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From the Trenches

How to Make or Break Your Webinar in the First 5 Minutes

Mike Sweeney | May 25, 2010

I’ve probably participated in 50 – 60 webinars over the past half decade.   Some as presenter, some as moderator, some as observer, some as researcher, some as competitor.  Some good, some bad, some ugly.

Based on that experience, I can tell you that when a webinar falls into the ugly category, it’s really ugly.

So when a new client of ours asked us for some tips on delivering a top-notch webinar, I revisited a post I wrote awhile back titled Why Webinars Fail, as well as scanning some recent notes on webinars I’ve attended (yes, I keep notes on EVERYTHING).  As I continued to think about successful webinars, I kept coming back to the same idea: webinars are made or broken in the first 5 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is plenty that can go wrong before you even get to the first 5 minutes.  There is plenty that can go wrong after the first 5 minutes.  Nail the first 5 minutes though, and you have a fighting chance to put on a successful webinar.  And here’s the crazy thing – most of the things you should do in those first 5 minutes are common sense, simple, even boring items.

Thank people for attending.

We all lead busy lives, and have to make daily choices on who, what and when to dedicate time to.  Does it ever hurt to say thank you for that allocation of time?

Remind attendees of the topic.

Sounds crazy, huh?  Have you ever had your boss forward an email and tell you to attend a webinar, and you completely forget about it until Outlook pops up a reminder 15 minutes before the webinar?

Remember, if you’re doing this the right way you want qualified attendees, not just attendee roster fillers.  Don’t be offended if people drop out after you remind them what the topic is.

Provide a brief intro to the presenters/company.

Depending on the type of webinar, you may want to say a lot, a little, or nothing at all about the presenter and sponsoring company.  I’ll remove the no information option, as at a bare minimum the presenter – the person who will either hold or lose people’s attention – needs an introduction of some sort.

Tell people what they will get out of the webinar.

Benefits.  Benefits.  Benefits.  What will the attendee learn?  What will they be able to do with that information?

Provide an agenda.

While you may not want to give away your entire presentation roadmap, do provide at least a broad agenda so attendees know what to expect and when.  You should not take offense to someone that is only interested in part of the topic.

Reiterate the duration of the webinar.

Skeptics in the webinar attendee crowd are always nervous that you’re going to run over, and that they will miss a critical portion of the webinar.  Restate the time frame, and then stick to it.

Let people know how to ask questions.

There are many possibilities here.  If you use WebEx or GoToMeeting, you may want to offer the chat option.  Others may want to receive requests via email.  You want people engaged, and if people are engaged they will want to ask questions.  Make it easy for them to do just that.

Make sure the visual and audio components are working for the audience.

Most presenters go in one of two directions with this.  The first direction is to use “scouts” inside and outside the company to represent different locations, browsers, connection speeds, etc.  If those “scouts” report that all is ok, then the assumption is that other attendees are fine as well.

I prefer to ask the audience directly.  The risk associated with this is the “one guy who doesn’t know how to use WebEx” problem.  In other words, 99 of your 100 attendees can see and hear everything, but the one guy can’t figure it out.  You can’t hold the presentation for 1 person, so if you go this route make sure you have someone available to help the one guy.

Show some personality.

Too many webinars are read, and not presented.  Show your human or charming side, and do so quickly.

What else can presenters do in the first 5 minutes to engage the audience and ensure a successful webinar?  Please share your tips in the comments section.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.