Webinars: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


If you’re reading this, you’ve probably attended a webinar at some point in your career, perhaps even from the comfort of your own home. With all the advances in hosting technology and basic consumer level offerings, webinars have become increasingly popular in the last 10 years. They are great for a variety of businesses and aren’t restricted by physical location like live seminars and presentations.

“Webinars… need to be lively, informative and engaging to be most effective… capture what interests the audience the most and deliver that information in a sharp, understandable style… The tone should be conversational to hold the audience's attention. There should be a number of anecdotes or examples to illustrate points…And it's not a bad idea to field questions, either over the phone or by email, from the audience, because this keeps the audience.” – Rob Douthit, Director of Media Relations at the University of West Georgia.

Being a webinar calendar website, we wanted to investigate what people had experienced with their hosting of and participation in webinars. Even with the best content, software, speaker, practice and preparation, things still can go wrong.

The Good

Webinars are great tools for generating interest in your company, especially when you have great content to present. This was true for Vocus, an On-demand Software for Public Relations Management, who used a video of their annual in-person user conference and turned it into a virtual day conference.

“The virtual conference was an enormous success - approximately 700 attendees who stayed logged on almost the entire day (full day virtual conference)… [and participated] in the virtual version through online chat via On24 and Twitter.” - Frank Strong, Director of PR at Vocus.

The cost-saving benefit of disseminating information in a virtual “venue” is something to be considered. The ability to reach a large audience while spending far less money is appealing. Webinars are great for demonstrating your products, orienting your users with your technology, and building your brand through thought leadership.

The Bad

While there is nothing that is intrinsically wrong with webinars, there are potential problems that can occur without the proper preparation, research, planning and practice. They can be time consuming to produce and writing good content can be a challenge.

Dave Doering, Owner of TechVoice recounts, “The first two webinars that pop into my mind naturally were bad experiences. With the first webinar, the Moderator was ten minutes late. Egads! Ten minutes is huge online. I was unhappy with the second, while it was free, because the ‘How to Write Your Bestseller in a Weekend’ webinar turned out to be an hour-and-a-half long sales pitch for their paid seminars. The gist of the four-five suggestions that they did "share" amounted to vague generalities (but the promise was that more would be available in the paid version).”

It’s important to research webinar “best practices” before including them in your strategy and to practice presenting your content before you go live. There is nothing like listening to a webinar where the presenter is clearly reading off a script, stumbling over words, or saying “Um” every five seconds.

The Ugly

As we said above, even with the best software and preparation, things can certainly go very wrong. There are so many variables that contribute to the success of a webinar that it leaves room for error on multiple fronts. Once you’ve made a poor impression on attendees, it’s often hard to recover and you may not get a second chance.

Peter VanRysdamn, CMO of 352 Media group, shared an “ugly” webinar snafu with us when he first started using webinars to present.

We had done a few webinars, so I was comfortable with the process. Rather than having a few people in the room as we’d done before, it was just me as the presenter with one of our interns, Mary, there to monitor questions.

Everything started fine. Mary stepped out of the room to listen to the audio on her laptop and it was perfect. About 5 minutes in, the phone I was using rang that another call was coming in. I hit the “do not disturb” button, or at least what I thought was the “do not disturb” button. We were using a conference room instead of my office, and apparently the buttons on that phone were in a different order. What I’d actually done is hung up.

This is where the problems started to snowball. Out of the corner of my eye, I was seeing questions pop up. I ignored them, because Mary was there to respond to the simple ones or to interrupt me for bigger ones. Well, to make things worse, Mary had logged in as an attendee and not a presenter, so all the questions I thought she was seeing were going unanswered. It wasn’t until one of our other employees came in to the room and handed me a note that we realized what was happening.

In all, there was about 20 minutes total with no audio. Some attendees were angry. Others assumed it was a technical problem on their end. I apologized, finished the webinar, and then personally emailed each attendee to say I was sorry for the glitch. That afternoon, I redid the session, recording the whole thing. I had it online by the evening, and emailed out again with a link so people could watch the video version. The silver lining was that, but reaching out to everyone individually, it sparked some conversations with some great Q&A.  I learned some important things about how to conduct webinars through that experience, and as a result, things run much smoother now.”

With thousands of people putting on webinars every day, it’s hard to imagine each one being executed flawlessly. As Peter said above, once you have had your first “ugly” experience, you learn what needs attention, how to prepare, and how to execute future webinars. While there are drawbacks, the positives can certainly outweigh the negatives. Preparation is the best solution to mitigate any potential problems that may occur, and if the problem still occurs, then take it in stride, apologize, learn from it and figure out what you can do better next time.

Do you have any experiences to share as a host or a participant? What is the best advice you can give to hosts?

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