Webinars and Online Meetings: A Guide To What Every Small Business Needs To Know

It seems like a great idea. Using modern technology, a small business owner can host an online meeting and reach out to people all around the world. But it isn’t enough to merely announce an online meeting. Success or failure depends on how well the meeting host prepares. Luckily, many small businesses have learned from experience what to do and what to avoid when putting together an online meeting. From start to finish, here are a few things you need to know before hosting your first (or next) online meeting.

Build a Campaign

Sue Koch, chief navigator of Soaring Solutions, has found that when it comes to webinars, promotion is essential. “Just like anything online, just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come,” Koch says. “Build a solid campaign around attracting people to your webinar, whether it is free or paid.”

Social media channels provide the perfect opportunity to reach out to those in your network and encourage them to attend. If the meeting is open to anyone, welcome your invitees to pass the invite on, but be sure to make clear if space is limited. This will create a “limited time offer” feeling that will encourage people to register as soon as possible.

Use the Right Tools

Popular big business tools like Cisco WebEx and Adobe Connect are great, but it’s important to note that there may be less expensive alternatives that better meet your individual needs. Roger Courville, also known as The Virtual Presenter, believes it’s important to make the distinction between presenting and collaborating and choose tools that best support them. Prior to planning a webinar, he urges businesses to consider whether their purpose is to present or collaborate.

  • Presenting–If an online meeting is conducted with the intent of showing someone how something works or how to do something, it is a presentation. Look for software that allows a large number of attendees, like InstantPresenter or Infinite Conferencing, to open up your presentation to as many people as possible.
  • Collaborating–Online collaborations are usually set up to involve a small, restricted group of people. It can be used to do a product demo for a client or teammates or to brainstorm ideas in-house. There are quite a few robust tools ideal for online collaboration that can help organize projects, including FuzeBox and Citrix GoToWebinar.

One Cloud-based solution getting attention in the world of technology is Blue Jeans, a scalable video bridge that allows users to connect regardless of their platform. Whether your attendees are using Skype, Cisco, Polycom, or some other software to access videoconferencing capabilities, Blue Jeans can put you all together in one place to collaborate or present.

Test in Advance

If this is your first presentation, run a couple of in-house trials before the main event. You should be very familiar with the technology you’re using, both hardware and software. If possible, take a training class on the software prior to scheduling your first meeting. Even after you’ve had a successful series of meetings with the software, it’s important to do a test run to make sure everything is working before each webinar.

“It has always amazed me how some people will spend several days or weeks organizing an online meeting and not test or get training on the online meeting software in advance,” Robert Lowery, owner of Computer Bytes, says. “Everyone likes to blame or joke about technical difficulties when things don’t work out right, but I always see it as incompetence.”

Hold Their Attention

“Companies that run webinars need to realize that it is so difficult to keep the attention of their audience,” Grow Socially’s Lou Cimaglia says. “Even the most exciting PowerPoint presentation and dynamic speakers will fall victim to a user who has completely freedom of their screen on the other side.”

Unlike an in-person meeting, your webinar attendees can be easily distracted by incoming e-mails, ringing phones, or co-workers wandering by. They even have the option of simply exiting your webinar in progress if the presentation isn’t interesting enough. Consider incorporating sound or video clips into your presentation to break things up. But, in the end, even the flashiest presentation will fall flat if the presenter is a poor speaker. Good public speaking skills are just as relevant for webinars as for in-person meetings. If you fall short in this area, consider taking a public speaking class or joining Toastmasters.

Dan Schleifer, co-founder and president of ChartIQ, has an interesting way to keep attendees awake. “The single best piece of advice I can give is to intersperse poll questions – one every 10-12 minutes during a webinar,” he says. “By analyzing attendance data from previous webinars, we found that attention greatly dropped off after 10-12 minutes. By asking an interactive and topically-relevant poll question, followed immediately by the results and a brief discussion by the speaker of those results, we were able to spike attention back up”.

After the Meeting

End the meeting with an invitation to engage, such as mention of a follow-up webinar or offer of a free consultation. Send a follow-up e-mail thanking attendees and reminding them of your contact information.

Buuteeq.com’s Brandon M. Dennis recommends recording the meeting and uploading a copy of it to YouTube. “This is a fantastic way to gain further momentum, by sharing the video with clients and posting it on your blog or website,” he says. With the right keywords in the description, this can also bring new viewers to the webinar weeks, months, or even years after the event has taken place.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

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