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What is a Webinar: The Ultimate Guide

By Madison Howard

Webinars are virtual events that are hosted online. They can be hosted by a single person or presented by a panel of experts who share their knowledge on a particular topic. Webinars provide an opportunity for attendees to learn from experts in a convenient and cost-effective way.

While marketers use webinars as a demand generation tool, webinars are held for a variety of reasons, from training and knowledge-sharing to product launches and internal meetings. Since the virtual boom, webinar programs have grown leaps and bounds as the explosion of virtual events has created a need for technological advancement, increased levels of interactivity, and heightened production value.

It’s an age of digital disruption, one that is helping planners and marketers alike reimagine the webinar format and reevaluate how they utilize webinar programs to make the biggest impact. Webinars are a necessary part of your total event program and are ready for the next level. It’s time to rethink your strategy and tools to meet the heightened expectations attendees have for webinar engagement. This ultimate guide to webinars will help you break down webinar basics as well as offer tips to improve your current webinar programs.

In this post, we'll cover:

  • What is a Webinar?

  • Types of Webinars

  • Planning Your Webinar

  • Webinar Marketing

  • How to Create and Host Effective Webinars

  • Closing the Loop After Hosting A Webinar

  • Need for Webinars: Conclusion

What is a Webinar? A webinar is an online seminar lasting 30-60 minutes held primarily to generate leads and educate or train attendees. They have long been used as an effective way to expand a brand’s reach, establish a company as a thought leader in the industry, and engage with prospects and potential customers through an accessible platform.

Our current remote work life has increased attendance at webinars exponentially, but even before, webinars were a great video conferencing tool that didn’t ask for much from attendees (other than a little of their time and a simple form fill).

In the past, webinars were a flat and passive experience for attendees. There was little branding, low interactivity, and the production value was practically nonexistent. It was an episodic, online broadcast. And while they worked well, as technology has improved, so have expectations.

Now, webinars can range from a single speaker to a multi-person discussion, product demo to an open forum. There are many ways to create content, and with the rise in webinar software, more ways than ever to engage with attendees are available. After all, engagement is key.

Types of Webinars Webinars are used for many purposes. With a short window to engage attendees, webinars must have a clear intention. Below are a few different types of webinar:

  • How-to content that breaks down simple concepts

  • Educational webinars

  • Introduction to a product

  • Cement yourself as a thought leader

  • Internal training for employees and leadership

  • Professional development for those in the industry

  • Lead generation tool to generate interest in a product

  • Provide access to leaders in the industry

  • Allow customers and prospects to ask questions on a topic

  • On-demand Webinars to onboard new customers

Webinar Examples Most webinars are designed to instruct others concerning a specific topic. Some examples of webinars include eLearning, employee training, product demonstration, and onboarding. The viewer is able to get a grasp of these concepts as the speaker demonstrates their expertise. This can be accomplished using a Webinar Platform, where you can engage with your audience, increase your ROI, and attract attendees.

Planning a Successful Webinar Though webinars are everywhere, not all are created equal. It takes careful planning to create an effective webinar. From content to engagement, webinars must be created with the attendee in mind. And webinar hosts must utilize a great webinar hosting platform to properly engage an audience.

Purpose of a Webinar It’s a simple question, but one that can easily get overlooked. What is the purpose of your webinar? The answer to this question guides everything else – content creation, the tech needed, how you interact – and follow up with attendees. An important thing to remember is that all events have two purposes. The first is about what you want the attendee to get out of the experience. The second is what you want to get out of the experience. Webinars are multifaceted – webinars boost your profits and engage attendees.

Webinars work because they’re accessible. They don’t take an enormous time commitment, are often free, and getting to the venue is as simple as clicking a link. That’s why webinars are a wonderful lead generation tool. With the right form fill you can find out key information about your attendees that can later be used to set them off on their attendee journey to engage with more content or get them in front of sales. The webinar content defines their level of intent and can start their buyer’s journey or acts as an additional data point in their profile.

Set Goals for Your Webinar Once you have your purpose, you can set goals for your webinar. Whether this is your first webinar or hundredth, you need a benchmark on which to track success. The best goals are based on the past. If you regularly get 100 registrations, make the goal of increasing that number by 20%. If you often get many registrations, but low attendance, set a goal for attendance. Because webinars use technology at every stage, there is no end to what you can track and improve upon.

