Getting the most from a webinar event

Let’s face it. More and more people are now networking through the Web—Facebook; Myspace; Twitter; Linkedin— you name it, and it’s available. Even businesses have caught on and Webinars are becoming a very proactive tool in eliminating additional company costs and promoting positive time-management.

A Webinar can best be defined as an interactive training session offered live on the Internet. Webinars differ from a Webcast in that the Webcast is uni-directional (one-way) and the Webinar is bi-directional where the audience has a chance to actually interact with the instructor. Broken down in the simplest of terms, a Webinar has five basic components: the audience; the presenter; the facilitator; the presentation; and the tool or software used to host the event. Any successful Webinar must consider each one of these functions independently as well as how they will interact with one another. Simply accounting for the presenter and the audience without taking into consideration how they will interact with one another could lead to disaster.

The best way to run the perfect Webinar is to distill it down into its basic functions and then create a checklist so that no function is missed. Whether you are running your first event or if you have been running many events by now, it is important to think about the basic functions that will make any event a success. Organizers can segment the Webinar process into three focus areas—the planning, delivery and the post-mortem.

The planning

Most events will consist of invites being sent out to attendees and/or a registration process put into place in order to capture data of the planned participants. This data is critical to capture for several reasons. First, sending out attendance information to those that wish to attend so that they have the proper links to the Webinar room is one key reason to capture registration data. Another is for proper post-mortem follow up and reporting. It is ideal if you can report the registered attendees against those that actually attended. We have always tried to follow-up with each category of people in a slightly different manner. Perhaps you are sending out links to a recorded event to those that were not able to attend for instance.

Depending on the capabilities of your Webinar hosting software, you may also need to control registration to a limited number of people. You can do this by either directly inviting a specified group of participants or by requiring general registration but allowing participation in the live event on a first come, first serve basis. It is a good idea to offer multiple session dates if you know your topic will attract a lot of interest or to record your event so people that are not able to attend the live showing may watch the streaming version of your Webinar at a later time. This is a very popular thing to do to reach a more global audience.

The delivery

The best time to hold events are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. Eastern (11:00 a.m. Pacific). This is not too early for West coast attendees and not too late for East coast attendees. You are also not interfering with anyone’s lunch. Mondays and Fridays are always bad days. Monday’s people are busy starting out their work week and Friday’s people are trying to get out of the office. You are set for success if you use these time slots.

Before the actual delivery, it is essential to have a trial run. The practice session, or sessions, is as much for the facilitator as they are for the instructor of the event. The facilitator is given a chance to make sure the technology they are using to host the event is functioning properly. The instructor is given an opportunity to develop their presentation and check the timing and flow of their delivery as well other mechanisms pertinent to their presentation.

On the day of the event it is important forthe facilitator and instructor to log-in at least 45 minutes prior to the actual session start time. This serves several purposes. It gives the instructor a chance to walk through their content right before the live event, do some last minute changes to the presentation and to calm any jitters they may be experiencing. For the facilitator, it gives them a chance to solve any last minute technical problems that may have occurred.

Once you start the actual session there are a few key things you can do to really make things run smooth. First, be sure to display housekeeping information for the participants at the beginning of the event. Let them know about things like seating charts, asking online questions, chatting, any interactive activities you have planned and session learning objectives. Second, make sure you have one computer logged in as a participant during the event where the presenters are going to be. This allows the presenters to see what the participants are seeing during the live event. Finally, have a hard copy of the presentation you will be delivering on hand. Sometimes these are even emailed out to the registered attendees approximately one hour before the Webinar start time. This makes for a nice contingency should your technology fail. Worst case, you can still walk everyone through your presentation over the phone

The post-mortem

The follow-up at the end of the event can be the most important part of the whole process. Ending the event with the closing slide of the presentation leaves attendees hanging and may make you as the event host miss out on gathering some potentially powerful market data. Many times people will record their live event and make that available to Webinar registrants that were not able to attend the live event. This should be in the form of a “Sorry We Missed You” e-mail.

A “thank-you” message should be prepared and distributed to all attendees. If you recorded the event, it is a great idea to make the recording available to attendees of the event as well. This gives them a chance to see the event again should they decide to. You should also follow up with any participants in the event that you promised to and answer any questions that were posted in the event that you could not answer online with the entire group. It is a good idea to send the answers to questions out to the entire attendee list, not just the one person that posed the question.

One of the most important parts of the post-mortem process is to put your own best practices in place by discussing the results of the Webinar with the team that put the event together. By going through each stage of the event process you can start to define not only the general best practices but the things that are specific to your organization.

Connie Moorhead is the President of The CMOOR Group and founder of based in Louisville, Ky.