5 Reasons Webinars Fail

I joined a webinar recently during which the will to live drained from my being – the presenter was a senior executive in a tech operation of significance. It isn’t the first time it has happened and I doubt it will be the last. To get the 90 minutes of my life that I’ll never have again out of my system I thought I would jot down these 5 typical reasons webinars fail in the hope that some will read and take not.

The webinar is a great notion – we can attend a presentation without having to leave our desks, travel, burn fossil fuel, catch someone else’s cold on the tube. It should all make us more efficient and help us marketing folk reach far more people than we otherwise would. The sad thing is there are many more bad webinars than good webinars. This is extraordinary because the media that define the rules has been around for many year: TV and radio. So apply a little common sense in to avoid the most common webinar mistakes.

It’s always too long

Think about TV formats. This is the stuff we have grown up watching. 40-50 minutes is a full drama episode – most often broken up by commercials. 22-25 minutes is a sitcom episode, 10 minutes in a news bulletin. These formats define our attention span. 90 minutes is a feature film!

The reality is left to our own devices the presentations we devise are always too long – it’s just the way we think as presenters – the more detail we provide, the better we feel we are doing; we want to tell people about the great things our brilliant products do – so we do, endlessly. But I also noticed that some people presenting webinars just ramble.

People turn off – or worse they invest more time feeling that they have wasted half an hour already and become steadily more irritated.

Who needs rehearsals?

Everybody! But it is quite evident that many of the webinars I sit through are entirely unrehearsed. The presenter is running through a demonstration or a PowerPoint deck without a script, without an opportunity to think about how they come across and without a ‘critical friend’ (or, God forbid, a director) who will challenge their performance and point to something better.

Of course it isn’t always practical to have others crit you webinar technique – but the technology is there to allow you to record the session and play it back through. Self-criticism is better than no criticism. Then there is the CEO, CTO or other Grand Fromage who floats in and delivers their rambling words of wisdom at great length. Needless to say there is a need for processes that apply to all if companies are to improve the standard of their on-line presentation.

One voice is rarely enough

Think about radio – most spoken word radio presentation is a conversation. The single voice reading or lecture is rare and the territory of professional voice artists, actors and so on. The single voice talking at length is a rarity, they make for dull presentation that struggles to hold the attention. It’s not that different when the webinar uses video streaming of the presenter. Ask yourself how long a single face to camera shot on TV lasts? Not that long – rarely more than 20 seconds and almost never longer than a minute – even on serious news broadcasting. A single talking head to camera will always struggle to hold attention for much longer.

PowerPoint (other similarly problematic presentation tools are available)

Too often, however, webinars simply reproduce all the mistakes of bad PowerPoint presentations over the wire: a single voice talking for far too long over a static slide, a single voice reading out the bullet points word-for-word, slides carrying too much information, too much text, over complex diagrams or badly designed visuals. It doesn’t work in a seminar room so why would it work online? A single voice talking over a PowerPoint deck can work in a webinar, so long as the deck is to the point and effective and the presenter is concise – though more than one voice is always better.

The demo that never ends

Technical demos also too often drone on forever with limited visual interest losing the interest of the viewer and failing to get the point across. This isn’t really the fault of the technical presenter, the failure comes down to the webinar producer who, even if they plan the rest of the webinar, simply hand over the demo to the technician.

Just like any other aspect of a presentation demos should be rehearsed, challenged, shortened and broken up into manageable chunks with contrasting voices. And like everything else the demo should be rehearsed. If the technical demo is central to the webinar then it is too important to be left to the techies.

Producing More Professional Webinars

So are your webinars key to your marketing strategy? If they are an early form of engagement with a potential customer then why on earth would they not be? If your approach is professional, rehearsed, well scripted, incorporates decent visuals and avoids the reasons webinars fail you will look good and retain interest. If not then what are you doing webinars for in the first place?

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