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How to Make a Great Webinar

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Learn how to create a webinar that will keep participants engaged.

Learn how to create a webinar that will keep participants engaged.

Why People Hate Webinars

These days when you mention a webinar, you might get a "meh" type response or something stronger such as, "Not another one!" With all the benefits that webinars provide—the ability to present to hundreds (even thousands!) simultaneously, elimination of travel, low cost, real-time engagement, on-demand access for online replays, etc.—why the negativity?

Part of it has to do with how marketers and content providers are using, misusing, and abusing webinars. Other reasons have to do with the participants themselves.

Webinar or "Sell-i-Nar?"

There seems to be a formula that many lame sales webinars follow. It usually starts out with some chitchat about how great the presenter's life is. "Here's my vacation home on the Riviera, my luxury car, my gorgeous spouse and kids, how I now can spend time with my family because of this program, etc." The intent is to make a pseudo-personal connection with participants and, rightly or wrongly, to make an association with the positive results that could be achieved. (This is fodder for an entirely different blog post/rant.)

After what can seem to be an eternity in this faux "friending" intro, some valuable content can be presented. The information can truly be of value, making it worth sitting through the introduction.

Then the windup for the sale. The pitch will go on for several minutes with "if you buy today" offers.

Essentially, these marketers are using webinars as infomercials. Informercials have been extremely successful on television and webinars can be used as such. The problem comes in when the promotions for the webinar sell the presentation as "training." Yes, they are providing "training," but it's sandwiched between selling efforts.

Also, many webinars tell just part of the story. I remember one where a participant bluntly asked the presenter what other costs would be involved if he purchased the program being promoted. That additional investment list included continuous Facebook advertising, a subscription to a special (and expensive) online service, email marketing costs . . . all that on top of the program's cost which started at several hundred dollars and the time to participate in the ongoing program.

These webinars are part of the marketer's sales funnel. If they can get participants to opt-in to this presentation, they get both the participant's email address and declaration of interest . . . even if the person doesn't buy right then and there.

And then they don't let go, ever! I've opted-in to some of these webinars where I now get almost a daily—daily!—email from the marketer. Make it stop already! And sometimes I do make it stop by unsubscribing.

But I couldn't shake one of them. Because Google is watching all of our moves, the Googlebots knew that I had participated in this webinar and then subjected me to ads on YouTube about it. I didn't have problems with seeing ads for it, except that the ad was 5 minutes long! That's a webinar in itself. That blasted 5-minute ad was unskippable and I had to see every time I wanted to view ANY YouTube video. I gave up watching anything on YouTube for a while. Have any idea how ticked I am that I ever signed up?

Don't get me wrong. Using webinars as part of your marketing and sales funnel is a good thing! Just don't make it a bad thing for your participants.

The Invisible Audience

What about genuine content-rich webinars, regardless of whether they have a selling component or not? If the content is good, why might participants still hate a webinar?

  • Presenter Doesn't Understand the Medium. I'll admit it. From doing many online presentations and webinars, I can tell you that having to speak to an invisible virtual audience is a strange experience. Unlike in-person public speaking, you may get zero feedback from participants, except for maybe some minimal chat messages or in-webinar poll votes. No approving head nods. No smiles. No eye contact. No cues from body language.
  • Poor Presentation and Speaking Skills. Just because webinar technology is accessible doesn't magically turn a poor speaker into a professional online presenter. Plus, live, in-person audiences can be very forgiving of vocal flubs and floundering. Online participants not so much.
  • Not Understanding the Technology or "Is this thing on?" Every one of the webinar platforms has different quirks and procedures. If you don't understand how to use the platform, you will waste valuable presentation time monkeying with the tech, resulting in participants abandoning the presentation or grading it poorly in post-event surveys. Also, presenters need to understand the participant side of the platform so they (or a designated support person) can answer the inevitable "It's not working. What do I do?" queries.


Some of the reason participants hate webinars is because of the behavior of the participants themselves. The biggest problem is multi-tasking. They're usually checking email, listening to voice mail, eating, talking with others . . . anything but paying attention to the webinar. Can't blame 'em though. With so much extraneous information, poor presentation skills, and too long of a presentation time for most webinars, participants are attuned to tuning out.

