If you’re wondering how to create a successful webinar, let’s start one step earlier:
Let’s look at why so many webinars are so unbearably bad.
See, 90% of the time, webinars are everything bad about the Internet, wrapped up in a single package: insincere “gurus” promoting their rags-to-riches stories before showing terrible slide decks to a captive audience on an unstable connection and begging you for affirmation in the chat window while wearing down your resistance to bullshit before they hit you with a ludicrous sales offer for a service you almost definitely can live without.
What a great way to spend an hour, right?
And yet, to hear the webinar gurus themselves tell it, a webinar is basically a printing press for money.
After all, they wouldn’t all follow the same formula if it didn’t work, right?
(I learned this on a webinar about successful sales webinars, so it must be true.)
And yeah, okay, maybe it is true. Not every truth in life is pleasant.
Maybe every human being in the world is secretly dying to be sold a membership to a service they’ll never need or a product they’ll never use. Lord knows I’ve bought my own fair share of “webinar-only specials.” Why? Because after sitting through an hourlong sales pitch, sometimes I feel obliged to buy and use that offer in a desperate bid to make that hour of my life seem worthwhile.
Even if they can be effective sales tools, webinars don’t have to suck.
If I had a dollar for every webinar I’ve closed after ten minutes to stop myself from strangling someone, or every webinar I watched all the way through just to learn one useful piece of information that was hidden among the hype, I could make back all the money I ever spent on them and then some.
So I’m gonna share with you the 7 webinar habits I keep seeing presenters make that make me want to rage quit, plus 7 tips you should be doing instead in order to make your webinar something people will rave about instead of regret.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Webinars
1. Opening with an endless hype machine.
I get it: you want people to be excited about what you’re about to present to them, because if they’re excited, they’re more likely to buy. So, what do you do?
Apparently, 90% of the time you show your attendees photos of the amazing lives of the people who previously bought into your “system” or “product,” in order to stoke their flames of envy so high that your audience would be fools not to also want that kind of success for themselves.
“Let me just give you a couple stories right now, okay? This is Joe. He was stuck in a 9-to-5 job, but Joe got started on my [system] and now he’s making TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS A MONTH. Here’s his new sportscar, his trophy wife, and photos from his recent island vacation. Friends, YOU CAN DO THIS TOO.”
This is usually followed at some point by the “now, this system doesn’t work for EVERYONE” disclaimer. “Joe works super-hard, you guys. If you don’t want to work, then this system isn’t for you.” Way to hedge your bets, gurus.
I see this opening so often that I can almost predict it slide for slide. But I recently got treated to a variation of it that burned itself into my memory forever:
2. Open with a highlight reel of your media appearances.
Nothing builds your credibility like a clip show of you being gushed about by TV, radio, and podcast presenters on various media outlets, right? After all, if someone’s never heard of you before, they might not trust you. But if you’ve been on a dozen different TV programs, surely your advice is infallible, right?
I made it through five minutes of this particular presenter’s highlights before I LOLed and Xed out of the webinar. Clearly, if he’s got people on CNN raving about him like a hired warm-up crew, he’s doing well enough that he doesn’t need my attention or cash. Good luck, bro!
3. “Tell me right now in the chat if you ___.”
A webinar is like a slide show with hostages. So what better way to make those hostages feel special than to ask them to type their hopes and dreams into the chat window every three minutes?
“Hey guys, great to see you! Let me know where you’re from in the chat window.”
“What are you hoping to get out of this webinar? Let me know in the chat window.”
“Is that cool? Are you guys ready to learn? Are you excited? Let me know in the chat window.”
“Does that seem easy? Is that something you could use right now? Let me know in the -”
If you need your audience to affirm that they’re still paying attention and feel SUPER-HYPED after every third sentence, you don’t need to host a webinar, you need to volunteer as a reader at your community library where the kids will squeal with delight every time you show them the illustrations.
(This is not a knock on volunteering at your local library, by the way. Reading to kids is a super-cool thing to do.)
And yes, I know, this is a sales priming technique. When the rest of the audience sees your plants… er, sorry, when they see your totally real and not at all fake other attendees getting hyped to the gills for your next slide, that enthusiasm is infectious and they’ll think, “fuck, I better buy this before everyone else does and totally outcompetes me.”
Yup. Works every time.
4. “Close all your other tabs right now and give me your full attention.”
Again, I get that you need to establish your authority and dominance by insisting that your audience pay you 100% of their attention.
But attention, like respect, is a funny thing: whenever you demand it, it’s always granted with a smirk and a doubt.
You know what works better than demanding your audience’s attention? Giving them an experience that’s so enjoyable / entertaining / valuable that they voluntarily close their other distractions and give you their undivided attention because they want to.
5. “So, who are we?”
I recently watched a webinar where this question was asked ten minutes into the presentation, followed by a five minute bio for the presenters, all so they could position themselves as experts. (What were they talking about for the first ten minutes? Damned if I know.)
