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By Faye Eldridge, digital marketing specialist and founder of FYAMI Consulting

As SMEs embrace new ways to engage with customers and stay relevant under social distancing restrictions, it may come as little surprise to read how webinars have surged since lockdown. Webinar platform ON24 reported a 330% rise in webinars since March and, whereas before Monday and Fridays were days to avoid, their trends show that both days are now well attended.

But with competition growing and customers only having a finite amount of time to attend virtual events, how can you ensure your webinar is the chosen one? Here is my 7 step plan to increase registrations, ensure people attend, and turn those numbers into qualified sales leads in a virtual world.

Step 1 - Choose the right topic – don’t underestimate the importance of this. Companies commonly lose attendees due to overselling and under-engaging topics or generally being too vague. Select a topic that speaks directly to your target audience, and one that specifically addresses your audience’s concern or promises them something special. Remember, they are essentially taking the time out of their busy schedules to participate in your webinar, and therefore want to make sure that they are getting something valuable out of it.

Ensure that the webinar has a great ‘headline’ and that your audience know what the webinar content contains – consider using power words or stats in your title in order to lure in and spark interest in new and old customers. Lastly, communicate any key takeaways, such as actionable tips, knowledge hub, or potential networking opportunities. All of this combined will help drive traffic to your landing page, and compel people to register.

Step 2 - Think about your registration page – facilitate the registration process by making the page easy-to-use, simple, and straight to the point. If participants are forced to fill-out multiple sections on a page and provide endless amount of information, they will be less motivated to do so and more likely to quickly lose interest – they just don’t have time. Facebook Messenger is also a good way to promote your webinar and encourage sign-up’s. The platform sends automated confirmation messages as well as reminders to those that have expressed curiosity.

Step 3 - Set reminders– to ensure your sign ups actually attend. Few still do this and see lower numbers as a result. You can do so via email, text message, or direct message (using social media platforms). People lead very busy lives and, unless reminded, are very likely to forget that they have signed-up for an online webinar. Sending an email, through whatever medium of your choice and several hours before the event, will give participants enough time to organise themselves to be present, and make the necessary arrangements for when the webinar begins.

Adding an ‘add-to-calendar’ function can also be beneficial in ensuring optimal attendance. This presents another opportunity for your attendees to be reminded of your event.

Step 4 - Be strategic on the time and date – A lot of businesses tend to overlook this aspect, but the right time and date can be a key deciding factor for many. Consider the time zones in which most of your customers live in, as well as their typical working hours. It’s best to avoid having your webinar begin during the start of regular working hours, as this can decrease the number of participants. The optimum days to host webinars are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, just before or after lunch.

Step 5 - Be in the picture – A lot of webinar hosts hide behind power-point. Be on camera – it’s important for your attendees to see who is hosting them. Practice presenting. Record yourself going through your presentation and watch it to hone your skills. Record it again and keep going until you feel entirely comfortable in front of the camera. This will really help you be more natural and engaging for when your event takes place. Consider your background and if needs, make use of a virtual background. We all know how distracting someone’s family photos or background library is for taking us off focus. Ensure that the lighting is warm, bright and welcoming in tone and when you are talking, be sure to look directly at the camera.

Step 6 Use interactive tools to increase engagement to reduce any fall outs. The traditional webinar can occasionally be boring, which is why participants get distracted, or leave early.

For instance, allowing participants to ask questions, either at the end or throughout the event, can keep them constantly active. Other options that can be employed to increase engagement include interactive surveys, quizzes, and polls. The latter allows your participants to share and learn opinions on the topic, whilst also being very valuable for your business, as you can analyse the information to pivot your strategy for the next webinar.

Step 7 – Turn your attendees into sales leads. You’ve had your webinar attendees. Great! What next? It is vital at this stage to follow up with each and every one of your attendees, in a timely fashion, to thank them for attending and further engage them. Send them a personalised follow up based on their profile, address any concerns they may have shared on the webinar and continue to send them useful resources. Keeping the conversation going is key to nurturing the relationship and turning your webinar guests into potential leads.

It can be hard motivating people to partake in webinars, but don’t lose hope. By employing the tips listed above, you can greatly increase the amount of registrations and customer engagement for your upcoming webinar.