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How To Put on Webinars That Attract and Engage Your Audience – @hillyprods
The Agents of Change

AOCP-Pinterest-James-HilliardDoes the thought of putting on a live webinar scare you? Or maybe you’ve been hosting some live webinars but just aren’t getting the attendance or conversion rates that you’re hoping for. Don’t give up, maybe your structure just needs a little tweaking.

By just following a few key tips and utilizing some handy tools – from platform selection, to creating valuable content, to follow up after the event – it can help you to better navigate the ever evolving world of webcasting. Your goal should be to create valuable and interesting conversations that convert to sales, all while respecting your audience’s valuable time.

James Hilliard counts Fortune 500 companies as just some of the clients that he has helped in all aspects of webcasting, assisting them in delivering compelling presentations that audiences appreciate.

Rich: James Hilliard is President and Executive Web Producer of Hilly Productions. James began his journey into the world of web casting steering the lead generation efforts of a major media brand. Since then he has notched more that 2,000 webcasts to his belt. Companies of all sizes, from all industries, rely on James to deliver compelling webcasts that their audiences deserve. James, welcome to the show.

James: Thanks, Rich. If we did an official audit we’re probably at 2,300 or something like that, it’s a huge number.

Rich: That’s crazy. So what drew you to webinars in the first place?

James: I was a radio guy in San Francisco and then that whole dot com explosion happened here and there weren’t a lot of companies to cover anymore, and moved to some online operations and realized there was a way to do these. Because it was the early days, we’re talking 12+ years ago of webcasting. So it was really stiff and stale and so the group I was working with tried to bring the talk show type feel and flair to webcasts.

Rich: Very cool, that makes a lot of sense. Now we talk to a lot of small businesses and marketers  on this podcast, a lot of them see people promoting their webinars all the time – especially internet marketers – are their benefits for small businesses that they can get out of putting on their own webinars?

James: I absolutely think there are. A lot of people feel they’re for the big players out there. They’re these big events that cost a lot of money, you need to have 300-400 people show up to even be worth the time, and I would argue that’s not the case. I worked with a lot of those teams, but I also worked with a lot of the small businesses.

I was working with one team in the financial industries space and had 43 folks on a recent event we did, that was great  for her. What we were able to do was actually talk to really all 43 of those individual people because she knew who her audience was, and by using all of the tools – not just coming on and doing a monologue talking to slides and lecturing like a typical boring webcast – she was able to get in and we took breaks for questions throughout the presentation and it was a much more intimate feel. I think that’s the biggest benefit to the small businesses, you can do these things relatively cheap or even free these days with some tools, but you get that one on one or one to a few conversation, which is really beneficial.

Rich: That’s really interesting because I always do what my friend John Lee Dumas says, “Compare and Despair”. I see some of the other people in this industry and they’ve got some webinars and they’re talking about numbers in the thousands and I’m having a good day if I break 100. I think it’s really important to just focus on getting in front of the right people. To be honest, getting in front of 42 people in another situation would be an amazing win. So I think your point is well taken that the numbers are relative and you really just need to concentrate on delivering quality and value to the people who do show up.

James: Right. Hey, you got 1,000 people to show up, I’ve been on some of those events and I’ve seen some of the tools out there that you kinda see who’s paying attention – and really that just means is the webinar screen front and center – and I’ve seen 40% attentiveness rate. That means 60% are doing something else. You’ve also talked to these individuals that say they had 1,000 people, but they may not get a single conversion out of that just because it’s too broad and they’re giving out information that really doesn’t hit home to that one or two individuals. They made it so broad, so wide, they’re looking at the wrong number. Hey, we got 1,000. Who cares. How many customers did you get out of it, how many major impressions of your brand where someone came “wow’ed” from your brand, how many of those did you make. Small businesses can do a lot more in doing these events.

Rich: I completely agree. And small businesses do need to focus on the bottom line such as what are the real conversions going on here. And I’m almost imagining these webinars or webcasts as college classrooms. Did you get more out of that small, intimate writing class that you took with 8 people in it, or out of the giant auditorium class that you had to take as a freshman requirement where you fell asleep half the time. So I think that those smaller, more intimate events can be much more successful for both the person providing the content as well as the person on the receiving end.    