Think about your attendee touchpoints. Set goals for email marketing campaigns, social media, time on the webinar event website, form fills, attendance, view time, and, of course, survey results after the event. Data is powerful. It shouldn’t be feared, but rather analyzed and learned from, and used to set new goals.

When choosing goals, don’t forget to think about your stakeholders. What do they want to see? Do they care how long an attendee watches the webinar, or do they care about how many leads are sent to sales and what the quality of those leads is? Often, your internal stakeholders, from leadership to marketing, to planning, to tech, all care about something different. Articulate stakeholder needs and use them to guide your goals.

Build Engaging Webinar Content Your content is everything. This step will take the longest, but if done right, your content will be worth it. Not only do webinars engage in the moment, but they can also be used after the fact on-demand, or be repurposed into eBooks, infographics, and blog posts. Forbes even has 12 commandments for hosting a great webinar.

Find the Right Topic A great webinar starts with great content. What do your customers, prospects, employees, and those in the industry want to see? What products is your organization trying to drum up interest for? Once you have an initial idea, then you can refine it. You have your purpose, now you need to create a webinar topic that will match your purpose. Webinars to educate? A how-to webinar will go over well. Trying to spark discussion in the industry? Start thinking of expert speakers to bring in for a poll.

The right topic can only be chosen when you have an audience in mind. Who is this webinar for? The topic you choose should interest potential attendees and align with a pain point they need to solve.

Pick Your Webinar Content Format This is where content creation gets interesting. Webinar tools have grown leaps and bounds in the last year. You no longer have to put up with a pre-recorded webinar built of simple slides, no video element, and no live Q&A. You have options!

Popular Webinar Formats:

  • One speaker

  • Multiple speakers

  • Panel discussion with moderator

  • Live Polling with moderator

  • Interview led by a moderator

Choose the Right Date While a webinar can be thrown together quickly, the best ones take preparation, especially if you’re planning to market the webinar. A strategic email marketing campaign cannot be thrown together at the drop of a hat. When choosing a date and time for your webinar, first consider your webinar process. How long will it take to find a speaker, build the event, create a marketing campaign, and so on?

With an idea of how long it will take to execute, it’s time to open the calendar. Go as many weeks in advance as it will take to build the webinar. Webinars that take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday see higher registration than those on Monday or Friday (and much higher than those on the weekend).

If your webinar is global, consider that when choosing the time. Otherwise, choose 11:00 am or 1:00-2:00 pm as your start time. Participants are unlikely to attend webinars early in the morning, during lunch, or late at night.

Most importantly, be aware of holidays or special events. If you decide to plan a webinar on a government holiday, there is a good chance you will have very few registrations. Remember, attendees want times that are convenient and don’t take away too much time from their lives.

Choose a Relevant Title Many companies have their own terminology and are used to phrasing things in a specific way. But that doesn’t mean attendees speak the same language. As you refine your webinar topic, look to SEO keywords to guide the way. You’ll want to create an engaging title that will show up in search, one that explains what the webinar is about.

How to pick a title that will show up in search

  • Find trending keywords using Google Trends and keyword tools

  • Think about industry terms

  • Utilize keywords in the title

  • Keep the title short and keyword focused

  • Make sure the title properly conveys the topic of the webinar

  • Test a few titles with others in the company to see which resonates

Find the Perfect Webinar Host, Speakers, or a Moderator The webinar speaker is a major draw of a webinar. Whether you choose to have one speaker, multiple speakers or include a moderator, the decision should be made with thoughtful consideration. You’ll want to choose an expert on the topic. From there, a well-known speaker can draw in more registrants. Use your speaker as a tool to create the best webinar possible.

Without an engaging speaker, you won’t see as many registrations or high attendee engagement during a session.

Choosing a group of speakers can be a challenge, but can also help to vary the webinar format. A team of speakers that is well-practiced at switching back and forth and sharing their thoughts on topics they excel at can help to keep attendees engaged.

