by Chris Lesieutre
As I write this, most people I know have been working under duress for 60 days or more. It’s not just working from home, it’s working from home while your spouse is also working from home and your kids are doing online school from home, and you’re on the phone with your top client and the dog starts barking outside your window. You want to scream. Often.
Things may start changing — I just heard about one tech company in Paris that we deal with that has partially reopened their office — but really, we are still a long way from getting back to normal or even settling into a new normal. Here in Oregon the plan is to reopen on a county-by-county basis. So the county where I live started its soft opening May 15, while the next county over, where my office is located, won’t make a definitive statement yet, saying it’s not likely to open before mid-June.
So, here we are in a continuing state of nebulousness, wrestling daily with unknowns. Asking all the disheartening questions like, “Will our customers still need us tomorrow? Will our customers even still be in business next week? Am I going to get laid off? Or will my company get PPP funding in time or whatever bailout program is on offer?”
And then amid the gloom, we see a glimmer, some light sneaks through, like, “Will live sports come back in the next few weeks and save the industry?”
Since mid-March, it’s been like this. We don’t know what is going to happen week to week, day to day. We scan the news constantly looking for signs of a breakthrough. We’re not sure what a breakthrough looks like or even if we’ll know it when we see it, but we keep looking.
And we keep checking and sending email, responding to questions, asking questions, just reaching out.
And when we get tired of email, we sign up for webinars and actually attend them.
Webinars and virtual events. They’re everywhere. And we’re seeing some clients attracting great crowds.
If you haven’t hopped on the bandwagon of delivering webinars, it’s certainly not too late. In fact, you should start right now. Because even as some regions of the world “reopen,” don’t expect to see widespread business travel for some time to come, and certainly don’t expect to see any industry trade shows happening before next year.
You still need to reach your customers on a regular basis. Virtual events, some sponsored by trade organizations, are going to become a thing, so you’ll have to learn that too; but for now, the webinar is going to be the trusted standby for reaching a wider audience yet maintaining a somewhat personal approach in a venue where you have control.
So how do you get started with your own webinar?
I like to break it down into three parts: 1. the mechanics, 2. the content, and 3. the delivery.
The mechanics is the actual webinar platform and learning how to use it. At Wall Street Communications and the Dundee Hills Group, we’ve been using Zoom as our platform for ourselves and our clients for a few years already. It seems like the whole world became familiar with Zoom as a conferencing tool once the pandemic took hold, but not everyone knows that Zoom also has a webinar add-on feature, which we find quite robust and easy to use. It’s an extra monthly fee, of course, but you can switch it on and off as you need it. However, the platform doesn’t really matter; you just need to pick one and be comfortable using it.
The other item that falls under mechanics is “the list.” You need to start somewhere to get relevant people to attend your webinar. At a minimum, you start with your house list — customers and current prospects — invite them via email and then promote over social media, and that’s a good start and costs nothing. If you have budget and are looking to attract a wider audience, it might make sense to partner with an industry publication and send your invite out to its list.
How far in advance do you need to do the invite and the publicity? In the old world, I would have said two or three weeks. But in the new world order, I would say if you have a hot topic (like a breakthrough technology for doing remote production, say), a week is plenty of time, but even one day might be enough. Seriously. People are hungry for information. This past Tuesday, I logged on to email at 8 a.m. and saw an invite to a webinar that started at 11 a.m. the same day. It was a topic of interest to me and immediately relevant, so I signed up and attended.
Content comes next. In most cases this will be a PowerPoint and other visuals. Some people will be able to do actual product demos, especially if you’re selling software — you can do a demo simply by sharing your screen. You are the expert as far as your content goes, and you’ve probably presented hundreds or thousands of times to customers, so I won’t spend time on this. The one point I will make here is to keep the timing to around 30 minutes and then allow time for a Q&A.
The delivery is what you do in the actual webinar, and here is where I’ve seen people fumble a little. I recommend you actually appear on video and not just talk over a PowerPoint. Seeing a person speak really helps to engage your audience. Yes, conditions may not be ideal right now, but everyone understands that you’re not in a studio or even an office, that you’re doing this out of your house. I’ve attended some virtual events recently where senior VPs of major broadcast networks are participating from home offices. Everyone’s doing it, so you needn’t be overly sensitive about your surroundings. Having said that, you should still take care to give the best possible presentation and project a positive image for you and your company. Here’s my list of five things to pay particular attention to.
- Your background. It’s ok to have pictures on the wall behind you or bookshelves in the background. Just try to make it look nice and not too distracting, and keep any clutter out of the frame. As far as guitars hanging on the wall … yes, guitars hanging on the wall … I’ve seen enough of these now to conclude that I work in an industry of aspiring musicians … but I’m not sure I’d recommend guitars, just because the other guitar aficionados on the call are going to be distracted, trying to figure out what year your vintage Stratocaster is rather than paying attention to what you’re actually talking about.
- Lighting. You don’t have to have special lighting, but be sure to position yourself with front lighting. We want to see your face. The last thing you want is to be sitting in front of a window or any kind of backlighting that swallows up your face in darkness. A simple box light doesn’t cost much and is useful to make your face appear clear and evenly lit.
- Presenters. One person talking over a PowerPoint or demoing a product can be fine, especially if that person is a dynamic speaker and comfortable with the webinar medium, but I have to say, it’s hard. It’s hard because it can feel like you are there just talking to yourself. Having two presenters who interact comes off as more relaxed and somehow more dynamic and natural.
- Technical backup. You should plan for something to go wrong. It may be that the lead presenter loses their internet connection. That’s another reason to have two presenters, so one can take over if necessary. Also, viewers might encounter a technical difficulty, and you don’t want the presenters trying to field technical questions about the webinar platform while they’re trying to deliver the webinar. So I recommend you have a person in the background monitoring the guts of the operation so the presenters have only to worry about presenting.
- Practice. Remember, this is theater, or TV if you will, and you always, always, always rehearse! If nothing else, run through it with your internal team the day before. Record the rehearsal and review it. Get the kinks out before you go live.
I think we’re all looking forward to the day we can meet each other and our customers in person again. Maybe in the new world order that emerges we won’t be greeting each other with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek anytime soon, if ever again, but it will be nice to see actual human reactions and have actual give-and-take live conversation, perhaps over a meal … and a nice bottle of wine. (Sigh.)
Until then, we have to adapt our sales and marketing tools for the moment and the challenges at hand, and stay strong. And stay safe. And let’s keep being creative with our communications and stay in touch.