James: And let me say this, Rich, the neat thing about that as well is it’s not just about talking to your audience but it’s what we hear a lot about social media today, it’s a lot of listening. So if you’ve got 42 really focused individuals that have tuned in to listen to some content you’re sharing, to invite them in to hear what their concerns are, to really dial into that audience, that’s a great opportunity. Then you can come back with other materials as you follow up with them and say, “Hey, I heard these concerns, here are some things that I as a small business owner can provide to you.” So I think it’s a great channel for both. It’s not just talking to, a lot of listening happens – I think should happen – in webcasts.

Rich: Well I’m glad you brought up that point because very often when I’m doing presentations about social media I kind of split it into what I call “platforms” and “networks”. So platforms are more of where you get to say what you’re going to say, but there’s an opportunity for feedback, places like blogs and YouTube. And then networks are things like Facebook, Twitter.

But when I talk about the platforms I always include webinars, and I get a lot of questions like, “How is a webinar a social media platform?” In my mind it is as long as you’re getting that feedback, but I will say that sometimes I deliver 45 minutes of content and I tell people I can’t take questions during it because I’ll fall out of the rhythm. But it sounds like – at least for this woman that had the audience of 42 – she was really good and built in breaks.

So can you talk to me a little about how we can get better engagement during the webinar? I have some other questions that probably should have preceded this, but I’m just kind of really curious about this piece right now.

James: Well I think there’s a structure. Let’s take a James Bond movie and I’ll walk you through the structure. There’s Introduction, Body and then kind of a Conclusion. 

The intro of a James Bond movie starts with explosions and chase scenes and all that type of stuff. Well, what do most webcasts start with? Hello, good morning, good afternoon or good evening, depending where you are in the world. I need to fall asleep now, I’m not going to pay attention any longer. So I like to get right into it, and we do this with all the teams I work with. We get right into, “Hey, I’m James and this is Rich. Rich, let me ask you a question about small businesses.” And get you – the guest – giving something to the audience, a valuable piece of insight or information right away. So that’s the first structure, you’ve got to start with something that’s engaging and hooking people right in.

Then, when we did go into the body of an event, we do structure it. If it’s a 5 Tips podcast, why not do 2 tips then stop down. That’s where you’re going to take a couple of questions. Now if you’ve got a producer or a host like me – someone that’s onboard helping you – then great, that individual can be watching that all along. If you’re running solo like just you, Rich, you could plan to stop to take questions and address individual questions. So you can tell your audience what you’re going to do and  be accommodating to little moments of silence. You don’t have to have this big wall of sound if you tell them what you’re going to do. So schedule those breaks.

You can also do things, you’re typical polls, you can have people react as you’re giving social – it’s give and take – they can react in comment boxes, question boxes, reacting to things you’ve shared.  And then at the end I always like to try and get folks to come back in with a good hook. For more information, a great little story, kind of bring it together about how whatever service or product has really helped someone else out there. A lot of us tune into things because we understand the concept of something but we want to know how did that work out for someone else, what impact did it have on them.

So that’s the structure I like is a really strong open right to some content, structure the content in the middle so you have some breaks and interactions, and then you get a nice story at the end to wrap things up and then move on. I don’t like ending just with Q&A, that’s what a lot of people do.  I like to let folks know we’ll do some questions and then we have a final wrap up for you where we really want to share some good takeaways and final info. It keeps people hooked, you give them that good stuff at the end, now they feel ready to engage with you on your website, whatever your call to action has been. So that has been the structure that I like.

Rich: I like that structure, but can you anchor this for me and give me a really solid example of what that last little wrap up would be after the Q&A?

