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Why Are Some Webinars So Bad?

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Why is it that so many Webinars are bad? The technology makes it easy, but that doesn't mean that the presenter is good, the content valuable, or the topic of interest. I signed up for an association Webinar on marketing communications this week. I bugged out early. Want to know why?


Plain and simple - it sucked. And that wasn't the first. I've participated in many - some free, some paid. Here's my take...
1. If the Webinar is being used for lead generation, it shouldn't be SO obvious that the entire presentation is an ad for the vendor's product or service. That happens regularly when Webinars are offered for free as part of an association's membership benefits or directly by a B2B supplier.
2. If the Webinar includes a guest, the host should ensure that the format and topic are synergistic. It's very unprofessional when two presenters are not in synch.
3. The Webinar speaker should have skills or training in.... training! This is especially true for Webinars in which the screen is filled with PowerPoint slides and you can't see the speaker. All we have to go on is his/her voice. The worst is when the speaker reads a script. Yikes. A white paper would have been preferred.
4. The Webinar should walk the talk on the promotional copy. If the advance marketing copy describing the topic and content isn't the same as the presentation, it's lost all credibility. Try getting the audience to return for another one.
5. Webinar planners should ideally identify their objectives. What do they want to achieve? If it's content marketing, then they should give the audience something of value without any strings attached. That's a soft sell approach for brand awareness.
If it's for lead generation, the content should be valuable, too, without obvious advertising. The lead comes from the registration information for the planner's database.
If the Webinar is a product in itself and the planner charges a fee, it had better fulfill the audience's expectations and have a dynamic speaker.
What's your experience with Webinars? Have they lost their appeal? Are they overused or abused? Let's hear.


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A Canadian who relocated to the U.S., Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of SOLUTIONS Marketing & Consulting LLC, a boutique marketing and communications agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona. During her career, Elaine has worked for, and with, many organizations, associations, and businesses, across North America, on marketing strategy and communications tactics.

From her earlier agency career assignments freelance copywriting Procter & Gamble, Nestlé Carnation, and Kraft materials, to “inside” senior-level marketing positions, Elaine’s passion for marketing has evolved to helping clients reach new heights through strategic brand-building, integrated marketing communications, and customer orientation.

She has been a contributing writer for The Business Journal and her articles have appeared in many publications, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Marketing News, The Arizona Republic, Advancing Philanthropy, and several association publications. She has been interviewed by CNN, Connect Magazine, and The Capitol Times, and her content was included in Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins, and Chris Forbes. Nonprofit Consulting Essentials by Penelope Cagney. and Share of Mind, Share of Heart by Sybil F. Stershic.

Elaine is a Faculty Associate at the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation and a professional member of the National Speakers Association – she does keynotes and presentations on business and nonprofit marketing, branding, customer orientation, and cause marketing at conferences and meetings.

Elaine’s career has also included stints as a cookbook author, teacher, singer, and television show host. A golf and tennis enthusiast, Elaine is enjoying life in the sunny Sonoran Desert while serving clients across North America.

Solutions Marketing & Consulting: solutionsmc.net

Speaking: elainefogel.com

Elaine's Blog: http://elainefogel.net

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  • by Paul Barsch Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, enjoyed this post. I'd say a good webinar means that a "B" speaker needs to become an "A" speaker, especially since as you mentioned, the speaker does not have the benefit of being seen. Voice inflection, tone, pitch and rate become all the more important. Of course, compelling content, clear objectives and a good Q&A definitely help...

  • by mike ashworth Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    here are some observations on some recent web seminars. 1. A webinar run by citrixonline. A company who assist ppl wanting to run webinars by providing the infrastructure to do so They gave confusing timezone information and also the incorrect code. I also received a generic "sorry you couldnt attend the webinar email" to further annoy me Result: I didn't get to join the webinar and would be unlikely to use their services as my reservoir of goodwill towards their company was rapidly depleted. 2. Poor audio on a webinar provided by an organisation that I pay an annual subscription to. Result: No real apology when I emailed in to make a complaint afterwards (this was marketingprofs btw) Mike Ashworth Business and Marketing Coaching and Consultancy, Brighton and Hove, Sussex, UK

  • by Julie Power Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    I feel your pain. Been there, switched off too. Your rivals did some similar research and put it in this chart. Seems to echo your concerns. http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?ident=30705 I also love the questions at the end of Webinars (if I make it that far) but they're often cut short.

  • by David Polley Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    I think a key ingredient often missing is "rehearsal." You know, the thing that actors and musicians do to make sure that they know their material inside out, and to minimize the risk of embarrassing mistakes. Too busy to rehearse? No, too busy NOT to rehearse!