How to Make a Good Webinar (Or at Least One That Doesn't Tick Participants Off)

  • Follow Up, But Don't Foul Up. If using a webinar for sales purposes, you'll definitely want to follow up. But don't foul up! Follow up with your participants as if they were in-person sales prospects. A couple of emails immediately afterward offering a replay (in case they missed part of it) and any special, limited-time offers will usually be appreciated. But then cool it! Add them to your regular "keep in touch" sales and marketing efforts. This webinar is the start of the sales conversation. Don't give them a reason to leave it!
  • Practice with the Webinar Tech and Presenting to an Invisible Audience. Record a test run and listen to it. Yes, it's going to be hard to listen to yourself. But do it! Even better, test it out live with a friend online to get feedback. By doing so, you'll get familiar with the tech and can work out any kinks before you go live with the real thing.
  • Tell Them How Long It Will Be . . . With Exact Start and End Times. Some webinars advertise that the presentation will start at such-and-such time, but don't say when it will end. Will it be 30 minutes? An hour? Common webinar lengths are 30, 45, and 60 minutes. Keep in mind that the longer the webinar, the more tempting it is for participants to divert their attention and multi-task.
  • Don't Accommodate Latecomers. I think many webinar producers add all the "about me" stuff at the beginning because they know that there will be a lot of latecomers. I understand that. When I used to run online chats, the first 15 minutes or so was a mess. However, it annoys those who were online from the beginning. Offer a replay for late stragglers. And once you get a reputation for starting and ending on time, with a substantial segment of valuable material, participants will know it's best to get online on time and stay focused on your presentation.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2017:

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Thanks, Larry! Happy Weekend!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 30, 2017:

Very informative!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 27, 2017:

You're so right, Flourish! Never want to reinforce bad behavior. I also realize that people on the other end have a lot of things going on in their lives that may prevent them from participating fully or on time. But that doesn't mean I have to stop my world for them. And I won't give latecomers any special attention when they do finally arrive. Thanks for making that point! Have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 26, 2017:

Bingo on the not accommodating latecomers. It's annoying for those who were on time and just reinforces bad behavior.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 25, 2017:

Oh, Blond! You have put the exclamation mark on why webinars are so reviled these days! I think the invisibility of the audience causes these webinar presenters and producers to forget the time factor. And, you're right, if you miss one webinar, there's sure to be another (usually lame one) coming down the road.

I, too, dislike evening webinars. Evenings for me are family and personal time. So it better be a stellar presentation to make me give that up. It also emphasizes why providing a replay for those who cannot make it live is so important.

Thank you for taking of your time to read my post and thoughtfully comment! Have a lovely weekend!

Mary Wickison from USA on March 25, 2017:

When I have attended webinars, I usually give up. I listened to one about 5 months ago and we spent so long waiting for people to show up while the young, overly excited, speaker kept telling us about which countries he had showing up on his screen.

I think all too often, they forget our time is valuable.

Perhaps if it had been in a face to face meeting, I would have been more gracious and not bolted for the door. Now webinars are like buses, if you miss one, another will be along shortly.

As you say, some people are not up to speed with the way it will work. That combined with an impatient audience. Plus the writing of the script was loaded with superlatives and threats such as, "this type of offer will never be seen again".

I also think that the time it is being run is important. For me, one in the evenings is difficult.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 25, 2017:

Really, Billybuc, I'm not trying to be pushy! :) Webinars are a totally different animal and have a learning curve. So take your time and just do what you can and what's right for you right now. With that in mind, relax and enjoy the weekend! Thanks for taking time to stop by!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 25, 2017:

There you go, pushing me towards another thing on my to do list. Damn, Heidi, would you please just leave me alone! LOL

I know, I know, get with it, Bill! And I respond "where will I find the time" and you respond, again, "get with it, Bill!"

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 24, 2017:

Hi purl3agony! Yep, I think our combined list of lame webinars we've had to attend would be very long. :) Glad you found the tips helpful. Hope you're enjoying your early spring. Have a great weekend!

Donna Herron from USA on March 24, 2017:

You describe my exact experience with most webinars! The technology is great, but so few webinars seem to be worth the time. Thanks for including a great list of do's and dont's for creating and leading an effective webinar. Pinning for later use and I hope many others do too!

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