By Andrew Millard, Director of Marketing and e-Commerce, Citrix Online

Engaging with prospects and marketing products and services to generate new opportunities and revenue streams is critical to businesses of all sizes. But how can businesses realistically meet, present and engage with a large audience at the same time?

An increasingly popular approach is through webinars - presentations, lectures, workshops or seminars which are transmitted over the internet. Some companies have recognised that they are a viable and effective alternative to large scale events which benefit businesses and participants alike, as their interactive nature enables people to give, receive and discuss information in real time, while saving money on venues, catering and travel arrangements.

Here are some of my top tips on how to host a successful webinar:

1. Plan wisely — People have busy schedules, so organise your webinar far in advance, giving attendees enough time to plan their schedules around your event. Avoid holding your webinar at lunch time or close to the end of the day, as it’s likely your target participants will not be in the office or will be wrapping up and keen to get home.

2. Publicise the webinar — Invite potential attendees well in advance, so they can include it in their calendar — giving them at least three weeks notice. Send them a webinar description, letting them know who the webinar is intended for and what it will offer them. And don’t forget to follow up with reminders nearer the time, so it doesn’t fall off their radar.

3. Choose your webinar provider carefully — Take time to test different webinar tools and opt for the one you feel will allow you to run a smooth session, with an easy-to-use interface that will allow you to switch between speakers. Also keep your participants in mind when you are making your choice - the best webinar providers will insert a meeting in the participant’s Outlook calendar with the click of a button, so you won’t lose any attendees because they were too busy to remember to join! ‘All you can meet’ pricing plans will allow you to hold as many webinars as you want.

4. Make sure that you know how to work the technology — Give yourself time to ensure you know your webinar software well. For the participants, there is nothing worse than a presenter who is not clued up on how the software works. Take it for a test run prior to the presentation so you are fully prepared and everything will run smoothly.

5. Know your audience — Keep track of all people invited to the webinar and those who are planning to attend. Plan your presentation by studying your audience and finding information that will be useful to them to ensure you deliver content that is highly relevant.

6. Make an agenda — Webinar participants want to get something valuable out of their participation, so make sure you give it to them! Inform the participants of the agenda ahead of the webinar so they know who will be presenting, what will be covered and how long it will last. This will also allow them to prepare questions in advance.

7. Plan your visuals — In a webinar scenario, when eye contact is not an option, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Webinars rely on audio and visuals to engage the audience so avoid using slides with too much text and opt for interesting pictures or videos, such as screen grabs, graphs, stock photos or video testimonials.

8. Keep your audience engaged — We all like to have our say. By conducting polls during the webinar you can keep your audience interested in the presentation and allow them to express their views. In return, you will be able to gather opinions and feedback in real-time. Also encourage your participants to use the webinar’s chat function, so they can interact with other attendees. When you have reached the end of the presentation, make some time for a Q&A, which will make your webinar even more engaging and informative. And remember that webinars should be treated like face-to-face presentations and not a conference call, so practice to ensure you get across plenty of energy and presence, making a positive and lasting impact.

9. Record the webinar — By recording the webinar, you can make it available to those who couldn’t attend or would like to listen again — useful as some reports say that four times as many people choose to view a webinar at their own convenience. You could also use the recorded webinar in a post-event e-mail marketing campaign, linking to a recording on your website.

10. Follow up — Always contact attendees after the webinar to thank them for their participation and give them the opportunity to provide valuable feedback. Also communicate with those who signed up for the webinar but could not attend by letting them know that the recorded webinar is available to be viewed online, on demand. This also offers a great way to promote other webinars that may be of interest.

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