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.
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.