podcast to attract people who listen when they can’t watch educational materials. You can also see about being a guest about your webinar topic on somebody else’s podcast.

On the flip side, perhaps your podcast contains an idea that would benefit from engaging your audience’s eyes in a webinar or video.

6. Turn compelling statistics or one-liners into social media status updates

If you’re active on social media, you know how hard it can be to keep your status updates flowing. Use your presentation’s compelling statistics or one-liners as social media status updates.

If you identify these updates before your presentation, you can use them to promote your event.

7. Put a clip on your website

A clip from your financial webinar, video, or podcast can spice up your website. Try it and see.

8. Try something else

The possibilities for reusing your content are vast. Please leave a comment about opportunities that I haven’t mentioned. I’d also like to hear about how recycling your presentations has earned results for you.

Mistakes to avoid in your first live webinar

Planning to run your first live webinar? It’s a great way to attract prospects and deepen relationships with clients of your investment, wealth management, or financial planning firm. I watched a bunch of live webinars as I planned to relaunch my financial blogging class. Some of them were painful to watch. These webinars got me thinking about what distinguishes the best from those that seem less professional. I compiled a list of mistakes to avoid in your first live webinar.

Live webinar mistake 1. Not practicing before you deliver the real thing

You know the saying, “Practice makes perfect”? It may not make perfect, but it helps you to avoid problems that you could have anticipated. I participated in a live webinar where the host was surprised to discover “Oops, the webinar software won’t let me do that.”

If you practice enough times in advance, you’ll get a sense of what can go wrong. For example, during a live presentation of my investment commentary webinar, I accidentally touched the cursor to the wrong spot and popped out of slide presentation mode. This had happened during my practice sessions so I knew exactly how to get back to the right place. Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate everything. Your viewers will forgive you if you’re reasonably good at using your software.

Live webinar mistake 2. Not logging in or acknowledging participants by the official start time

Imagine that you’re a participant who shows up on time for a webinar. The designated start time comes and goes without any word from the presenter. You start to wonder if you’re there on the right day. You feel anxious and maybe a little angry at the organizer’s lack of respect for your time.

When you’re the presenter, you should log in early. You don’t need to start your call early, but it’s nice if you make people aware that you’re there and that you will start at the designated time. On my webinars, my facilitator starts checking in with participants as much as 30 minutes early. This courtesy is particularly important when people pay to participate in your webinar.

Live webinar mistake 3. Not having an agenda

When you don’t manage people’s expectations, they’re often disappointed. Sharing an agenda at the beginning of your presentation helps. People look at the agenda and can decide, “Yes, this is what I want” or “No, this webinar isn’t for me.” Turning away people who aren’t a good fit can be valuable.

Touch upon your agenda in your webinar’s marketing materials. This could include your online sales page, emails, and other communications.

An agenda will also help to keep you on track by providing a road map for meeting the commitments you’ve made to your audience.

Consider offering a handout that includes your agenda and other aids to note-taking. I don’t believe in sharing slides—especially not ahead of time—because they’ll distract people from your presentation. My handouts include headings for each major section of my presentation. I often include the text of the “before” versions of my many before-and-after writing samples.

Live webinar mistake 4. Not having a helper

When you present a live webinar, you need to devote 100 percent of your attention to the presentation. You can’t stop to respond to participant questions about technical problems that are unrelated to your content. That’s not fair to your other participants.

Even answering questions about your content can be a problem, detracting from your ability to connect with participants. Have you ever heard the sound of overwhelmed presenters as they try to scroll through a long list of participant questions, comments, and chitchat entered into a webinar’s chat box? They start talking fast and in a tentative tone of voice. It’s not easy to sort out the legitimate questions from the noise. When you’re anxious about doing that, it’s even harder to answer questions well.

You can make the technical problems and Q&A process easier by recruiting a tech-savvy helper. Your helper can field technical questions behind the scenes. When Q&A starts, ask your helper to sort through the questions and then read them out loud to you. In addition to relieving your stress, the change in voice—from you to your helper—will make it easier for your audience to understand where the question ends and your answer starts. It may even wake up listeners whose attention has wandered.

