Editor’s note: Updated May 2019.

You know about the whole webinar thing. Maybe you’ve even been invited to attend one. But when it comes to hosting a webinar of your own, the water gets a little murky.

Of course, asking what a webinar is and how you can host one only leads to more questions. Cue the drumroll – we’re about to share the answers you’re dying to know.

Cool, so tell me: What is a webinar?

When you take a seminar online, the result is a webinar. It’s essentially a live video presentation that people across time zones can access on a device with reliable internet connection.

Along with the host, there’s typically a presenter or guest that joins the webinar to further discuss the topic. The presentation often includes interactive and reference elements like visual slides and videos. While the original webinar is a live event, the slide deck and audio recording can be sent to participants after the fact. Brands can also upload the completed webinar presentation to their sites for viewers to download if they missed the live action. Bonus: It becomes gated content, which means you can still gather contact information in exchange for the webinar file.

Most webinars designate a short session at the end of the presentation to answer questions from the audience. Attention spans are, of course, limited, so most webinars cap at about an hour.

What is a webinar in marketing terms?

Webinar marketing typically finds its purpose in lead generation. Simply put: A free webinar for them is valuable contact information for you. Participants fill out webinar registration forms, which in turn helps you grow your email list with interested prospects. What’s more, webinars allow you to reach thousands of prospects at once, saving your sales team priceless time.

These live video presentations attract people who are curious about the brand or topic, seeking relevant information to appease their interests or solve a particular problem. Rather than simply selling a product, webinar content offers stimulating discussions and learning opportunities that may inspire the audience to further engage with the brand. As such, you can count on most webinar attendees to be promising leads.

What are the different types of webinars?

Most presentations take the form of an educational webinar, creating a virtual classroom for audiences to learn more about company products and related topics. By answering their questions, addressing pain points and appealing to interests, webinars can be a great tool for building long-lasting relationships with your audience.

Experiment with various presentation formats that suit your brand and goals:

The expert presenter(s)

This is typically an educational webinar featuring a subject matter expert or influencer who’s there to share trusted insights or advice on a particular topic. You may choose to invite two or three of these guests to join the webinar, or host a group of experts in a panel format. A simple Q&A session is also a great way to pick the brains of these SMEs. If you have just one guest presenter, consider a casual interview style that opens the floor to audience members to ask questions as well. They can submit questions via live chats or social media, which will double the engagement.

The product demonstration

If your primary goal is to promote a product, service or new release, this tutorial format is the way to go. This is also a good move to share new features and reveal the hidden gems or uncommon uses of your best-selling products. Many people are visual learners, which makes the live video demo more favorable than reading online instructions or descriptions.

The lead-nurturing webinar

Designed to move your current prospects down the funnel, these educational webinars continue to prove your worth to your audience. They’re not sales pitches, but rather case study presentations, live workshops, report summaries and thought leadership discussions that demonstrate your company’s expertise, values and culture. These webinars highlight your product but still provide valuable, relevant content for attendees.

The upkeep webinar

Webinars aren’t just for prospects. You can also host a webinar that focuses on customer onboarding, discussing the nitty-gritty details of your products with attendees to make sure they’re getting the most out of your product or service. Alternatively, create a webinar that displays new, interesting, humorous and clever ways customers can use your product or service. Go beyond the obvious, reigniting excitement and purpose for even your most loyal fan base. Hosting a webinar is also a great way to keep customers updated on significant company announcements.

The webinar series

Rather than producing several one-off productions, consider webinar hosting that continues the conversation or follows a theme. If you’re lucky, viewers will become as excited to attend the next webinar in the series as they are to catch up on the newest episodes of their favorite binge-worthy shows.

The internal webinar

Some brands use the webinar format for employee training sessions and companywide meetings or events. That way, other offices and remote employees can join the fun, too. Ideally, time zones won’t prevent employees from joining the fun – but in the event that they do, you can send those team members a recording of the webinar presentation for viewing at more convenient times. Plus, it’s a smart move to master the process internally before hosting a webinar that’s customer facing.

