An Expert Reveals the Secrets of Webinar Success for His Company

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Some of us, when enjoying music, may shut our eyes and focus on the dreamy nature and transformative power of the rhythms and words. Adam Goldstein, publisher of Business Management Daily, told a riveted SIIA audience in Boston Thursday that this can also work for finding good webinar presenters.

He said that one lead for speakers is if you see a blog post or article that's well-written. "But writing is only half the battle; obviously, for a webinar topic you need someone who can present as well. When I see a [compelling] article, I'll... see if they have any presentations on YouTube and how they present, what their speaking style is. And... not to be prejudiced by the visual aspects, I'll close my eyes and just listen for what kind of webinar presenter they might be. If you can't deliver, it will come off flat and uninspiring."

It has served him well. BMD conducts 250 paid webinars a year in five verticals: HR, leadership, office administration, office technology and management. An effective speaker himself, Goldstein helped to kick off SIPA's new Best Practices Series—sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation—with this "event on events." (To purchase the $99 webcast of this full day of great speakers, contact Marija Milivojevic, SIPA's program coordinator, at 202.789.4461 or

Here are 15 speaker and webinar tips Goldstein provided:

1. Look for good speakers at industry events. Goldstein said that it's similar to how "we used to target topics to launch newsletters in by seeing what the most attended sessions were. If you see people pouring out the door or it's SRO, it's probably a good topic or speaker for webinars. Also keep an eye on competitor events and ezines."

2. If you find a good speaker, you can always match her or him with a topic. He made one of his many sports analogies—a good NFL general manager would rather take the best player available in the college draft rather than a lesser player just because it is a position of need.

3. Look in your own backyard. Your editors and writers are most likely experts in the field and may have a good speaking style or can be coached. As for content ideas, "we conduct a keyword search in our CMS frequency," Goldstein said. "If a topic comes up a lot, it's probably something our customers are very interested in."

4. Target your direct mail subscribers. "Our best customers for a webinar are our direct mail newsletter subscribers," Goldstein said. "It's not easy to buy something through the mail, so they're very committed. We cultivate them and market webinars heavily to them."

5. You may need to do a dry run. Goldstein said they use BeaconLive (which webcast Thursday's event and today's SIPA webinar) and GoToWebinar. "Attorneys are tech averse so we do a dry run with them. We'll also survey webinar registrants to ask what's keeping them up at night—even if that's not in the program we can integrate it in the body or the Q&A. We'll run through the Q&A and chat feature with them. We'll also pre-prepare some softball questions, so... they get to knock it out of the park" and feel comfortable.

6. Have speakers call from a land line. "We've learned from harsh experience. My kids all have [cell] phones, but I don't think they've made a voice call on them. Use a land line; you can't do cellphones. Otherwise, I don't care where they are."

7. Go longer vs. doing a series. Most of BMD's webinars run 75 minutes. They have not had success with webinar series—"it's hard to get people to commit," Goldstein said—but will do a 3-hour session if a subject proves popular. They also might repeat it four times as a "master class" because they are always adding new audience.

8. Keep your branding fresh. Goldstein gave the example of the "minutes-taking field" for secretaries. He said the topic was getting a little tired so they changed the name to "advanced minute taking" and got a better response. "Our speakers are usually presenting for free or cheap," so he tries to deliver the biggest audience possible for them.

9. "Niche the niche." BMD looks for ways to optimize hot topics. Goldstein said that in the HR field, a topic such as, "How to Do Your Legally Complied Employee Handbooks" can be "roadmaps to get you sued. Everyone has mistakes in them." It did well but they further niched it out and a conference on digital handbooks outperformed the original one. He also mentioned international as another possible niche.

10. Leave time for Q&A—especially if your speaker is a lawyer. "People love to ask lawyers questions when they're not on the clock," Goldstein said. So for a 75-minute session, he'll ask them to prepare 40 minutes of content, where for other speakers he'll ask for 60. He added that most state bars require attorneys to speak x hours a year, so BMD can often get lawyers to speak for free.

11. Stress other rewards. Each BMD webinar gets four promotional efforts. Between their list and marketing partners, a webinar promo will get a million impressions—"that's a very compelling number," Goldstein said. "We almost never pay someone for the first webinar out. It can tank or they can stink."

12. Cross-promote anywhere you can—it's good for the speaker and good for you. "If you must pay a speaker, don't use your own money," Goldstein said. (He called it the OPM model—other people's money.) "Give them in-kind promotions, post their articles on your site and use them in social media. Promote their own webinar to their people on a royalty basis. Trade ad space. We'll put their products in our store. Monetize their participation.

13. Use other venues to make them a star. "The star-making process never ends," Goldstein said. "Feature them in content, live events and anything else."

14. Always monetize content whenever possible. "We've learned this," Goldstein said. "We still do a healthy business with CDs. I just bought a new laptop and there's no port for it, but people buy CDs." He believes that in the HR space you can get certification credits for just buying a CD, so it may be like that in other areas as well.

15. Sell in different ways. BMD transcribes every webinar for around $200 and then puts it into a $49 executive summary that includes the Powerpoint. "We'll take out the 'urs' and 'ums,'" said Goldstein, "but still try to leave it a little raw... Content is a fixed cost so any time you can reuse, it benefits you and the speaker."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…