A moderator can be used when there are many speakers or if the webinar is a Q&A or an interview. A moderator should be thoughtful, able to think on the fly, and good at keeping the conversation moving. If you’re doing a live poll, your moderator will need to understand how your webinar technology works so they can pull questions from the live audience.

Webinar Presentation Tips Presenting virtually isn’t easy. Set your presenters, speakers, and your webinar, up for success by providing speakers with the following information about tips and tricks.

Rehearse Your body language translates on camera and if you are not prepared is it extremely amplified. It will be very clear who has rehearsed and who has not. Take the appropriate time to rehearse your script and presentation flow alone, as well as with fellow panel. A polling session or interview will be more relaxed, but look at the questions ahead of time and formulate an outline of your answer.

Presenter Essentials Script outline or presentation slides, remote IT support, personal laptop, additional microphone and lighting equipment, reliable internet

Remote Script If you have notes or a script, keep the digital or printed document on a stand at eye height close to your camera. If this is not possible, keep the text in front of you below the camera. Try to memorize notes as much as possible so you maintain direct eye contact with the viewer.

If you and a fellow presenter are both speaking together remotely, it is recommended to work out of the same document so you can follow along when not speaking.

Attire Think carefully about your clothing. Be comfortable in what you wear. If you have a pale background, wear something with color and vice versa. Avoid highly patterned fabrics (distorts on camera), all black or all white (camera accentuates contrast).

Makeup Depending on the lighting you may need to add some light makeup. Neutral, muted shades are recommended.

Eyeglasses If you wear glasses, check for reflection in the lenses and change position accordingly. Take extra steps with the angle of your shot if you wear progressive lenses or bifocals. If you are required to read text on the screen through the lower part of your lenses, your head will tilt back creating an unattractive camera angle.

Camera Framing The position of your camera and seating is very important. Take time to assess your options before rehearsal and try to establish a position so that you are correctly framed and centered in the image.

Lighting Please use a lot of front light to shine on your face. Use a ring light and place the ring light directly above and behind your webcam

Background Personalized space is good, but it should not be cluttered. It is suggested to add color to your background or use a virtual branded background.

Audio Place your microphone anywhere from 8 to 12 inches away from your face. You may need to play with the distance to get the microphone to sound optimal. Test audio beforehand.

Body Language Avoid waving your hands or gesticulating at all. Avoid touching your face. Avoid leaning forward into the camera.

Content Takeaways Here is a quick list of best practices.

  • 60 minutes or less

  • Schedule for Midweek at 11 am or 2 pm

  • Pick a title that is SEO optimized

  • Make sure the presentation is branded

  • Follow presentation best practices

  • Vary formats during the presentation

  • Engage attendees with quizzes, chat, and surveys

  • Break long sessions into a webinar series

  • Provide speakers with instruction or tech

Check out the full list of webinar best practices.

Webinar Marketing Marketing your webinar is the next step. Without promotion, you won’t have registrants and without registrants, you won’t have attendees. Webinar success depends on marketing. There are a few must-have elements of webinar marketing. First, is an event website where attendees can register. The second is an email marketing campaign. Third, an additional promotion like social media and paid ads.

Webinar Event Website Your event website can be as simple as a webinar landing page or as complicated as your creativity and technology allow. But the key to any webinar website is registration and key event information. The webinar website is the home base for attendees. It’s where they learn more about the event, are convinced to attend, and register for your webinar.

New to website design? Check out Event Website Design 101.

As online webinars rise in popularity, the cost model for live webinars has changed. In the past, webinars were largely free, the only cost was filling out a form. Now, there are certain events, depending on the popularity of the speaker and the value of information, that do charge for attendance. To figure out if you should charge, consider the cost of your event versus what you’ll get in return, as well as what is standard for the industry, you’re in.

Email Marketing Campaign Email is a quick and easy way to spread the word about your event. Pull contact lists from your database based on your defined audience. Then, start promoting! In a traditional webinar campaign, you’ll send multiple emails. As you go, you can track open rates, click-through rates, and track registrations. Email is easy to change, so watch the data and if it looks like something isn’t working – change it!

As for your emails, build emails that aren’t too text-heavy and utilize great visuals. When writing a subject line, keep it short and engaging. The goal of these emails is to drive the recipient to the webinar website. Be creative and have fun with these. Think about what would make you open an email as you write them.

