How to Do a Webinar That’s as Exciting as an In-Person Event

There’s something special about attending an in-person conference or industry event. The adrenaline rush of going to pick up your nametag on the first day. The opening keynote that gets everyone in the room buzzing. The networking breaks where you awkwardly introduce yourself to strangers and mingle over tiny sandwiches. (OK, maybe that’s just me.)

This year though, almost every single conference and event has been either delayed or canceled. COVID-19 has put a pause on large group gatherings of all kinds, and many event organizers have been left scrambling to figure out what they can or should do as an alternative.

One option is to take your event online and run a webinar (or perhaps, a series of webinars), instead. But can you really replicate all that buzz, networking, and opportunity over a laptop screen? How can you possibly do a webinar that’s as exciting as an in-person event?

Charlene Ditch, Founder and CEO of Charlene Kate Events, says the potential is there for marketers who are prepared to put in the effort:

Charlene Ditch, Founder and CEO of Charlene Kate Events

We’re navigating a new world and while we must adapt, we still have to be thoughtful in how we deliver the attendee experience. It’s an exciting time to be an event marketer and I’m confident that if we are strategic and intentional about the way we message, market, and execute—we can deliver something magical.”

Here at Unbounce, we know from experience that Charlene speaks the truth. Our team has years of experience running everything from large-scale, in-person conferences (you can get your tickets to CTAConf21 right here) to smaller-scale virtual events (like Marketing Optimization Week). We’ve learned a lot along the way about what works online—and what really doesn’t.

So to help you out, we put together this guide to make your first experience organizing a webinar way less awkward, and way more awesome. Find out how to pick the right speakers, get set up with the best tools, and make it genuinely exciting for attendees to participate.

How to Run a Webinar or Virtual Event Like a Pro

  1. Align Your Theme and Dates
  2. Track Your Webinar Goals
  3. Recruit a Lineup of Star Speakers
  4. Set Up Your Webinar Platform and Tools
  5. Promote the Event to Create Buzz
  6. Perform Dry-Runs
  7. Make Magic Happen on the Day
  8. Follow Through Post-Event

1. Align Your Theme and Dates

Every great online event starts with a great idea. You want to put something out there that nobody else has ever done before (or do it better than anyone else)—and this can be challenging when there are hundreds of webinars happening every single month.

That’s why the theme you choose is so important. You want to cover a topic that your audience truly cares about and find a unique angle they can’t resist. You’ll want to brainstorm ways you can incorporate this theme into each of your speaker topics, the visual identity of your event, and the actual takeaways that attendees will be talking about afterward.

A webinar example by Unbounce: Digital Agency Day
The theme for Digital Agency Day was growth—how agencies can scale up with tactics from the top experts in their industry.

So how do you choose the theme for your virtual event? Here are some things to consider…

  • Does it relate to a problem your target audience is trying to solve? Always approach your webinar from a customer-first perspective. Look for pain points that they care about, goals they’re trying to achieve, and opportunities they would like to pursue. Test out your theme by asking your current customers if they’d be interested in the topic.
  • Do you have expertise in this space? In order to attract qualified leads, the theme of your event should relate back to your business. Nobody wants to attend a pet grooming webinar put on by McDonald’s, for example. (Although I do wonder how they always manage to perfectly style the fur on Grimace.)
  • Are there industry experts who can speak on this theme? You might get stuck if the theme you choose is too narrow or niche. Ideally, there should be a few experts who can speak on this theme or other companies that you can imagine wanting to partner up for the event.

It also helps if you can tie your webinar to real-world events that are happening in your industry, or other important dates on the calendar. For example, right now many companies are putting on special webinar series to help their customers adapt to COVID-19.

A Virtual Event by Keela
This webinar series was put on by Keela to help non-profit organizations adapt to COVID-19.

2. Track Your Webinar Goals

Webinars are an excellent opportunity to generate leads for your business and build up your email list. Depending on the topic you choose and how heavily you promote the event, this will be an opportunity to reach new leads and get them interacting with your brand for the very first time. That’s why it helps to set a few goals at the start so you can be strategic with your planning and track how much ROI you drive from your efforts. 

