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You've heard that webinars can become a company's best lead-generation tool; now get the scoop on what goes into planning a great online event, with insider tips from MarketingProfs' own Ann Handley and Shelley Ryan.

For cooking up new leads or positioning a company as a thought leader and trusted industry resource, webinars serve as an effective tactic. They create dialog and tempt prospects to get to know you better.

A webinar gone awry, however, can have the opposite effect, so it's not an affair to be quickly thrown together. Instead, you must take the time to properly plan and prepare, beginning with the following five essentials.

1. Compelling Content

First nail down your business objective and the specific audience you'd like to reach. Then determine the topic—and the content—that will speak to the distinct needs of that group; at the same time, you will be making sure they realize that you offer a solution to their problems. However, the value of that solution will be best understood if your prospects come to that realization on their own, rather than feeling as if they have just sat through a glorified sales pitch. Accordingly, the webinar content should be relevant, useful, engaging, and focused on the audience:

  • Relevant and useful to the target. What are the audience's interests and concerns, and how might you offer the insight to help them fulfill their needs? Training webinars tend to work well, but also consider discussions of hot topics such as major issues facing the industry, regulatory changes, or newly released reports or findings that may have an impact on their situation.
  • Engaging. People are busy, so ensure that your topic is stimulating and thought-provoking enough to make it worth their while.
  • Audience-focused. Keep it about them, not about you and your sales pitch or your speaker's sales pitch. You'll come off as much more trustworthy if you offer vendor-neutral perspectives, tips, and advice.

    For example, one way that billing- and revenue-management solutions provider Softrax illuminated its association with the webinar content, without resorting to a sales pitch, was to include a five-minute overview of the topic points and noteworthy examples, hosted by the company's president at the beginning of each webcast.

If you feel that you are unable to provide in-depth coverage of the topic in a single session, or you're concerned about including ideas that are either too basic or too advanced for some attendees, consider breaking up the webinar into two or three parts, with the subsequent presentations building on the previous ones.

A note of caution from MarketingProfs online seminar maven Shelley Ryan, however: Though this approach can help to create stronger connections, it can also deter attendance by prospects unable to commit to the time required.

2. A Captivating Speaker

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.