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Paul, I agree. Content always needs to be compelling. Thanks. Mike, looks like you've had some bad experiences, too. The automated systems can also lead to lack of credibility. In one way, they're meant to communicate with people - a good thing; on the other, they can be very ineffective if the message doesn't match one's real experience. Julie, thanks for sharing the research. I like the key takeaway: "Key takeaway: Misleading visitors is often an innocent mistake .... marketers write copy about webinars given by internal or external experts, and the true topic gets lost in translation. Sometimes, the marketer manipulates the topic by including what he thinks the audience wants to hear. Presenters should always get a look at and sign off on the main topics being pitched by marketing. Opt to under-sell and over-deliver." Another way to approach this "innocent mistake" is to get internal marketers to actually review the presentations for which they're writing promo copy.

  • by Beverly Mahone Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    I would also like to add "Lack of Public Speaking Skills" to the list. Some people are wonderful when it comes to their knowledge but TERRIBLE when it comes to presenting---no personality.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Beverly, 100% agreed. The difference between an amateur and a professional speaker is amazing. It makes all the difference in engaging an audience.

  • by Claire Ratushny Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, I too have been disappointed by some webinars. Unfortunately, one of the most recent that comes to mind was a Web 2.0 event put on by the American Marketing Association. Content and delivery did not meet my expectations. Moreover, I felt that the webinar was far too basic. It was not a satisfying experience since the webinar only scratched the surface and did not dig deeper. Nor did it offer any practical, usable advice. As a result, I have demurred from signing up for additional AMA webinars for the time being. It's easier for me to get past a bad delivery if content is compelling, although that isn't an ideal situation. If the content doesn't give any strong new insights, or share great practical information, it isn't worth my time.

  • by Amy Hawthorne Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    No one has answered the question - Have webinars lost their appeal? I'm trying to decide this myself. I market to Marketers and I feel like I get bombarded with at least 3-5 marketing related webinar invites a week. A lot of times I'm interested in the content but don't have the time to spend sitting in on every event. Anyone else feel this way? Are webinars almost an expected/required piece of the marketing mix now? I've got a lot of other things that are working, I'm wondering if I'm missing opportunties by not currently having a webinar program going...

  • by Lewis Green Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, This will be short as I'm not doing much other than client work during the month, but for me, webinars are dead. I've been asked to conduct them, and declined. I haven't attended one in 4 years. I can learn more at a faster rate with a good web search.

  • by sfowler Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Webinars remain popular in our company. We make sure we have dynamic speakers who stay on topic and provide truly educational information (still, all our webinars do include a product [software] demonstration). We use conference call as the audio (and limit to 25 attendees) to encourage open discussion. It gets repeat attendees, plenty of referrals and is a great lead generator. In addition it's a good sort of halfway step for people in the research stage before they're truly ready to move toward purchasing the product.

  • by Becky Carroll Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Good points to remember, Elaine, on giving webinars. I have both spoken at them (as the "expert") as well as listened to them. I think webinars go on for too long in most cases. Keep it short and punchy, and allow questions to be sprinkled throughout to keep the interest of attendees. Don't make it too much of a commercial, and definitely do a run-through! The most successful webinars I have been part of involved a full rehearsal of what I would say vs what other speakers were saying. Gave us a chance to sync up and create a cohesive experience. Also, a new interesting idea is Twebinars, which include people asking and answering questions via Twitter during the webinar. Cool!

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Claire, you make a good point. Many Webinars are not rated for their level of educational value. That would be helpful in determining if one is worth your time. Amy, thanks for bringing us back to this unanswered question. I also get invited to countless Webinars each week. The e-mails almost seem like an intrusion now. Lewis, for a marketing thought leader like you, I can see where Webinars would be time wasters. Your preferred method of learning is very hands-on - kinetic - browsing online and researching yourself. For some beginners and mid-level professionals, however, they may want more guidance, and a Webinar can be a practical and inexpensive way to learn. Are they dead? Maybe they're just too available and bad ones have caused disinterest. S, if it works for your company, you guys are doing something right. The fact that you limit participants and allow a free-flow of ongoing discussion may have something to do with it. Becky, I agree that Q & A shouldn't be restricted to the end, but interspersed throughout to keep attention. I, too, have heard of Twebinars. In fact, there was an MP post a while back about people Twittering during an in-person conference, complaining about the speaker DURING the session. Now, that's mean, but immediate customer response!