James: Yeah. So I could come back with a story after taking some questions and say, “Let’s wrap it here, we’ve got some of these call to actions we’re going to give you in a moment, but let me tell you about a team that was struggling with their webcasts. They were getting tons of emails out there but no one was clicking on them, they were in the 15-20% rate.” And then talk about how they made a difference in the types of titles that they were putting out there, the types of abstracts that they were writing. And then talk about the change and what they experienced was this growth. So by following these steps that we laid out in this webcast, this team was able to do that, you have the same opportunity and here now are some call to actions and resources to now put this into place. That’s the type of idea.

Rich: Ok, that makes a lot of sense. I do want to take a step back, we kinda jumped ahead and started talking about how to create some really interactive, valuable content. We also talked about the fact that numbers aren’t everything, but let’s be honest, we do want to be in front of more people in general, most of us want to have a bigger audience.

So do you work on the side of getting more people to sign up, have you seen certain tactics or approaches that work to get more people to register for a webinar?

James: Yeah, I think one of the best things is people to take a really good audit and review of your titles and your abstracts. A lot of the abstracts that I see with titles – I hate to say go to the newspaper – but look at some of the great newspapers out there. You can even look at them online, but look how the NY Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, look at how they write good, creative titles that kind of peak your interest. Short, pithy and if you can do it in five words, lists work well, “5 Tips for achieving X”, things like that.

But then the abstract is where I see the biggest problem. Often to me the abstracts sound like it’s all about the company – we do this, we do this, we do this – instead of sharing with that audience what their concern is and their challenge is and making it more about how they can learn something and apply something and move their business forward. I think that is where people really need to look. So that’s the first thing. 

I also think there’s a little thing out there that’s a problem with this whole industry, and it’s 60 minutes, it’s one hour. Rich, when’s the last time you took an hour long meeting on your calendar?

Rich: It’s been a while. Most people’s attention spans are not that long.

James: Not at all, we live in the Twitter world. That’s where we get our news these days in 140 characters and things like that. So I like letting people know that we’re not going to waste your time. So if you can do something in 30 minutes. Maybe you do have a full hour of content that really needs to get out there to your audience, can you do two 30-minute presentations or break that down into maybe four 20-minutes or something like that. So that is also something I’ve seen more people be willing to do. 

A lot of people sign up for an event and then something comes up in their life and they don’t get to the event and get a crummy “you missed our event” email and they never do because they don’t have an hour and they don’t know if it will be worth their time or not. So shorter, providing value and letting your audience know exactly what value it is that’s talking about them and not you and your promotions, are things that really help.

Rich: One question I know that a lot of people are going to have about this is recommendations around software or hardware. You may say it doesn’t matter, but for a lot of our listeners who may not have ever done a webinar or webcast, they don’t know where to get started. So can you just give us some recommendations on the kind of software you see out there that you think is pretty effective?

James: Oh, that doesn’t matter. No, it does matter. So I could list off things, I could say GoToMeeting, ReadyTalk – those are more hosted systems – you’ve got Zoom, which is coming up in the marketplace. There are free services, FreeConferenceCall has a free webcast thing. Now you’ll get what you pay for but it would be something for you. Google has their Hangouts which a lot of people are excited about, WebEx, some people just have corporate accounts. So there’s a lot out there.

My biggest recommendation, and I think almost all of these that I mentioned, they almost all have these free trials. There are a couple that I focus on and specialize in because I like ease of use. I do 5-6 webcasts a week, I do them on every platform, I know all the ins and outs of the tools. If you’re only going to be using a tool once a month, then go for one that is easy to use. And you might not need all these bells and whistles, maybe you’re not going to do screen sharing, maybe you’re not going to use the video camera feed, you’re just going to go audio and slides. So you can start with some of these more basic offerings You also have to think about your audience, some of these platforms and bring up to 10,000 people online. If you’re going to have 43, why pay for 10,000 seats, that’s going to cost too much money. You can go for lower cost, or even again, experiment with free. And maybe you experiment with some of the free ones, and if Rich is a buddy of mine I can ask him to come on and be an audience member and ask questions and answer the poll if I want to practice, just to see how it works for you as the person delivering it. Can I handle all of this on my own or would I need someone else on board.