Here’s the irony: they were the co-founder and VP of X for the company. This is the equivalent of Tim Cook opening the next Apple Event by rambling for ten minutes and then saying, “So, who am I?”
No one cares. Just show us the damn phone, Tim.
If you have to introduce yourself and give your credentials in order for your audience to believe that you know what you’re talking about in a webinar that was pitched specifically to current customers of your company, you misunderstand what social proof is and why people bother coming to webinars in the first place.
People show up for a webinar because they want to learn, not to hear the presenter’s CV. In this format, your experience is secondary to your usefulness, with one exception:
We don’t care what your title is or who you’ve helped, but we do care about what problems you’ve solved. So make that your intro.
Because if your advice doesn’t speak for itself, it ain’t gonna matter who you are.
6. Unreadable stats and statistics.
This one is a basic design flaw, but it’s amazing how often I see webinars that fail it.
Offering proof that your product / service / advice / system works is how you whip your believers into a frenzy and convince your skeptics that you might be on to something. But this only works if we can see what you’re talking about.
Despite everyone knowing this, I still see webinar slides with issues like:
- text that can’t be read without supersizing the webinar window (or not even then)
- graphs that indicate growth but don’t show key data like time, amount, etc.
- case studies with arrows highlighting key points that turn a slide into a wall of text
- slides that presenters zip through without enough time for viewers to read and understand
- wordy slides that compete with what the presenter is saying
You may have a captive audience for your webinar slides, but you don’t have to visually abuse them.
7. Not delivering what you promised.
Hoo boy, does this happen more than it ever should. (Which, for the record, is “never.”)
For all the things I loathe about webinar delivery tactics, there’s one that burns bright above the rest, and that sin is not actually teaching the thing that people signed up for.
When someone registers for a webinar, they’re expressly trading an hour of their time for your expertise. That’s the exchange. They’re not signing up for a pep talk, or an hour of pre-sell. If your webinar is billed as “How to ___,” it better include literal tips on “How to ___,” not “Why you can become the kind of person who ___, and some highlights about other people who are ___ right now.”
During one webinar I attended that followed this path, I Xed out once I realized there was no actual substance being shared, just a warm-up sales pitch for a how-to course. As part of the webinar’s automated follow-up, I received an emailed offer to sign up for the course, which had a five figure price tag.
(I stayed on this presenter’s email list just to see what other bonkers bullshit would come my way to try and convince me. Needless to say, it wasn’t effective.)
And look: as always, I get it. If even one person signed up for that course, it would be worth it from the presenter’s point of view. Even if 99.9% of those attendees left the webinar pissed off, it only takes that one sale to make it all profitable.
But dudes. Ladies. Humans of the Internet.
We can do better.
7 Tips for Webinars People Won’t Hate
(I’d say “7 Tips for Good Webinars” or “Webinars that People Will Love,” but let’s not kid ourselves.)
1. Jump right in.
Think about the last horror movie you saw.
I’m guessing the first scene introduced the threat, the second scene introduced the hero, and by the 10-minute mark your hero was on a collision course with the threat, right?
There probably wasn’t a lot of exposition, distraction, or a meandering subplot.
This is because horror films are tidy examples of compact storytelling. They’re often made cheaply, so there’s no time to include anything that isn’t crucial to the film’s purpose.
Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for a solid payoff?
Your webinar may not be a horror story (although…), but the super-efficient setup that most horror films use is exactly what you should be following:
- Establish the theme / premise of your webinar right from the very first minute
- Skip your lengthy bio and give your audience only as much setup as they need to know
- Everything that follows from your opening should support your webinar’s central purpose
This means if you’re doing a webinar on “how to sell more” or “how to get more traffic” or “how to improve your conversion rates” or whatever else, your audience should be primed, focused, and ready to roll in the first two minutes, and then you’re off.
2. Create audience affinity through shared problems, not fantasies.
Luxury pics of your customers may be pretty, but you know what’s even sexier? Proof that your product / service / system actually does what you claim it does.
Don’t show me Frank’s Lamborghini or Sierra’s second home. Show me that Frank and Sierra had blogs no one was reading, or landing pages that weren’t converting, or shopping carts that were getting abandoned at DEFCON levels of fail. Then show me how your solution made everything better.
Aspiration is great, and I’m sure it helps whet your audience’s appetite for SUCCESSSSSSSZOMG, but again: a webinar is a teaching opportunity with a sales pitch baked in, not the other way around.
Get me excited about fixing my problem now. I’ll worry about my tropical vacation later.
3. Prep, recap, close.
Framing your audience’s expectations is the key to any good story. Your webinar (or, really, any presentation) is no different.
First, tell your audience what they’re about to learn. (“We’re going to cover A, B, and C. By the end of this webinar, you’ll be able to X, Y, and Z.”)
Then, as you deliver that information, keep recapping at the end of each section. Repeating important information is vital, because your audience is probably doing ten other things and only half-listening to what you’re saying.
