7 Tips for Getting More Webinar Engagement

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I recall once attending a taping of Late Night With David Letterman in New York, and a comedian came out to "warm us up." While you are just the seated audience, more interaction does produce a better show—more applause, funny comments, occasional questions—so it makes sense that they do that.

What about webinars? Though we're not after laughs, we are after that same type of engagement and relationship-building, said Jared Waters, training director for Business Valuation Resources. One suggestion he offers is to interact with your audience before the webinar.

"A lot of times people get on five or 10 minutes early, and you have a blank slide there and nothing happens. You could use that time to chat with the audience. We're going to do a slide show, similar like when you go to a movie theatre now—they have the slides going with trivia and different advertisements. We're going to institute that within our live webinars as well."

Speaking during a session on Using Events to Create Lasting Customer Relationships at SIPA's recent premiere of its Best Practices Series—sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation—Waters gave great tips on how BVR uses webinars to engage with their audience. Here are seven, including one from BVR VP of sales Lexie Gross.

1. Get your audience participating as quickly as possible. "[Webinars] can be one-sided engagement if you let them be," said Waters, who will also speak at the SIPA 2016 Annual Conference on Crowdsourcing Data and Content. "One trick is to ask everyone to type their name into the platform just to get that ice broken. We'll ask questions to get people in the habit of asking and get that back-and-forth going. 'What are you struggling with?'—things like that. A lot of times [companies] don't use the platform tools, polls, Q&A's—which is the number one way to get that engagement going."

2. Use multiple speakers. "If you have one person speaking to everybody, it's a lecture format. They're the expert, you're the audience. With a panel it's more of a conversation," Waters said. "Also increases the chances of having a good event." 

3. Pause frequently and ask for questions. "Sounds like a simple thing, but typically people will have 60-80 slides for a presentation," said Waters. "In one case a presenter came to us with about 15, 16 slides, and four of those were just questions—that's all that was on the slide. So naturally I was very nervous and asked, 'Can you fill this timeslot?' But she worked the audience so well that she had more questions than any presenter I'd ever seen just simply by stopping and asking questions often and early. And being specific really helps as well."

4. Establish the moderator as an independent expert. "We've worked to position [our moderator] as the voice of the profession. We're encouraging them to ask those [important] questions and be more than someone just seeing that the process goes smoothly, but contributing to each event."

5. Don't be shy about getting your nerd on. "If we have a really technical topic, we like to get really nerdy with it," Waters said. "You can forget how passionate people are on something as dry as business valuation. We try to embrace that passion—here's something that's really, really technical. We'll get 15 or 20 people to our more esoteric topics, but those 15-20 people are also the top experts in their fields. It's one way we try to lead by going deep in this niche."

6. Try a series. "Series [of similar-themed webinars] have done well for us, particularly in getting people to move from that single purchase to a subscription," Waters said. "They're self-selecting a topic and then if you say I have five more topics like that over the next few months, it's a compelling argument to get them take that next step in the relationship."

7. Always be relevant. "Of course, your customers only want to hear what will affect them today," said Gross. "'How are you going to help me?' Try to be as relevant to your audience as possible. [Create] urgency. If something just broke in the news, they want to hear it. You be the first one there to provide the event... Events are natural relationship starters. In sales you're trying to create relationships; as a writer you're trying to create relationships."

(To purchase the $99 webcast of this full day of great speakers, contact Marija Milivojevic, SIPA's program coordinator, at 202.789.4461 or mmilivojevic@siia.net.)

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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…