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The Economy Is Down, So It’s Webinar Time!

I’ve delivered lots of webinars over the years, working with all the well-know providers and others as well.  With only two exceptions where the audio was lost for all the participants, I’ve had very good experiences.  That’s not by accident.  My content is always relevant to the audience, I rehearse, I’m facile with the technology, I understand the medium, and I always use a checklist to make certain I don’t forget something.

I’ve delivered a few webinars with Boston Conferencing.  They really impressed me with their professionalism, the quality of the technology, and their turnkey approach.  In fact, I’ve got a webinar coming up with FranklinCovey Sales Performance Group on Wednesday, March 11, 1:00 pm ET — Strategies For Getting Your Customers Through the Financial Crisis. (Disclosure: I’ll be delivering a webinar for pay with Boston Conferencing in July.)

So in these times of reduced travel, I asked Boston Conferencing President, Dave Will, to help us make better use of this medium.

Dave Stein: Web conferencing has been around for a decade or so. What’s changed in the past few years with respect to the technology?

Dave Will: Actually the biggest change has not been with the technology as much as with the integration into day to day business processes. A decade ago, very few organizations outside of the technology sector were using web conferencing. Even 2 – 3 years ago we found that a lot of organizations were still trying to identify if webinars were a worthwhile marketing/training tool. Now webinars are a line item in the budget. The decision has been made and the vast majority of organizations have incorporated them into their business. The question has changed from “should we do it” to “when and how do we get it done.” It is no longer a competitive advantage to run webinars. It’s a “must-have” in order to keep up.

But to answer the question more directly, web conferencing technology is doing a better job of streaming video and audio over the internet. It’s also come a long way in providing simple one-click entry to events. Webinars and Web Conferencing are no longer for the tech companies or the geeks. It’s a common tool in all organizations. One more change is that there are tons of small unknown software tools in the market that may or may not be good for business use. What has not changed is that the major “industrial-strength” conferencing tools are still Microsoft LiveMeeting and WebEx.

DS: With the economy in the state that it is in, what changes do you see in the way companies are employing web conferencing?

DW: Naturally, organizations are looking for ways to reduce travel. Web conferencing is an alternative. Although web conferencing will never replace the value of face-to-face meetings, it’s a nice supplement and business is learning to incorporate it into their processes more effectively. For instance, Wal-Mart suppliers are meeting with their buyers more virtually now than they have in the past. Traditionally, suppliers would fly to Bentonville for a 60-minute meeting with their buyer. Although this does and should still happen, suppliers are supplementing their infrequent in person meetings with web conferences to discuss sales plans.

Organizations are also starting to decentralize their training. Rather than bringing their sales team back to HQ for training on sales tools or processes, they are rolling out live training via webinar. For example, many associations conduct professional development programs in person at conferences. With the restrictions on travel, attendance to these conferences has decreased and associations are responding by offering more live online webinars.

Also, given the revenue needs of associations and other training organizations, they are looking towards their virtual conferencing and distance learning as an opportunity to sell more sponsorship and bring in additional revenue from “virtual exhibits.” Many organizations are using this technology as a profit-center in this challenging economy.

DS: There is increasing interest in Second Life. Do you see that medium impacting the web conferencing space at this point?

There are a lot of social media technologies that are going to help create a nice “blended learning” environment. Second Life has led the way on the consumer side of simulated worlds. We’ve seen some organizations play with ways to incorporate Second Life into their marketing and professional development, but we are seeing more business oriented tools emerge providing more relevant functionality. An example of the Virtual Trade Show, which is the corporate version of Second Life is Unisfair.

Virtual trade show technologies usually incorporate all kinds of media into the simulated world including webinars, webcasts, podcasts, forums, downloads, chats, etc… So with that in mind, the virtual world technologies will actually increase the overall volume of webinars. More importantly, the virtual world create an environment to house several different content delivery mediums which will only help organize content better for consumers and business to absorb.

The trend we are seeing is organizations getting away from one single medium and moving toward blended solutions. For example, if you were to search iTunes for “Sales Forecasting” you would see all kinds of resources including books, music, podcasts, PDFs, etc.