Lastly, recap all the highlights from your prior sections right before you make your final pitch. Sometimes your distracted audience needs to be reminded of just how much valuable information they just learned and exactly what it can help them accomplish.
(As an aside, the golden rule for movies is to repeat important information three times, so even slow audiences can’t miss all the clues. Making this information BLATANTLY NOTICEABLE is also referred to as “lampshading.” Keep an eye out for how often you notice this technique now.)
4. Use your free advice to sell your paid solution.
As surely as every thriller is going to involve a showdown with the villain, every attendee knows that your webinar is going to end with a sales pitch. But the difference to a pitch that feels welcome vs. a pitch that feels unwanted is how good your audience feels about you going into that pitch.
One way to get your audience ready to buy? Don’t just give away a few bits of useful wisdom for free, but tie your free advice to the specific features and benefits of your for-sale solution.
For example, if you’re selling a blog optimization course, offer your webinar audience 3-5 free tips to improve their SEO or bounce rate, then show how your course builds on those free tips to accomplish exponentially higher results.
At this point, you want your audience to be thinking, “wow, if the host is giving away this much useful information for free, I can only imagine what their paid solution could help me achieve.”
And if this isn’t already obvious (and I rarely see it, so maybe it isn’t): your advice should be actionable. People love how-to guides, not theories. They will pay you good money to remove the uncertainty from their lives.
So don’t just sell ideas; sell easily-followable steps that lead to improved results.
(PRO TIP: You know who offers so much useful free advice that you can’t help but be interested in their paid services? Bryan Harris at Videofruit and the guys at Samcart. Check out those links to two of their more useful webinars so you can see for yourself.)
5. Have someone else manage the chat window while you’re presenting.
This one is mostly a pet peeve, but I’m sticking with it: if you keep pausing your presentation to hype your audience or ask them questions that you have to disrupt your flow in order to answer, you’re creating a choppy user experience.
A better idea?
Have a second host, off camera, managing the chat. You can introduce that person during the opening so your audience knows they exist, and then let that person answer questions themselves or funnel them to you at the end during the Q&A. This creates a much smoother experience for you (because you won’t keep losing your train of thought) and your audience (because they can only type so many ultrahype exclamation points in an hour).
6. Make an exclusive offer that lasts longer than the length of the webinar.
“This is a limited time offer that ends when the webinar is over” is probably the best sales booster imaginable, because immediacy + scarcity = “zomg I must buy this amazing offer nowwwwww”
this doesn’t mean your entire audience is necessarily ready to buy at that point.
Maybe they’re watching this at work, or on their lunch break, and they literally can’t buy what you’re selling. Or maybe they need some time to think it over. Or maybe they want to price check your amazing offer against, you know… everyone else’s equally amazing offer.
So, yes, offer a special sale that ends when the webinar does. That’s fine. That does spur live sales, and I totally acknowledge the viability of that tactic.
But also offer a slightly-less-amazing version of that offer for 24 hours after the webinar ends.
That gives your busy viewers, your slow deciders, your price shoppers, and the people who simply couldn’t attend the webinar live but who want to catch the replay all a chance to buy in while they’re still on a feelgood information high.
(Side note: NOT offering a replay of your webinar is bad business. We all know it was probably prerecorded anyway. Just send people a link once the “live” version is over so the ones who couldn’t be there live don’t get boxed out of your funnel.)
7. Keep it short.
A webinar that ends in less than 60 minutes? Heresy!
The only reason most webinars last an hour or more is because that’s the popular and expected format.
You know what mass was the most popular mass at the Catholic church I attended when I was growing up?
That’s right: the one where the priest started his homily by saying, “look, I know we’re all in a hurry, so here’s the point.” His goal was to get people out the door in time for football, or dinner, or whatever was next on the clock. He didn’t belabor the issue.
Length is no indicator of quality.
Your webinar doesn’t have to hit a certain minute mark in order to become magically worthwhile. If you can provide meaningful advice and a killer pitch in twenty minutes, your audience will be so overjoyed at getting half their lunch hour back that they may just buy your offer out of sheer relief.
(I know, this is a 3,000 word blog post. The irony is not lost on me.)
As with all things in life, I strongly recommend testing every piece of advice you get, including mine.
By all means, try using the standard webinar format. Follow the same script you see everyone else use. Drag the whole thing out for an hour. Show off Scott’s new yacht. Ask for chest bumps in the chat window.
Then try it my way and see what works better for you.
Whatever you find works best, reliably, over time?
Go with that.
But if you’re not delivering what your webinar promises, that’s one hack I’m never gonna salute no matter how effective it may be.
Even webinars need standards.
If you’ve ever suffered through a terrible webinar, share this post and help future webinar hosts save their souls and your sanity.
If You Liked This Post
… then you may like this post on the overlooked reason your marketing fails, or this post on 4 reasons why people aren’t buying from you (and how to fix it).