I wish more webinar presenters hired helpers. My main helper has delivered many webinars herself, which means she understands the technology. She has also seen what can go wrong. Before I present, we run through the entire presentation, including my logging in from a separate computer as a viewer to lob questions at my helper.

Live webinar mistake 5. Expecting people to multi-task for your webinar

I participated in a webinar where the well-meaning speaker expected us to open a second window on our computers and follow her instructions as she spoke. It was a great idea. People absorb lessons better when they apply things as they learn. However, it didn’t work. Instead, participants seemed to get frustrated by the difficulty of understanding and implementing her instructions.

Here are some reasons why expecting participants to work along with you may fail:

  1. They may not have enough computer power to open a second window on their computers. Webinar software can be a big drain on resources.
  2. Your content may be too complex for them to absorb and implement based solely on hearing your instructions orally, with no instructions in front of them. This might work better if you send step-by-step instructions in advance for participants’ reference. But if you do that, why should they watch your webinar?
  3. Your participants may be at different levels of ability to understand and implement your instructions. It’s hard to give instructions that satisfy people at multiple levels.
  4. Inviting people to do other activities on their computers may make it more likely that they get distracted by other opportunities on their computers, such as checking email or social media. When you tell them to take time away from watching your presentation, you communicate that they won’t miss valuable content from you while they’re not focused on your presentation.

If you want people to take actions during your webinar, keep them simple. Consider providing a handout to make it easier for participants to absorb important instructions. Your handout can incorporate worksheets to help participants plan for later actions.

Live webinar mistake 6. Not providing step-by-step instructions in writing

People have different learning styles, but most will benefit from written instructions when learning a complex process. I felt frustrated when I attended a webinar that attempted to teach me a complex process. It was great that the instructor demonstrated the process. However, I had trouble keeping track of the many variables that went into doing the process correctly for my situation. I’m still confused after watching the webinar replay multiple times. I wish that the instructor had provided written instructions, instead of relying on the live presentation and participants’ ability to access the webinar recording later.

Your written instructions could appear on-screen during the presentation. You can also put them in an outline-style handout or a separate step-by-step instructional handout. Another idea: Have your helper type the instructions into the chat box.

Live webinar mistake 7. Not testing the recording quality in advance

“The words are too small in the recording.” If you don’t test the quality of your recording ahead of time, you could be caught by surprise with a comment like this. It happened to one webinar presenter whom I know. What you see as the presenter (or as a live viewer) isn’t always what comes through in the recording. I don’t know how to explain the technical problem, but in this instance it seemed to be related to the webinar provider’s technology, rather than anything the presenter did.

Do a test recording in advance so you’re not surprised by things that you could have anticipated. Of course, most webinar software is glitchy—at least in my experience—so you may still encounter problems that you couldn’t have foreseen. That has happened to me.

Live webinar mistake 8. Not telling people about replay availability

Some webinar participants like to watch replays. Others start craving a recording when something happens during the webinar to make them miss some of your content. In either case, they’ll approach your webinar in a happier state of mind if it’s clear up front that a replay will be available.

If you’re not sharing a replay—or if the replay will be available for only a limited period of time—announce that, too. It’ll inspire your participants to pay more attention to your live webinar.

Live webinar mistake 9. Not engaging your participants

Ignoring input from your participants means that you miss out on opportunities to boost their satisfaction or to learn from them.

Most webinar software has some sort of Q&A or chat function. Use it.

As I suggested in my discussion of Mistake 4, interaction will go more smoothly when you have a helper to assist in soliciting and responding to participants’ input. But sometimes the participants can do perfectly fine on their own. I’ve participated in a webinar where the chat was visible to all participants. I picked up some great tips from other chat-room participants. They answered some of my questions before the speaker.

When I’ve delivered my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” I’ve learned from the answers people gave to my live polls and when I asked them to type answers to my question into the chat box.

What next?

Avoid these nine live webinar mistakes and you can enjoy more success as you educate your clients, prospects, and referral sources.

I don’t know everything there is to know about live webinars. Please share your tips and suggestions. For more of my webinar-related tips, see “Tech tips for your educational webinar–Learn from my experience.”

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net