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Webinar basics — from planning and promotion to rehearsal and analysis

Webinars, or web-based seminars, can be effective tools for nonprofits to share information with and generate discussion among a group of people in virtually any location. But not all webinars are created equal.

For starters, a webinar isn't the right tool for every subject matter. Hosting a webinar also requires planning, promotion, proper tools and engaging speakers. Without these essentials, you risk hosting a webinar no one attends or that bores attendees already at risk of being distracted by their Facebook feeds. Also, if you're not analyzing data from your webinar — such as patterns or spikes in your drop-off rates — you could be missing out on ways to make future webinars more effective.

Want to make the most of your nonprofit's next webinar? Follow these tips.

1. Determine if a webinar is appropriate

Before you schedule a webinar, question whether it's the right tool for what you want to say. Consider your audience, subject matter and how much time you'll need to discuss the topic. Talk to experts on the subject or ask nonprofit peers who've conducted webinars for help. You might even consider polling potential audience members to gauge their interest in a webinar on your chosen topic.

Webinar alternatives may include a blog post or downloadable guide, a real-life discussion that you record and post online afterward, or a series of videos.

2. Define your objective

You should be able to clearly explain the purpose of the webinar and what you hope audience members — and your nonprofit — will get out of the experience in about 30 words.

3. Consider your timing

Choose a time that will maximize your audience. Take into account whether people from different time zones will be attending. You might also avoid holding your webinar at 3 p.m., when many people experience a natural dip in mental stamina.

4. Create a compelling presentation

Think about your format. Will you use slides? Videos? How many speakers will you have? If you plan to use more than one speaker, would an interview-style or panel discussion work?

Whatever you do, make sure your content is compelling. Showcase one idea per slide and vary your slides to keep your audience interested. Use supporting images and flow charts. Throw in some color. Consult with a graphic designer, if possible, for help. Keep things moving by aiming to show a new slide every one to two minutes.

5. Pick the right tool

When choosing your web conference tool or software package, consider the size of your audience, how much you're willing to pay (some packages are free), and what special features you want or need.

Do you want a live feed of your speakers? Would you like audience participants to be able to take control of your desktop? Will you conduct audience polls, chats, Q&As and surveys during the webinar? Can the tool keep track of when attendees drop off? Also, ask if it's possible for the webinar to be recorded and placed on your website so people can access it at a later date.

6. Keep it short

Make it as easy as possible for the audience to stay tuned into your webinar. Consider dividing your presentation into digestible sections of about 10 to 15 minutes each and using the breaks to interact with your audience. This is a great opportunity to use your tool's special features. Or, keep the overall presentation to about 30 minutes, which will give you plenty of time for questions and answers.

7. Rehearse it

A few days before your webinar, hold a run-through. This will give everyone involved a chance to:

  • Learn how to use the web conferencing tool, including special features
  • Verify that all equipment is compatible with the web conferencing tool
  • Go over the agenda
  • Make sure the slides are in order and presenters know when to speak

8. Set up registration

Check to see if your web conferencing tool has built-in registration options. You can also use a separate event registration tool. Decide if you want to charge for your webinar.

Then, use your sign-up page to ask audience members questions about relevant challenges they're facing. Look for any common themes that could be addressed in your presentation.

9. Promote your webinar

Publicize your upcoming webinar on your website and social media feeds. Encourage your presenters to talk about the webinar on their own social feeds. You might also consider paying for online advertising to drive attendance, making sure all of your promotions direct people to register.

Also create an event hashtag and encourage attendees to use it. This can keep talk about your webinar going after the webinar ends.

10. Follow up

After the webinar, thank your attendees and provide a link to the webinar recording — just in case they missed it or want to access the content again. You might also send a link to a post-webinar survey that asks for feedback on the webinar and what topics attendees might be interested in learning about in the future.

11. Repurpose and analyze

Mine information gathered from any polls, surveys or discussions for themes or topics you could discuss in a blog entry or newsletter article. Post quotes or snippets from the webinar on your social media channels, including a link to the webinar recording posted on your website.

Then, look at your webinar feedback to see what worked and what didn't work. With your team, go over your promotion efforts, number of registrants and attendees, and any available data on drop-off rates and interactions. Brainstorm what you can do to improve your numbers and make your next webinar even better.

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

Disclaimer

References

Idealware: Tips and techniques for making good webinars: Engaging your audience by Laura Quinn (2015)

Premier Global Services, Inc.: The definitive guide to creating successful webinars (2015)

The Next Web: How to host a great webinar in 6 easy steps by Dan Taylor (2011)

TechSoup Global: 10 steps for planning a successful webinar by Ariel Gilbert-Knight (2016)

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