So I say get the free trials, practice, but look for something that’s  easy to use You don’t need all the bells and whistles, you need to become good at giving out your message virtually with an audience in front of you, and that can be tricky for people. You’re talking to nobody even though you’ve got your audience there, you can’t see them, you don’t know how they’re reacting to your content. That can throw a lot of people. So practice, get familiar with some tools, as you evolve maybe you do switch platforms and you go to something that’s larger and can hold more people and has more bells and whistles. Try free trials, look for ease of use and look for something you can either manage on your own and if you can’t do you have the bandwidth and other colleagues that can help you during those times. Those are some considerations on platform.

Rich: Alright, that makes sense. And as somebody who runs his own podcast I can tell you that I’ve gotten used to just speaking into a microphone and not knowing if anybody is listening.

Now you kind of railed a little bit against the 60-second webinar – which does tend to be industry standard – so I’m kind of curious to know how you’re going to answer this. Part of the industry standard is 45 minutes of content and then the pitch and then maybe a little Q&A to wrap up. If we are doing our webinar to sell something at the end, do you have recommendations on transitions or do you recommend that that’s not the right way to go?

James: I like being honest and transparent. That word got thrown around during the financial crisis a few years ago – transparency – but I think it has value. Audiences are smart. There are times when it is a sort of heavy, self focused webcast – so be it – that’s fine and this is part of what the tool and this type of communication platform can be and is used for. But it’s the bait and switch and so many times I’ve been on these events and people promise 5 Tips, and really those five tips are “work with us, work with us, work with us”. There’s really nothing that the audience can take away and use. And then all of a sudden here comes the sell and all the comments start flooding in, “Here’s the sale, I’m out.”, and you see the numbers drop. There’s the bait and switch, they just wasted 45 minutes and they weren’t given anything really tactical to work on. There was some theory which was interesting, but he didn’t give me anything to work on and now he’s going to sell me that package.

I work with teams and I tell them you’ve got to give something. These people have already given you time, respect their time and give them something. I am fortunate enough to sometimes get invited to do events and speak on how to do events, and one of the things that I like to do is give away some templates for building slides. I’ll give away a little production manual that tells people how they can think of a timeline of structuring and putting content together. And I can say to them, “Use this stuff. You will get better at your webcasts and you never have to talk to James Hilliard and Hilly Productions again. You never have to engage with us because hopefully I’ve given you something that makes it a little bit better.”

The benefit for me, Rich, is all these companies I mentioned have made webcasting pretty darn easy. The tools are simple to use now. But that means there’s a lot of bad content out there, people misuse the tool. So I think the more that you can give value to your audience in your webcast, if you’ve done that they will check out your website and they’ll be there for those additional resources, they will buy from you. But it’s a building of a relationship, that’s the biggest thing that I see using these tools for.  

Rich: Alright, so what I’m hearing is the same thing that’s true in a lot of other platforms as well, which is you need to provide real value. You can’t be teasing people with information and not give them something that they can really walk away with. You want to give them something that’s going to give them a quick win. So if you are going to be selling something at the end, they need to feel like even if they don’t buy anything that they’ve gotten some real value out of it so they leave with a good feeling.

James: Absolutely, and tell them up front that at the end if you’re interested we do have an offer, but before we get to that offer promise them that you’re going to give them some stuff that they can actually use to move forward and do a better job tomorrow than you did today.

Rich: Once the webinar is over, what kind of follow up should we be doing with our attendees? I know platforms like GoToWebinars has some built in tools that will send out an email, but do you have any recommendations for follow up in a situation like that – and – should we differentiate between people that actually showed up and those that registered but didn’t show up?

James: I think you should. Now the industry standard is two emails go out afterwards, “Hey Rich, thanks for showing up, here’s the link to the archive.” And the other one is, “Hey Rich, sorry you missed it, here’s a link to the archive.” And that’s just the old model. We don’t have the time anymore to go back and check out something that we don’t know if there’s value.