An email marketing campaign isn’t one email – it’s a series. Here is a list of the typical emails in a basic webinar email marketing campaign, as well as when the emails are sent based on the webinar date.

Basic Email Marketing Campaign Email Timeline

  • Invite 1: One month before the webinar date

  • Invite 2: Two weeks before the webinar date

  • Final Invite Reminder: One week before the webinar date

  • You’re Registered: Sent when an attendee registers

  • Reminder for Registered Attendees and How to Join: One day before

  • Thank You for Attending Follow-up and Survey: Sent after the webinar

  • No Show Email: Sent after the webinar

Email Marketing Automation An email marketing campaign requires the right tools for the job. No one expects you to send a staggering number of emails manually – that would take forever! This is where marketing automation is your best friend. With an event marketing tool, you’re able to integrate with marketing automation systems and track relationships with prospects and customers. Not only that, you’re able to automate the email process, schedule emails, and track data with ease.

Social Media Webinar Promotion Social media continues to be the cheapest form of promotion with the potential to have the widest reach. Create posts to promote your webinars. Social media is a place where you can get creative and have fun. Another way to promote is to enlist brand ambassadors or tap others in the industry to share your webinar. Just remember, the more eyes see a post, the higher chance it will lead to registrations.

Digital Paid Ad Webinar Promotion A slightly more costly solution, digital ads can be effective in promoting your webinar. Create ads that rely on visuals and clearly state what is being promoted. Digital ads come with data. You’re able to track effectiveness easily. If they don’t work or aren’t worth the cost, it’s easy to change your strategy.

Finding Sponsors While sponsorship is a must for larger events, it isn’t always considered for webinars. However, Sponsorship can help provide speakers, increase promotion, and defray the costs for simple trade of services, ads, or branding throughout the webinar, or a contact list after the event. Consider teaming up with sponsors for a single webinar or a series.

Check out this Event Marketing Plan Template for more.

How to Create and Host Effective Webinars We’ve gone through building valuable content and promotion, now it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of your webinar. Once you know the content you plan to create, you can determine your tech needs. Whether you have a webinar software or not, it’s always good to take a moment and assess your needs.

Decide on a Webinar Format There are various types of webinar formats to choose from. While you’ve chosen your content format, you still need to answer a few basic technical questions. Will the webinar be live? Will it be pre-recorded?

Here are a few webinar types to take into consideration:

  • Live Video: The webinar occurs in real-time. Doing a webinar live can be more challenging as there is no room for mistakes, but it also allows more options for attendee engagement through live surveys or responding to comments in chat.

  • Simu-live: This is a webinar that is mostly recorded ahead of time, but the presenter jumps on to answer questions in real time at the end. It can allow you to put more into the production value of the overall presentation.

  • Pre-recorded: This is a webinar that is recorded ahead of time so that attendees are logging on to watch a video. This format allows you to push right to on-demand.

  • Whiteboard: A creative way to express concepts, whiteboard webinars draw out concepts and points made by speakers in real-time. It’s a great way to keep attendees tuned in.

Must-Have Webinar Platform Features Watching a screen for an hour (unless that screen is playing your newest Netflix binge) can be boring. Why is it so hard to keep attendees engaged? Whether our attention spans are getting shorter or the world is getting noisier, the best way to keep attendees interested during your webinar is to engage them. From high-quality production to chat features, here are a few webinar platform features that will help improve the viewing experience.

Webinar Registration This feature allows webinar attendees to register for upcoming webinars.

Embedded Video Display embedded video live streams or recorded videos within the virtual session for a seamless virtual attendee experience.

Live Q&A Attendees can submit questions to speakers within the live chat section for an additional layer of interactivity. It allows attendees to engage with the event and impact the experience.

Session Chat Session participants can connect directly within the session detail page. This is a great way to encourage networking, raise questions, and highlight great points made during the webinar.

Web Analytics (Clicks & Views) Get page-by-page web analytics with clicks and views to understand what content is being engaged with the most, so you can modify your events program.

Engagement Scoring Engagement scoring gives your sales and marketing teams a simple, actionable view of attendee activity for faster and smarter follow-up.

