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5 Secrets to a Killer Webinar

by Shelley Ryan  |  
July 15, 2010

In my big chair at Online Seminar Mission Control for MarketingProfs, I used to assume all the accolades from our audiences were simply polite compliments. “No one does a webinar as well as MarketingProfs,” people would gush.  It’s been three months since I left that seat and launched my own gig.  And I've learned something about the feedback from MarketingProfs members: It's dead-on.

I’ve been watching other webinars compulsively---from the usual B2B lead-generation marketing stuff, to how to be a better parent, to how to use CAD systems to predict when a steel structure will collapse.  They all sucked.

It was all too easy to write copious notes about dumb mistakes people make with webinars … then I stopped to consider: What is it that makes MarketingProfs so different? After all, our online seminars weren’t so hot in the first year. When did things change? And how?

Nothing changed overnight.  MarketingProfs webinars improved gradually.  In hindsight, the turning point and some milestones that followed have become obvious to me.

We took complete ownership of webinar production.

MarketingProfs used to rely on third-party vendors to run our online seminars.  We used whatever tools they offered and let them control the show.  They handled the tech rehearsal, they introduced the live broadcast, and their brand was more visible than ours.  Five years ago, we decided to own the process ourselves.

We invested in better webinar technology.

There are about 117 web conferencing tools on the market right now.  MarketingProfs chose one that not only suited our existing needs, but that had cool features we could implement as we became familiar with them.

We implemented new features gradually.

Webinar vendors are always upping the ante with new gadgets and gizmos.   MarketingProfs experimented with a few until settling into some routine practices, such as:

  • We "opened up" the Q&A so that participants could see what others had asked---and how we responded.  It didn’t take long for the audience to start interacting with each other, adding a whole new dimension of learning to every presentation.

  • We played custom music mixes in the "lobby" before each broadcast to set the tone and allow early arrivals to check their volume levels.  It didn’t take long before some audience members purposely signed in early just to check out that day’s tunes!   I adored my deejay role, too.

  • We pre-recorded some presentations and broadcast them to a live audience, while the presenter stayed online to handle incoming questions.  This was tricky at first, but the advantages quickly become clear. (I’ll blog about those advantages later.)

We [yawn] documented procedures religiously.

I’m the least detail-oriented person in my ZIP code, but this was a grudging necessity as MarketingProfs added new staff members. What did we write down?

  • How to handle proposals from would-be speakers

  • The standard timeline of speaker deadlines before a webinar broadcast.

  • The internal team process, plus deadlines and deliverables, for promoting a webinar

  • What to cover in a technical rehearsal

  • Every moment scripted out for every player in a live broadcast–-from audio testing to opening the lobby to thanking the audience for joining us.

The irony for me was that getting all of these procedures written down was actually freeing!  We could all see where we could (or couldn't!) improvise when something didn’t go as planned.

We became better at coaching speakers.

I’ve read every evaluation after every MarketingProfs webinar, and I now know what audiences will love and hate, regardless of the topic.  I decided that I’d rather risk hurting a speaker’s feelings before a presentation with kind but relentless feedback.  Too much was at stake---the speaker’s credibility, the MarketingProfs brand, and the audience’s time.

I will always remember what Jason Baer, one of our very best speakers, told me after I reluctantly asked him to change his presentation. “Thanks, Shelley! Even Tiger Woods needs a coach.”

My colleagues at MarketingProfs (whom I miss terribly!) can probably expand this list.  I hope you’ll share your own experience with fantabulous webinars as well, whether you were sitting in the audience or running the show.

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Shelley spent over five years at MarketingProfs, playing Den Mother to thousands of paid subscribers. She programmed, produced and promoted weekly online seminars featuring the biggest names in marketing. The result: More frequent broadcasts, increased participation, and higher ratings — 65% of the seminars last year earned five stars from the audience.

Shelley recently launched Killer Webinars to help organizations launch their own webinar programs. She also blogs, speaks, and assists clients with live event production. Her new mission is to rid the world of lousy webinars, one broadcast at a time.

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  • by Katya M Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Are you using GoToWebinar as your platform? We are currently on Adobe Connect Pro, but thinking about switching.

  • by Zack Pike Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    This article needed to be written, Shelley. You hit the nail on the head with the documentation piece. I've seen countless webinars myself, and participated and led several. As long as you've got the technology piece together, the biggest opportunity for most presenters is preparation and documentation. Unfortunately, this is also generally the most time consuming and most difficult part of the webinar process...

    It seems that the best webinar presenters/leaders have put some thought into the presentation before it's given... I know, a novel idea. ;-) Unfortunately, the ratio to those who do think ahead and those who don't doesn't look so good, which I think is why MarketingProfs webinars are so popular.