So what I’ve been doing – I’m on a little bit of a mission here – take the hour and think of all the time that went into producing that. You had to think about your guests, you had to put those slides together, you had to revise it, you had to practice it, you paid possibly for a platform, you did all these emails and tons of work goes into an event. And then you send out a three line email, “Hey, come on back.” l work and take snippets – highlights, if you will – if this podcast we’re doing here was a live webcast, maybe there was this awesome little nugget of information that we shared, I’m going to pull out 2 minutes of that and say, “Hey folks, on a recent webcast Rich Brooks was talking about how small businesses can benefit from webcasts and he said one of the key things you need to focus on is your email titles”, and then it slides right into Rich talking about crafting those great email titles.  And then at the end I come back and say, “Hey, if you want more from Rich, including how to write a good abstract and how to include great interactions in your webcast, then visit this URL and check out the full archive of the webcast.”

Well now I’ve just given that audience 2 great minutes, you didn’t waste their time, they actually hear a pretty dynamic speaker and they can use that information they just got. If they never come to the archives, so be it. But are they more inclined to come to the archive, they are.

A lot of the companies I work with are Fortune 500 and above, I don’t have the numbers to share as to what their change rates are, but they keep coming back saying, “Hey James, we need to do that now with every one of our events because we’re getting better conversion rates, we’re driving more traffic.”

So those are things you can do. You can do follow up podcasts, you can do a Q&A podcast of questions that you didn’t get to – 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes – drive back to the archive. Use the media that’s here and available to you now to promote these events and keep it going. I don’t suggest – and this is one final little nod on this topic – if it was a dog and you did a webcast and it just didn’t resonate, you didn’t get a lot of questions, the energy was low, it just didn’t work, put it on the heap and move on to something else. If you had an event that was solid and people were sharing it, that’s where you even more so want to take little nuggets and seed that out there on all your social channels. These little two minutes can go on Facebook and your blogs and all that type of stuff. Celebrate what was great, and what wasn’t so hot, move on from it and do another one.  

Rich: I think that’s great advice, and we’ve talked about this before, too, is just repurposing some really good content because not everybody wants to sit through a 30 minute or a 60 minute webinar, it may just not be their cup of tea. But they might listen to a podcast or they might watch a short video or they might read an email or blog post  or even turn it into an infographic. Whatever it is, repurpose that content in a way that your audience wants to digest it.

James: “Digest it”, I love that. Digest it, snack on it, whatever your culinary word of the day is, make it easy for the audience. We talk about low friction out there in marketing, you do it in sales and websites, you want people to be able to get right to your offering. Low friction, make it easy. Zappos, Amazon, all those companies have made it really easy to get through their sites and get products right to your door. The same thing when you’re doing some of your marketing, make it easy, give them something and then have them register. You can do the same on the front end.

I could, on a webcast, get on and you and I will do a 3 minute, “Hey folks, Rich Brooks and James Hilliard here. On x date we’re going to be doing this live webinar. Rich, give me one tip that folks are going to hear.” Give them a tip right there. And then tell them if they want more tips like that then head on over and register for the webcast and we’ll see them live on whatever date that is. And that’s another neat way to be promoting instead of just a landing page and an email.

Rich: Cool. Now you talked about this a little bit so I’m just kind of curious, you talked about having it available for replay. I’ve also seen marketers out there saying, “There will be no replay”, is there a benefit to that type of scarcity where you get more people to show up by saying that there’s not going to be a replay – assuming that you’re telling them the truth – or is it better to just have that available all the time on demand on your website, or is it not a one size fits all?

James: I don’t think it’s one size fits all. I think there are reasons that people do and include certain webcasts. They might be doing certain type of a bootcamp-type service that’s teaching someone. We’ll go back to the financial services industry, I know there are certain folks that will say they’ll give you tips, but you’re going to sign up for this marketing plan, and as part of that there are some webcasts. So if that is it, if it’s unique content that someone has been paying for, then yeah, keep it unique and do not spread it out there to the masses.