What about webinar features?

You can utilize an array of bells and whistles to make your webinar as engaging as possible – and many of these features will come with the webinar platform you choose to use. (More to come on these webinar tools, later.)

There are backend features, such as event scheduling, templates, registration pages, tracking technology and analytics reports, that will help you plan, promote and measure your webinars. Then there are the engagement features that your audience sees as part of the webinar design and experience.

Some of the must-have webinar features include:

The personal touch

You want viewers to immediately associate a presentation as your own, not just any old free webinar. That’s why brand customization features are so important. Host webinars that incorporate your logo, colors and other brand elements into the webinar design. This creates a look and feel that emulates the same style as every other element of your content marketing calendar.

The necessary integrations

Useful integrations will help you manage webinars with ease, and create seamless experiences for your audiences. This includes anything from email and social media integration for promotion and follow-up messages to event analytics tools for collecting instant feedback and tracking performance metrics, including the number of attendees.

The fun bits

Interactive features are the best way to engage your audience, or at the very least keep them awake during the entire presentation. We’re referring to presenter webcams so attendees can actually see who’s talking to them, live polls and surveys with the results available for immediate discussion, screen shares to show along with tell, drawing tools to illustrate the point right on the screen, embedded videos and more.

What makes for a winning webinar strategy?

A successful webinar can score some important wins for your company, including:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Establishing your company as an industry or thought leader.
  • Generating and converting qualified leads.
  • Inspiring additional forms of content, such as blog posts.

To achieve such success, craft your webinar strategy with winning elements in mind. For starters, make sure your webinar content addresses the challenges, goals and interests of your audience. That includes delivering on the promises you make. Don’t offend the webinar gods – or more importantly, your audience – by titling your content “When will the average citizen get to space?” and wrapping up the presentation without facilitating at least one lively discussion about Elon Musk or providing an educated estimate for when in fact we will all get to see the stars and planets firsthand.

To that point, don’t jump into creating a webinar unless you feel confident that it’s right for your target audience. Keep the audience’s level of expertise and lingo fluency in mind, so as not to insult their intelligence with an over-simplified presentation. On the flip side, you don’t want to lose viewers by going deep into the details they aren’t interested in. Put simply, you can really only rejoice in your webinar if your attendees see value in the experience.

Another important consideration is the type of content that makes for a good presentation. Host a webinar when you have a fresh perspective on niche topics and timely issues or when prospects will benefit from an in-depth tutorial or demo. Don’t waste your time hosting a webinar for a minor product release or to cover tired and broad topics. Your sales team can be a great resource for webinar topic ideas, as aligning your efforts will be key for creating a webinar that generates the high-quality leads your sales reps will convert to customers.

Select the webinar type carefully, and lean on participant feedback to determine which styles resonate most successfully with your audiences. Pick your presenter wisely, as even the most interesting products can lose appeal if presented in a dry manner. Consider switching up the presenter for different topics, or find the personality who can act as the official webinar host across all presentations.

You’ll also want to consider optimal days and times for your audience, hosting your webinars when it’s most convenient for them to tune in. Data from Smart Insights revealed that Thursday is generally the best day of the week to host webinars. This popular day may be a good place to start, but remember that the optimal hosting time will ultimately be up to your audience.

As with most content marketing strategies, experimentation is necessary to find the winners, so don’t hesitate to test different webinar features and formats to find your groove.

Remember that a webinar is not a straight-up sales slide deck, so weave in your pitches naturally. This further allows you to use webinar marketing as an opportunity to build your brand personality and promote your overall vision.

Before you even think about creating your webinar, set your goals. For instance, how many registrations would you like to secure? What’s the ideal number of attendees? Consider partnering with other brands, industry experts or influencers to increase your webinar reach.

A great webinar strategy also accounts for the myriad opportunities that arise from producing and promoting live video content. AKA the work that comes after the webinar goes live, such as nurturing leads with follow-up emails. Before we get there, though, let’s talk about webinar promotion.