  • by Shelley Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Elaine, I produce the online seminars for MarketingProfs. We have actually avoided calling them "webinars" because nowadays that term seems to imply the flimsy-content-to-disguise-blatant-sales-pitch that has become so prevalent as a lead generation technique. I'm not saying those kind of webinars don't work -- my guess is that all the crappy ones surely must be diminishing the value of the decent ones. It's like how spam has hurt email marketing overall. As you say, bad ones create disinterest. We're extremely careful about keeping our seminars strictly educational, with relevant topics and qualified speakers. We've gotten scads of postive feedback from our paying members (and strong annual renewal rates!) even when the technology behind the curtain gives us occasional trouble. And we are famously responsive to tech issues, so I'll have to investigate Mike Ashworth's complaint. One thing we've learned in the past four years: Pre-record the actual presentation whenever possible! We have MUCH better control of the quality (so does the speaker) instead of hoping that a live show goes as well as planned in rehearsal. I can edit it, for one thing, or reject it totally and find a different expert. It's a lot more upfront work this way, no doubt. But playing the pre-narrated powerpoint to a live audience while also having the speaker online to handle Q&A is becoming a winning formula for us.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 11, 2008 via blog

    Thanks for weighing in, Shelley. Pre-recording is an excellent idea! Plus, you still add the live Q & A component. That's a lot more professional. This approach works well for an educational objective. I wonder whether lead generation marketers would take the time required to do this, too. I'm going to take an MP virtual seminar!

  • by Mona Piontkowski Tue Aug 12, 2008 via blog

    Webinars have never been a favorite of mine - too detached. It's difficult enough to connect with students sitting in front of you - teaching is an art and not as easy as it looks - ask anyone who's tried it. And it's especially difficult to teach to a screen and be engaging. Since anyone can put on a webinar the quality cotrol factor isn't there and since they usually are either free or low cost - you get what you pay for. Give me a live instructor anytime and the interaction of the students - sometimes you learn more from the person sitting next to you than you do from the instructor - hard to do with a webinar.

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Aug 12, 2008 via blog

    Ain't that the truth, Mona. However, not everyone can afford to participate in professional development seminars and conferences. Then, I believe there's a place for online learning. You make a good point that the Web medium is challenging in reaching people. As a former educator, and now professional speaker, I can attest to the adrenaline rush I get when I am in front of an audience. That passion transcends to people much easier in person.

  • by Levon Tue Aug 12, 2008 via blog

    I have been conferencing and using webinar systems for sometime now and this is still the best alternative to face-to-face (in-the-flesh) live conferences. The technology still has much room to grow. It will only get stronger more robust -- plus you can not beat the interactivity dimension that webinars provide -- Web Video and other media cannot simply provide the same flexibility. It is a shame that so many of you have been burnt with the tech -- because had you experienced a really good webinar put on by a professional with real juicy info with purpose and substance -- the experience would of changed your perception to a positive one. Sit tight because the good stuff is on its way.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Aug 13, 2008 via blog

    I one of the keys to a successful Webinar is whether the presenter is a true expert in the subject at hand. We at the StreamSend Email Marketing service (http://www.streamsend.com) have a free deliverability webinar live Wednesdays and the recorded version any time: http://www.streamsend.com/deliverability_webinar.htm The presenter is our deliverability manager who did that for a competitor (before coming to us) and before that he worked for an Internet Service Provider (ISP). So he has experience as from the Email Service Provider (ESP) and ISP side of things. Yes, I am fully aware this is a shameless promotion. I am a *very* frequent contributor (some of my contributions good and some not as good) to this blog and I almost *never* do a shameless promotion. I am not sure the rules here -- written or unwritten -- on doing this occasionally.

  • by Elaine Fogel Wed Aug 13, 2008 via blog

    Levon, I'm glad to hear there are good ones around. I just haven't attended one yet. Hey, Neil. I agree with you that it helps to have an expert as the speaker. However, I have been to many conferences in my career where experts made for terrible speakers. I imagine this situation is more plentiful in the Webinar world. As for your self-promotion, I'm not in charge, but for bloggers who spend time contributing without compensation, a little slack sounds like it's in order. :)

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Thu Aug 14, 2008 via blog

    Thanks Elaine, I appreciate the get out of jail free card. :-) Well, our Deivery expert, Louis Chatoff is an outstanding speaker, presenter, and all round stand up sort of guy. We are lucky to have him. I am sure he will be sending me the compliment check in the mail soon.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Thu Aug 14, 2008 via blog

    We need to get Louis and me in front of some audiences. Well, I take that back, keep me behind the curtain. I don't want to embarrass anybody on stage. I will come out when the food and wine are served.

  • by Desiree Mon Aug 18, 2008 via blog

    I think Claire Ratushney saw the same AMA webinar as I did. The kicker for me was when I went to the url they provided at the end of the seminar so I could download a copy of the materials. It was a url for a social networking site that I had to join. Just wanting to get the seminar materials, I joined. I was very annoyed at the way they chose to market their new b2b social network, but figured it must be good to join, being backed by the AMA and all! Wrong. After signing up I got pop-up messages saying the materials were not available to me. Hmm...I notice a "report bug" button and clicked it. Apprently the site was still in beta-testing. However the "report bug" click-through did not work. Then I clicked on the "contact us" link. Nope, that wasn't active yet either. THEN, I emailed the webinar hosts, the local AMA chapter and the national AMA. Only the local chapter repsoned to my email, and they had no clue what webinar I was talkining about. They thorized it wasn't sponsored by them at all...though their logo was all over the materials. Nice. I'm not sure what the whole picture is here, but I doubt I will see anything sponsored by the AMA for awhile.