If it’s free, make the replay available. Your best prospect could become your best customer, come on and be there and they’ve got a sick kid at home or something happens at work that they have to deal with or their internet goes down and they don’t hear everything. Do you want to limit and tell them they can’t hear it? They could have been your biggest sale that year, but because you thought you can’t give a free archive. Give the archive, put it out there, I absolutely think you should. Payment is different, if you’re paying for it there is an exclusivity, otherwise archive, archive, archive. We’re an on demand world, we want to be able to get stuff when we want it.

Rich: Makes sense. One more question. You had talked a little bit about having guests or hosts through all this sort of stuff, I’ve always just gotten on and done a webinar by myself. What is the benefit of having a host or somebody there to help me?

James: Let me ask you, in the 30 minutes before you’ve done your live webinar, how often did you open your mouth, who did you talk to in the 30 minutes before you went live?

Rich: Honestly, probably no one. I mean, I’m usually trying to get into my head space.

James: Right. So my experience has just been if you and I get a chance to chat for that 30 minutes ahead of time, yeah, we’ll talk some of the content, but I’m going to talk to you about my favorite basketball team or maybe I’m going to find out from you where you went with your pet this weekend out at the beach or something like that. So we’re going to get loose and just feel comfortable, and then we’re going to go out there and perform.

Part of it is having an insurance policy. If something goes wrong, can someone be there that’s part of your team that knows the tools, the topic, those types of things, to keep things moving. It’s technology, stuff happens. We lose our place, a file doesn’t come in, whatever happens. Energy is a big thing. It’s also different voices. You and I have different voices, different styles and tones to our voice, that hopefully is engaging with the audience and keeps them coming back and forth. It mixes things up. Those long, droning monologue hours can be very difficult to listen to, that’s why I also like structuring breaks because it’s something different, it draws people’s attention away from the email that they drifted over to. All of a sudden they hear a pause and a different voice, they hear a call to action to touch their keyboard to answer a poll, they snap back and they’re engaged.

So one of the biggest values is the benefit of having more energy, more conversation, some of us can lull into the mode of a monotone lecture. If you’ve done it a lot and you have the stamina you can absolutely do these alone, but I think it is great to have someone on your team that can help out. If you don’t have that there are folks out there that do this type of work and moderate and things like that. The team approach is really the best way to go if you can.

Rich: Great stuff. And I have done a number of – whether they’re webcasts or podcasts or whatever – over the years and things do go wrong. I was actually presenting for the Social Media Success Summit – part of Social Media Examiner’s social event – and I found a nice building where my brother worked as a lawyer, they put me in a room and I started my presentation and the fire alarms went off and they had to evacuate the building. And I’m like, until I see flames, I’m going to finish this presentation. And I think in the background of that recording you can hear alarm sounds, but I wasn’t leaving.

James: It happened to me, I was the moderator. So that sucked because I did have to go. We had the fire department come up to that floor and tell us we had to go. So I had to tell the guests that I was leaving.

Now I’ll go back to, you were asking about tools, we chose a tool very easy to use that that individual was able to get screen control very quickly. I hustled back to my hotel 5 minutes away and got back online and was able to continue, but it’s live and things can go wiggy, so the more people you’ve got helping you, the better. 

Rich: I think the biggest takeaway I have from today’s conversation is always bring a fire extinguisher to a webinar.

James: That might be the biggest takeaway ever.

Rich: Awesome. James, where can we find you online?

James: Hillyproductions.com is where you can go and there’s some examples of some of the work we do, there’s some documents that I’ve got up there, like I mentioned some of those PowerPoint templates and things like that are available there. I encourage people to check it out and if you want more information or want to have a chat, you can reach me there.

Rich: Awesome. James, thank you very much for your time today.

James: My pleasure, Rich.

Show Notes:

  • Go to James’s website to learn more about him, chat him up, as well as get some free stuff!
  • Follow James on Twitter and mention you heard him on the Agents Of Change podcast.
  • James suggested a few platforms to use to host your webinars, sure to fit any budget size:
  • If you love the guests and topics covered on this podcast, consider checking out the upcoming Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference. You’ll not only get to see Rich Brooks in the flesh (or on your computer screen), but you’ll get great information from well respected industry leaders on the topics of search, social and mobile marketing. AOCP-FB-James-Hilliard