Are the right people going to tune in?

You don’t want just any attendees to join the webinar but rather those who are most likely to get something valuable out of the content – as well as make the leap from prospect to customer. You also don’t want the ideal members of your target audience to miss out on the webinar because they don’t realize it’s happening. Here’s where your webinar promotion tactics pull their weight.

Step 1: Create a webinar registration landing page

This is where the registration form lives, which you’ll use to boost your email list with new contacts. Before you can rejoice in your growing email list, however, you’ll need to whip up a description that compels viewers to sign up for the event in the first place. Your description should answer core questions, including:

  • Who’s hosting? Introduce the presenter and any special guests.
    What is the webinar about? Provide an overview of the topic, ideally in an easily digestible bulleted format.
    When is it? They need to know the time and day, obvs.
    Where? Make sure they understand how to access the webinar.
    Why? Give them compelling reasons to provide their priceless contact information in exchange for a great webinar.

Much like the title, your webinar must deliver on the details and promises noted in the invitation and landing page.

Step 2: Send out the invites

Share the invitation and registration link via social media, email and promotional blog posts. Be sure to send out a confirmation email once someone registers for the webinar. Don’t forget your manners: A sincere “thank you” complements the confirmation message perfectly. You can also use this email to encourage attendees to mark their calendars.

Step 3: Generate hype

Start engaging prior to the webinar by posing questions on social networks, asking your audience what they hope to take away from the event.

Another social media bonus is the branded hashtag. You can use it as an interactive tool before, during and after the webinar. Encourage participants to use the hashtag when sending in questions, hold a quick contest and search the hashtag to choose a winner in real time or monitor the posts to find attendees to follow up with post-webinar.

Use your homepage to promote your webinar, too. It’s among the most highly trafficked pages on your site, which you can use to your advantage when trying to get people to your webinar registration page.

Despite your nudge in the confirmation email, odds are high that many recipients failed to mark their calendars. Send out reminder emails to registered participants to make sure they don’t forget to join the event. Two weeks before the webinar, one week ahead of the event and, finally, the day before. This final reminder is an especially important one, as it gives registrees one last chance to arrange their schedule so they’re free for the webinar. Your social media posts can also act as reminders during the time leading up to the event.

 

Did your webinar win?

After the presentation goes live, it’s time to see how well your webinar strategy performed. Take a look at some telling webinar statistics to determine the event’s level of success. Think about your reasons for hosting a webinar to choose which metrics to track. There’s value in collecting data, such as:

  • How many people registered for the webinar?
  • How many actually attended?
  • Did the attendees fall under your targeted industries and job titles?
  • Did participants watch the entire webinar? If not, how long did they stay online?
  • What kind of questions did participants ask?
  • Did the webinar meet audience expectations?

You can also intervene post-webinar to enhance success. For instance, when the goal is lead generation, there’s some legwork involved after the live event. Send follow-up emails to all attendees thanking them for their participation, and include a recording to the webinar for continued reference.

Remember to collect audience comments and questions via webinar software reports or online surveys. Not only can this feedback inform your next webinars, but it can also fuel personalized messages to participants. Now that you have their contact information, you can continue the conversation after the event to convert prospects into customers.

About those webinar tools … what are they?

Once you go live, poor quality and technical problems will leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth. Utilizing a webinar platform with an easy-to-use interface and comprehensive tools is the answer to avoiding a webinar disaster.

Look for the webinar features we talked about before, such as screen sharing, streaming, audio conferencing, video conferencing and reporting tools, plus live chat, polls and surveys to boost audience engagement. Popular platforms that make webinar hosting easy include:

No one has to know that you’re new to the webinar marketing world. After all, now you’re ready to host a webinar that knocks their socks off.

Stevie Snow is a writer at Brafton. Yes, she is named after Stevie Nicks. She’s a believer in "to life, to life, l’chaim!" because life is what brings us the Obamas, a really smooth vodka tonic and that moment on the dance floor when your favorite banger plays.