DS: What are some best-practices in delivering web conferences from the presenters perspective?

DW: The answer to this question could make up a book, so I’ll highlight just a few of the things we see that can affect the presentation the most:

  • The audio quality – this is very important. Most speakers want to feel comfortable and therefore often use a speaker phone. We strongly discourage this as the success of the event is determined by the attendee’s experience, NOT the presenters.
  • Pre-event preparation – there are a lot of factors for presenters to think about before the webinar: Do you know how to change the slides, annotate on the slides, how to handle questions, what polling questions to ask? Have you given thought to how you’re going to engage the audience?
  • Think of some “seed questions” – Most webinars incorporate some Q&A at the end of the event. In some cases a shy audience can be embarrassing for the presenter. So if the presenter thinks of some questions in advance the moderator can ask those questions first which often times will jumpstart the audience and get them asking real questions.
  • Backup plans – with technology there are so many things that can go wrong. Have a backup plan for the following:
    • Missing presenters
    • Teleconference breakdown
    • Web conference technology breakdown
    • Network or computer failure or power outage
  • Simplicity and Relevance – Most presenters create very heavy presentation decks with way too much information. Remember this when you’re creating your slides: the deck is there to support your words. Use pictures. Keep the slides simple and graphical in nature. Also keep the content relevant and provide practical information the attendees can use after the webinar. One common complaint we hear from attendees is that the content was too high level and it was nothing they have not heard before.
  • Take out the sales pitch – even if your event is a marketing or lead generation event, no one likes a sales pitch. Always think in terms of education. People attend webinars to learn, not to buy.This is a production – think about the logistics. Will the lines be muted? Will the attendees hear music while they’re waiting for the conference to begin? Are you communicating the login procedures well for the attendees? Has the registration process been managed well? Is the conference being recorded? How will you follow-up with the registrants?

DS: What big mistakes to presenters make?

DW: Of course the best practices speak directly to the big mistakes presenters make but these are the mistakes we see most often:

  • Presenter forgets how to change the slides
  • Presenter forgets to take their phone off of mute at some point
  • Presenter does not utilize annotation tools or polling questions to engage the audience
  • Presenter uses a speakerphone
  • The slides are too detailed
  • The content is not detailed enough

DS: How does a company like Boston Conferencing compete against the likes of WebEx?

DW: Boston Conferencing is a webinar production services company. WebEx is a software company. We do not compete with WebEx. Boston Conferencing delivers webinars from beginning to end for our clients so they don’t need to worry about the technology, the registration process, the communications, the payment processing for fee based event, the presenter preparation, or the logistics.  Our job is to take the weight of all the logistics and administration off our clients shoulders so they can focus on the content of the event. We take ownership and accountability for the success of a customer’s webinar program.

Photo credit:  (c) 2008 Dave Stein — Boston from 7000 feet
Donate $25 or more to the human rights charity Witness.org, email your receipt to me,
and I’ll send you the full-size jpg of this photo.  dave.stein @ ESResearch.com
Make sure your credit card number is not on the receipt, please.


5 Responses

  1. Webinars are so effective if done properly. Dave Will was spot on in his comments. I’ve also had the fortunate opportunity of working with Boston Conferencing and they are great. As Dave indicated, I can focus on the content and not worry about what technology we’re using.

    • Thanks, Mary.

      Note: Mary has been the moderator for two webinars I’ve delivered–one with FranklinCovey and the other for ISBM. She’s the best I’ve worked with.

  2. Good article on webinars and I love checklists (I was a private pilot) so I guess it gets in your blood.

    • Yes it does, David. Once I became a pilot, I looked at a number of things differently as well as changing certain behaviors. For example, I’m a much safer driver since I started to fly.

  3. Two of Dave Will’s comments I would stress as critical for effective webinars;

    1. Simplicity and Relevance–people are looking for information that can help them execute better.
    2. Take out the sales pitch–If you are going to be heard through the noise, you must provide value, not just be a salesperson.


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