  • by Dorothy Mon Aug 18, 2008 via blog

    I feel compelled to share my personal experience with MarketingProfs. I think MarketingProfs webinars are outstanding. Every one I have attended (a dozen or so) has adhered extrememly well to the five guidelines that Elaine outlines in her blog post. I heard about MarketingProfs from a colleague late last year and signed up to get their free email newsletters, which were excellent. Then, I was lured by the ads to attend their virtual trade show in March (also free) and was instantly hooked on the quality of topics and caliper of the keynote speakers. At that point I paid for an annual subscription at my own expense (and not company reimbursed). I now have unlimited access to their webinars, which I think are a tremendous value for the very reasonable annual subscription fee. I have heard that some folks have had audio issues on some of their webinars, but I have never had any problems with audio dropping out. Full disclosure: I work for a large corporation that is NOT affiliated with MarketingProfs.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 18, 2008 via blog

    Thanks for sharing, Desiree. I feel your frustration - been there. Dorothy, I'm glad that MP virtual seminars have been of benefit to you. I blog and write for MP because it is a top quality outfit. You've just underscored that.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Mon Aug 18, 2008 via blog

    I agree with Dorothy. I was originally attracted to sign up for Marketing Profs' "Premium Membership" to have access the Webinars. To give a plug to Marketing Profs, I do recommend Premium Membership for the excellent Webinars and other benefits

  • by Shelley Mon Aug 18, 2008 via blog

    Just for clarification to readers... MProfs has two levels of annual paid membership: Premium ($150) and Premium Plus ($249). The latter includes all the online seminars. :) Thanks for sharing your experience, Dorothy. There are so many things out of our control that affect streaming audio during a live broadcast! I'm glad to hear you've had smooth sailing.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Aug 19, 2008 via blog

    Shelley, and don't forget to mention that those are yearly fees. Well worth it. Support Marketing Profs because they rock! Disclaimer: I do not get a cut of Marketing Profs' revenue though I wish I did. I should ask nicely.

  • by LMonica Tue Aug 19, 2008 via blog

    GLITCHES NOT ALLOWED In my opinion, level of technology is another important factor for sponsors/organizers (and even speakers) to consider. EXAMPLE OF A GOOD WEBINAR Take the Prosci Institute, for example. I love their webinars (yes, Amy H. I personally believe webinars can still be effective.) I find Prosci's topic, Change Management, very interesting; the principles they present seem applicable in marketing; the organizer and oftentimes presenter, Tim Creasey, does a wonderful job of structuring the schedule and agenda; they sometimes have Jeff Hiatt (who wrote The book on Change Management) present; they always share new information (sometimes from their own research) and allow participants to share their own life experiences. Yet Prosci still relies on conference calls for audio (as sfowler's company--above--does) and they make all slides available for attendees to drive as the speaker cues them. Not the most sophisticated webinar technology I've witnessed, but very much worth my time to attend their weekly sessions! Full disclosure: I don't work for the Prosci Institute or are in any way affiliated to benefit from using this example; it's just the best one I can conjure. LMonica

  • by Carmen Wed Aug 20, 2008 via blog

    Elaine's five points are right on and a great summary of how I feel about these online events. Shelley mentioned the one big issue that for some reason, really irritates me: use of the word "webinar" to describe what is touted as an online educational event. For me, there's a big difference between a webinar, such as the fare that Citrix offers (as one example of usually poor quality events), and the highly educational events that MarketingProfs offers. The differences aren't only with the content, but with the competence of the presenters (too often they have tunnel vision, capable of speaking about only one aspect of the topic), the event's format (Adobe Connection versus telephone), the relevance of the information and the materials, the level of commercialism present in Webinars (such as though presented by Citrix), and the participation of the audience. I second all kudos thrown to MarketingProfs. The hard work shows up in the quality events you give us and I for one never have an issue about renewing my membership. The only thing that annoys me is that I'm unable to choose to not see the multitude of innocuous text-based chit-chat that goes on while the presenter is speaking and referring to his/her materials.

  • by Elaine Fogel Fri Sep 3, 2010 via blog

    Amy, thanks for the mention on your blog! In addition to the point you make about rehearsing and knowing each word, it's also important not to sound too stilted. Even with practice, I use slides as a reference point and speak to them as of I were having a conversation. It just sounds more natural. Thanks again.

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