Virtual Attendance Tracking Track attendance during sessions for governance and enable CE credit tracking. Data from tracking can help marketers and planners understand trends.

Screen Sharing Screen sharing is a great way to share your screen with others during a webinar. This feature allows you to share your screen with up to 100 webinar participants. You can also give them control of your screen, so they can navigate and interact with your content.

Choosing the Right Webinar Platform You may already have an event management platform and that platform may even handle online events. If so, that’s great! But even if you have a tool that works, take a moment to determine if it does everything you need it to do. Webinar hosting technology has exploded in the last year and everyday capabilities are improving. As you plan more webinars and more events, keep track of what did and didn’t work tech-wise.

As you look at webinar solutions, ask yourself the following:

  • What resources do you currently have?

  • What is your budget?

  • What capabilities do you need (Chat, Quizzes, production help, etc.)?

  • Do you need a total event management and marketing platform?

  • Is the software user-friendly?

  • Does the tool integrate with the software you already have?

  • How many attendees can a room hold?

  • Can you have more than one presenter?

  • Do you need live webinar, on-demand, or both?

  • What data do you need and what data and analytics can the tool provide?

  • Are there support resources available?

Closing the Loop After Hosting A Webinar It’s over! But is it? Of course not. First, you’ll need to follow up with attendees with a survey to evaluate success. Second, you’ll need to leverage your content. The great thing about a webinar is that content can live long after the broadcast date, gathering more and more visits over time.

Follow-up with Attendees Don’t let your communication with attendees die after the webinar. While they should be in your CRM, you should follow up with them. The best way to follow up? Send out a survey. The best time to send a survey is within a day of the webinar while the content is still fresh. Keep the survey short – no longer than 2-5 minutes to fill out – and note the survey length in the email. Your survey is key to uncovering what worked and what didn’t during your webinar.

Leverage Content for Resources Hello, content! Now that the webinar is over, you have a new webinar to add to your on-demand catalog. But that shouldn’t be the only place your webinar lives. Webinars are a great source of content, so leverage that content. Depending on the topic and format, think about turning your webinar into an eBook, blog post, or infographic. The more assets you can create from one great piece of content the better. There’s also the option of leveraging content designed for in-person events for your webinars.

Review Data and Analytics from Your Webinar Remember those goals you set back at the beginning of webinar planning? It’s time to see if you met them. Your event tech should give you the data you need to assess the success of your goals. Gather the data and begin to analyze it.

Data-driven questions to ask after the webinar

  • What were email open rates and click-throughs?

  • How many registrations did you have?

  • The number of attendees did you have?

  • How many no-shows?

  • How long did attendees engage with the content?

  • How engaged were attendees (Chat usage, questions asked in Q&A, etc.)?

  • What were your post-webinar survey results?

Measure Success and Debrief Team You’ve got the data, but data is nothing without context. Framing your data around your goals, KPIs, and stakeholder interests will allow you to define success for your event and the company overall. Look more closely at the numbers. Has anything changed drastically from your last webinar to this one? Did you meet your goals?

Identifying success and opportunities requires analysis. You may not have as many registrations as you hoped, but why? Was the day bad for attendees, were there technological issues and was the website as engaging as it could’ve been? Data is step one, and understanding it is step two. While you can’t always know for certain why something happened, you can hypothesize and present that explanation to your stakeholders. Then, during your next event, you can test your hypothesis and see if you were correct. Need for Webinars: Conclusion Webinars are often lower effort than in-person, virtual, or hybrid events, but the benefits they provide long-term can be just as impressive. From establishing your organization as a thought leader to gathering leads, webinars play a big role in your total meeting and events program. With a great team that combines the expertise of planning and marketing, your event program can be a huge driver for sales and impact the organization as a whole. As you build your webinars, do it thoughtfully and strategically, make quality content, and track your success.

Start creating webinars with the Cvent Webinar Platform today!

Madison Howard A graduate of the College of William and Mary, my passion for writing began before I could read, with a nightly verbal diary dictation transcribed by my obliging parents. When I'm not writing, you can find me binge-watching TV shows, baking elaborate desserts, and memorizing pop culture facts.

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