The golden rules of webinar engagement

By Belal Atiyyah

We recently sat down with webinar expert, and Regional Marketing Manager at Okta, Cassandra Theocharous to talk about the golden rules of webinars. Here’s a look back at that conversation.

Catch the full webinar on demand: click here

Tell me a little about yourself.

Cass: Sure, so a little bit about me, I’ve been working in the marketing space (mainly B2B) for 6+ years now, and have run approximately 50-80+ webinars both for clients (when I was agency side), as well as in-house for various tech companies. The style of webinars ranged across training, education, user group and lead generation formats.

One of the reasons I love webinars is WEBINARS ARE TRULY UNLIKE ANYTHING ELSE. If done right, you can keep your audience engaged for hours on end that videos simply do not.
Not only that, but your audience can also engage and ask questions in real-time and give instant feedback on your session. Whilst also having the ability to have a conversation with hundreds of people.. Virtually, right over the internet. Right from the comfort of wherever you are in the world!

And, unless you’re a big brand who is easily forgiven for an average session, the majority of us can’t put on half of a show. We need to leave an AMAZING impression and that means awesome content, speakers, no bait and switch, AND keeping your audience’s attention despite competing with emails, slack, messenger, calls, texts, meetings and actual work!

Alright, let’s kick off with a horror story – because it’s always good to start on a low note and build up.

Cass: So recently, sometime last year at a previous company I was working at, I had a customer and prospect focused webinar where we had a customer present and an employee help facilitate the session as well as manage the live Q/A. Now, we had say 200+ registrations focused towards a government sector. Prior to going live for the webinar, we had a dry run session and tested out our platform (which is super important to do!) to make all the presenters feel comfortable with the technology and agenda prior to the session.

Then about 1 hour prior to our webinar going live, I realised our facilitator was in fact not great at using the technology. So prior to the webinar going live, I’m trying my best to ensure this presenter feels comfortable and has everything he needs ready and set up. As presenters already have a lot of pressure to be lively and engaging without worrying about technology. And it’s my job to focus on the tech.

Once we go live – and our attendees begin joining our employee speaker begins and all seems ‘good’, and once we finally get into the content he all of a sudden has a technical difficulty in finding his slides on his multiple screens. And then, I also notice he has handwritten paper notes to read from in front of his screen which the audience could see! and which also was making an awful crumpled noise (that of course he wouldn’t have known he was making!).

Thankfully, this was only for a few minutes – more so in the beginning of the session, but as a marketer managing the logistics and the platform – it felt much longer and soooo painful to watch.

Some key learnings from this particular webinar incident was:

  1. Don’t assume your presenter is comfortable with the platform (and to always ensure enough time for presenters to get comfortable with the tool)
  2. And also, just reminding presenters to use their screens available for reading from their notes

I have to agree with you there. Nothing worse than hearing paper rustle! I tend to read off of my phone – swiping is so much quieter.

Now, I’d love to understand how you’re doing audience acquisition at Okta?

Cass: Audience acquisition can generally be quite daunting for businesses only just starting to run them. So, when you’re starting out – you want to keep costs at a minimum.

But, in order to promote a webinar well, you shouldn’t focus solely on one marketing channel.

You want to conduct an omni-channel approach – which is what will increase the chances of your webinar being successful. Keep in mind – not all customers use the same channels of communication, so focusing on one channel means you run the risk of losing a significant chunk of registrations from your target audience. So, if you can select a couple channels as part of your approach, you will definitely yield great results.

Another key part to driving webinar registrations – is to ensure you promote it to your own database (hopefully you’ve built up a small or large list) by now, then you want to create a pre-event email sequence that drives registrations to your webinar landing page. The time typically it takes to generate the most registrations I always recommend is between the 4-6 week mark.

Studies have found if you begin promoting 4+ weeks out from a webinar you can increase registrations by an additional 12%.

Then, whilst continuing to keep your costs down, you want to build an organic social media promotion plan – and plan to post different social tiles to promote your session by using your speakers details and content to leverage for registrations. I usually recommend doing at least 1 post a week, in the lead up of the webinar. I also encourage employees to share as well onto their own LinkedIn or Twitter profiles to increase our reach. It’s also proven that individual profiles perform better at reaching more people than company posts do – so you want to always include a mix.

Lastly, if you’re looking to really ramp up additional registrations and have a dedicated budget to doing so, other potential channels you could explore include LinkedIn to create paid social campaigns to send mass invitations to your target audience profile. Something I’ve found a lot of success in running is the new LinkedIn conversational ads which are sent as a chatbot style message with interactive buttons to register the user and auto-fill their data using LinkedIn leadgen form.

There are also several other channels like you Nicole would also know, which can be useful such as: third-party sponsored emails, sponsoring newsletters, podcasts, and creating blogs on your website to promote your webinar.

It’s really interesting that you mention LinkedIn actually. I’ve seen some amazing traction from Conversation Ads (if you have the budget), as well as Sponsored Posts do well for on demand recordings. The other I like too is LinkedIn automation for inviting guests to webinars. It really is a great channel for B2B in particular.

But we’re really here to talk about engagement once the webinar is live. How do you engage with an audience once they’re online?

Cass: When running a webinar, it’s not always easy encouraging engagement and interactions with hundreds of attendees. However, there are so many ways now to make webinars engaging!

Some of the ways I’ve made webinars more engaging is by hosting live Q/As at the end of each session which gives the audience a chance to ask the presenter any burning questions or advice.

Additionally, we use live polls and feedback surveys to gather insights from our audience on certain topics as well as collect feedback on how they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the webinar.

For example, last year, I ran a customer virtual summit and we wanted to seek feedback on how our virtual event went (with this being the first time we’d done it virtually) and how we can improve for the next one. Some of the key questions we asked were “how can we improve” and “what other topics would you like to hear next”.

With virtual events becoming more prominent since COVID, we’ve seen an increase in registrations but also a decrease in attendance. So to tackle this we’ve been trialing a webinar series which has been quite successful, by incentivising our audience to attend by offering attendees a swag gift post-attending the webinar. And additionally, providing a prize to the person with the best question for our Q/A session, which was a great way to incentivise questions from the audience and increase our engagement.

We also saw our chat increase significantly, which we then forwarded onto our sales teams post-event for sales follow-up and attendees were more receptive to receiving those calls and remembered the content that was presented from the webinar – which I believed made our webinar a more memorable and enjoyable experience for the end user.

These are great suggestions! What I’ve also seen work really well lately is breakout rooms – just a small group of 5 guests answering a question then returning to the main group to report on the answer. And just a little tip to encourage attendance – offering up a lunch voucher has been working really well for improving attendance rates.

As we wrap up, what’s your #1 must do when hosting a webinar?

Cass: Preparation! You cannot be overprepared. Ensure your speakers attend a briefing, and a dry run. That they have the opportunity to use the technology during these sessions, to understand the agenda and it gives you the facilitator the chance to check their content.

We’re really grateful to Cass for taking the time to participate in our webinar. Catch the full session here: click here

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