  • by Shelley Ryan Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Hi, Katya! MarketingProfs has been using Acrobat Connect Pro for almost five years. I'd love to hear why you're thinking of switching -- call me anytime! 888.449.8929

  • by Shelley Ryan Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Hi there, Zack! Nancy Duarte says in her book slide:ology that a well-done one-hour presentation can take up to 90 hours to prepare. Ninety?!? Sounds extreme, but when you add up the time for things like research, writing, graphic design, and rehearsal... she's not making such a radical claim. I'll bet if we did some research, we'd see a clear correlation between webinar preparation time and audience ratings. Survey time! Who's with me? ;)

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Hi, Shelley! As a professional speaker, I find that many people are unaware just how long a presentation takes to prepare. Duarte's figure of 90 hours doesn't surprise me. I always pore over my presentations for eons until I like what I've created. Each subsequent time, I'll tweak them even more.

    That's why professionals charge speaking fees! :)

  • by Shelley Ryan Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    And on the flip side, Elaine, that's why MarketingProfs PAYS webinar speakers! I was always surprised how many people assumed our speakers did all that work without compensation.

  • by Mitch Gobetz Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Why do you like Adobe Connect Pro over WebEx? We are looking for a web conferencing solution to give interactive webinars. We want to do polls, give the attendees control over our desktop, and be able to embed flash presentations into our webinars. I'd be interested to hear your answer.

  • by Shelley Ryan Thu Jul 15, 2010 via blog

    Hey, Mitch. You can do those things with Connect Pro now. I haven't thoroughly evaluated WebEx in a long time, so I'll be taking an in-depth look at it (and other platforms) again soon. In the meantime, you might want to look at this site for unbiased reviews of web conferencing tools. Hope that helps!

  • by Patrick O’Malley Fri Jul 16, 2010 via blog

    Great article, although I wish you would publish

    - the good and bad about the webinar software you use, and the final choice
    - some of your best speaker practices

    If you sell this information, then it would be good if you could just give one or two examples of each.

  • by Shelley Ryan Fri Jul 16, 2010 via blog

    Hi, Patrick. I'm actually going to be writing about that stuff on soon. (I just got the site going, so there's not a lot of content there yet.) It's free know-how for the taking. For a somewhat biased look at why Connect Pro rocks, Dave Walker has some terrific short videos here on his YouTube channel, where he compares it to the other web conferencing platforms. I wish I had done them myself!

  • by Zack Pike Fri Jul 16, 2010 via blog

    I agree! I'm going to check out that book... I hadn't read it but sounds like I should.

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Jul 20, 2010 via blog

    And, as Martha says, "That's a good thing." :)

  • by Katya M Fri Jul 30, 2010 via blog

    Thank you for responding, Shelley!
    I personally like Adobe Connect Pro - it was the first platform I ever used. However, we ran into difficulties sending out invitations, and had to go to Eventbright to create invitation forms. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to get hold of email addresses.
    Do you have the same problem?

  • by Shelley Ryan Fri Jul 30, 2010 via blog

    Actually, I've never used the registration module with Connect Pro. At MProfs, we managed the Pro member list (people entitled to attend seminars) in our own database. We considered uploading that database to a Connect Pro user list, but I felt like we'd be asking for a customer service nightmare before each broadcast whenever IDs and passwords got out of synch between the lists. We kept things simple by emailing our own invitations and reminders to members. They could click a link to a password-protected page on our website, where they could download seminar materials and join the meeting (or replay the recorded broadcast). A downside to many of the webinar tools I've seen: Even if they DO have the ability to handle invitations, sign-up confirmations, and reminders, it's not always possible to customize or personalize the auto-generated email. Frankly, I believe that MProfs gets great turn-out for each online seminar because of the thought put into each message! Oh, and the excellent content doesn't hurt. :)

  • by Geoff Brown Sun Nov 28, 2010 via blog

    Hi Jenny,

    How many people can you have watching a live webinar with connect pro? I'm wanting to run meetings with possible 300 attendees.

  • by Shelley Ryan Tue Nov 30, 2010 via blog

    Hi, Geoff --

    Adobe has several options for Connect Pro customers. You can set up a hosted account with up to 100 seats for about US$50 a month. If you need more seats than that (up to 600), you'll need an annual hosted account that costs significantly more -- about $50 PER SEAT/year last time I checked. Licensing is another option if you've got your own streaming media server.

    Here's a place to compare choices:

    For what it's worth... you should work with an authorized Connect Pro reseller if you need more than 100 seats. (It's a bit of a headache going straight to Adobe.) I'm not a reseller myself. I highly recommend Greg Anderson at GetConnect (! Michelle MacMahon at MeetingOne is also a good resource (

    I hope that helps! :)

  • by Shelley Ryan Tue Nov 30, 2010 via blog

    Zack -- check out Nancy Duarte's newest book RESONATE. It's even better than Slide:ology!

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