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Tips for Winning Webcasts

October 7, 2008 

Almost anything you can do in a white paper you can do in a webcast (“webinar,” by the way, is a trademarked term). So why choose the multimedia approach?

One reason is speed. If you have a speaker and a presentation, a webcast gets your message online with a minimum of pre-production work. Be aware, though, that publishers are more inventory-constrained with webcasts and your waiting time could be months. Another reason is speaker quality. If you have a great speaker, whether your own employee or an outsider, a webcast can deliver a provocative forum for your message. A third is audience interaction. Live webcasts can create a real-time dialog with the audience that you can’t get in any other online medium. Finally, webcasts let you work with complex formats like panel discussions or Q&A interviews that don’t work in print.

But there are tradeoffs. The biggest is audience engagement. Because a webcast requires your audience to invest a significant amount of time in front of the computer, you risk reaching a smaller audience.  Podcasting offers a possible solution to this problem, but I’ll deal with that in a separate newsletter. Webcasts may also be more costly. It’s also harder to repurpose a webcast created in a proprietary format for use with another partner’s service. If you want maximum flexibility, check to be sure your program can be delivered over a standard media player like Real Player.

If you’ve decided to go the webcast route, here are a few factors to consider in making your event a success:

Write for the medium – A webcast is a direct-access experience, meaning that you have little flexibility for tangents, sidebars and appendices. Choose a topic that can be address serially from beginning to end. A repurposed conference presentation or training seminar is a good choice. Provide an agenda at the front end and stick to it. Break your presentation up into digestible segments and indicate clearly when you’re transitioning from one topic to another. Remember that your audience may tune out or become distracted at times. You want them to be able to return to your presentation without losing their place.

Choose a good speaker – You’ll want someone with a clear, deliberate cadence and an engaging style. Stammers, pauses and mumbles will undermine your message. Remember that your smartest technical people aren’t necessarily your best speakers. If you’re inviting listener questions or comments, choose a speaker who’s fast on his or her feet. It can be time-consuming and expensive to go back and edit a presentation later.

Keep it brief – People have about a half-hour attention span for an online event. If you’re going to go much over that, be aware that you will lose listeners. If you’ve bought a full hour of speaking time, break up your presentation into segments that will re-engage the listeners. For example, go to questions, launch an instant poll or bring in a second speaker for a discussion.

Keep slides readable – I always recommend using a lot of visuals because they keep the audience engaged and provide structure and pacing for your speaker. But be aware that your audience may not have the full screen available to look at your slides. Spread your visuals across more slides, if possible, and use fonts and images that won’t make your viewers squint. Large images can take a long time to load and may cause the audio to break up on slow connections.

Take advantage of interactive features – If your service provider offers the option of interactive questions/comments from your audience or real-time polling, take advantage of it. It’s a great way to get feedback on the spot and learn something about your audience’s interests. Be aware, though, that live events offer less margin for error and tighter scheduling options. Also, not every event lends itself to interactivity. A technical topic oriented toward developers usually generates better interaction than a market overview or other general topic.

Make slides available for download – Your listeners should have the option of reviewing and sharing your visuals. It’s a great way to generate follow-up inquiries and some media partners can give you a registration form that generates leads from slide downloads. If you’re concerned about intellectual property, use PowerPoint’s non-editable .pps format.

Some media partners offer you a turnkey option to create a printed version of your presentation. This can be a great way to generate leads by offering content as a white paper for hosting on your site or elsewhere.

A few words on video: With nearly 90% of business Internet users now using high-speed connections, video is an attractive webcast option. However, it’s generally much more expensive, requires travel and can introduce scheduling complexities. For industry giant companies, video can be a way to enhance their upscale image. And there are some things you can do with video that you can’t with a simple audio format. However, I think for most companies video is an expensive indulgence.

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