Increasing Webinar Attendance

    October 29, 2007

I received an email (actually a comment to one of my posts on typical webinar attendance rates) asking for advice and suggestions on how to improve attendance rates for training webinars. This email came from a vendor who works with independent franchise operators who sell the OEM’s portfolio. He said he wanted to train them, get their attention, and motivate them to sell his services.

It’s always tricky to answer a question like this in the abstract. I don’t have any samples of past webinars they have put on, or invitations they sent out, or anything else to use as a basis for giving directed feedback. So we’ll have to fall back on some basic best practices.

My guess is that the primary problem here is the trap that most companies fall into when creating and promoting webinars. Actually, it’s the trap that most people fall into when giving live presentations or even speaking with others in private conversations. What is that trap? I’ll tell you in a minute. But first, a short question…

Have you ever had a friend or family member who likes to tell you about their dreams? I don’t mean their hopes and aspirations — I mean each morning they announce, "I had the craziest dream last night. First I was riding a purple dinosaur across a desert, except it wasn’t really a desert, it was kind of like that sugar they use in cotton candy machines…"

At about this point, just as they are getting really wound up and excited about the imagery, you start nodding off. Or plotting how to call your own cell phone so you can escape. Or calculating the number of years you’d get for justifiable homicide.

Webinars take time, money, and energy to produce. You do it because you have something important you want to impart. And because you believe that you are going to benefit by having people attend.

Have you spotted the trap yet? In both cases, the person doing the talking is thinking about their own experiences and objectives rather than those of the audience. Look back at my first paragraph. Notice that my commenter said "I want to train them, I want to get their attention, I want to motivate them." I, I, ay ay ay!

There is nothing wrong with having a goal and objective for yourself. You should. But when it comes to getting your audience involved, you need to turn the thought process around. What does your audience care about? What do they feel they need? What benefits are you offering them?

I titled this post "Increasing Your Webinar Attendance Rates." That gave you a clear and compelling promise of a benefit to you for taking the time to read it. There was a huge amount of power in that simple phrase. Notice I didn’t mention anything about how brilliant I am or how I have facts and years of experience at my disposal, or how much success I have had in the past.

So tip #1 is to go back and scan your webinar titles and descriptions to see if they are establishing a clear and emphatic benefit to your audience that makes it worth their while to attend… Remember, it has to be obvious and explicit — not implied.

Tip #2 is an embellishment on this idea that makes benefits even stronger for your audience. Give them a stake in the content. Bring them into the conversation before the webinar ever starts. It is remarkably easy to do this. Ask them a question in your registration confirmation email (or even better, right on the registration page). "What is the number one problem you have in attracting new customers?" or "What is the single most confusing thing about our Xycomeginy 2000 turnip twaddler?"

Promise that you will make a special point to address these concerns in your presentation. Now people have a reason to attend… You have told them that the content directly addresses what they care about. It’s not just some canned presentation that might or might not be useful to them. If your registration software is powerful enough, you could echo back their question as a field inside the registration confirmation email they get. "Thanks for your question: [xxx] Make sure to attend to hear what we have to say about this and other questions from resellers like yourself."

Tip #3 is to cut down on the amount of content you try to cover within a single event. Instead of a 60-minute event that covers details about the product portfolio and selling tips and commission structures and your support infrastructure and rewards programs, try crafting a series of 30 minute webinars (15-20 minutes of presentation and the rest for Q&A) or a set of 5-10 minute recordings, each on a single topic point. People like having a single, clear focus for their attention. Some 19 years ago, during the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush (Sr.) focused the country’s attention on a single, clear topic point when he said "Read my lips. No new taxes." Suddenly all the clutter of many different political issues was reduced to one bold topic point that some people credit with swaying the election in his favor.

Tip #4 is to get a recording of your event posted and available for viewing as quickly as possible after the live session is over. Send both a thank you email to attendees and a "sorry we missed you" to non-attendees with a link to the recording. If your content was valuable, attendees will forward the link to their coworkers. Non-attendees have another chance to see the content. But the effectiveness of sending out the link goes down incredibly rapidly with time. Same day is best. Next day is acceptable. Next week is almost useless. If it will take time for the recording to be processed and posted, pre-set a URL where you will put it. Let people know immediately that this is where they should look. Then post a message on the destination page telling people to check back for the recording. Remember that recording attendees are just as valuable as live event attendees.

Tip #5 may sound condescending and trite, but it is a very real concern. Deliver a quality seminar. If you have given these webinars in the past and people found them to be unprofessional, they won’t come back for more. If you need to, hire outside services to punch up your slides. Get speaker training for your presenter. Make sure you are fully rehearsed and comfortable in the presentation content. Use a professional moderator to handle technical aspects and to give a smooth, professional feel to the event. If you know an event went poorly in the past and you are hitting the same small audience, you may need to advertise (as a benefit, not an apology!) that you have made exciting new strides in the quality of the materials and presenters. Then deliver on that promise. Few webinar speakers truly care enough to put in the preparation time necessary to do a first class presentation job. When you hear one who does, it makes an impression!

That should give you a few starting points for examining your web events and making them more effective at getting people to register and attend. Good luck!