Here are some of the most important goals you should think about earl on:

  • Number of Registrants – Set a realistic goal for the number of registrants you’re hoping will sign up for your webinar. It’s OK if this number changes as you start building out your event—the actual number of registrants will depend on your promo efforts, your partnerships, and how much traffic you drive to the sign-up page.
  • Number of Attendees – According to the latest webinar benchmarks from On24, an average of 56% of registrants show up to attend an online event. This number drops to 43% if you’re expecting more than 100 attendees—so be realistic, and expect only about half of your registrants to actually be there on the day.
  • Number of Sales or Sign-Ups – The final goal you’ll want to track is how many registrants or attendees end up becoming customers with your business afterward. You can set a projected goal for this based on your business model and the types of leads you plan to attract.

3. Recruit a Lineup of Star Speakers

Recruit High-Profile Speakers for Your Webinar
For Marketing Optimization Week, the Unbounce team recruited high-profile names and reps from high-profile companies to speak at the event.

This is a big one. Because the first thing anyone does when they see a new webinar or online event is to check who’s going to be speaking. If you don’t have the right name recognition or expertise on deck, then a lot of people just aren’t going to be all that interested.

Rachel Scott, Senior Marketing Manager at Unbounce, says that there are three valuable things to look for when creating your ideal list of speakers:

Rachel Scott, Senior Marketing Manager at Unbounce

Recognizable names are a huge draw, so you’ll want to look for those first. But there are also company names that can be just as important. Try to find a balance between the two, while also actively searching for diversity and different points of view. Check out other industry webinars and see who has been speaking recently—you can find a lot of great presenters that way, and they’ll probably be more keen to participate.

You’ll want to start recruiting early because you need your speaker line-up in place before you can start promoting your event. One other tip that Rachel suggested is to offer a lead sharing opportunity to big-name partners or speakers who would help expand your reach.

Rachel Scott, Senior Marketing Manager at Unbounce

Give speakers and partners the opportunity to generate leads for their business as well. You could offer a one-to-one lead share for example, and for every lead they help bring into the webinar you’ll give them access to another lead who registered. That way, they have an incentive to drive registrations to the event and spread the word. Alternatively, you can set a registration goal for them, where if they bring in a certain number of leads you’ll share the full list of webinar registrations.

In your pitch to speakers, you’ll want to emphasize what’s in it for them. Whether that’s lead sharing, a partnership opportunity for their company, the number of attendees they’ll be able to reach, or who they’ll be speaking alongside at the event.

Do You Need a Webinar Host?

A host or moderator can help make your online event more exciting and easy to follow for attendees. Look for someone within your own company who might be great at this task—charming, friendly, and knowledgeable. You can have them introduce each guest, run Q&A sessions with speakers, and act as the “face” of the event to make it more personal.

4. Set Up Your Webinar Platform and Tools

There are a number of different platforms you can use to run your webinar or online event. Here are a few of the most popular options that integrate with Unbounce landing pages:

Your choice will ultimately come down to the features you need, how much control you want over the platform, and what price point makes sense for your business.

Beyond the webinar platform itself, you’ll also want to set up a landing page to promote the event and bring in new registrants. You can use Unbounce to quickly set up a page that highlights your speakers and encourages attendees to sign up. Check out our event landing page templates to get started, or see more webinar landing page examples and best practices for 2020.

Landing Page Template for Virtual Events and Webinars
The Evento landing page template would work perfectly for an online event or webinar series.

5. Promote the Event to Create Buzz

Now that you’ve got your speakers on board and your registration landing page set up, it’s time to start promoting your webinar. You’ll want to build in at least one month of lead time for your promo efforts in order to give visitors enough chances to sign up. 

Send Out Promo Emails

A Webinar Promo Email Example
You can send out promo emails like this one to build anticipation for your webinar or online event.

Here at Unbounce, we’ve found emails to be the single most effective way to promote webinars. Open rates and click-through rates tend to be higher here than any other channel. 

Try to split out some segments of your list you think would be particularly interested in the subject matter, and send out a series of three promotional emails inviting them to attend.

  • Email One (“The Invitation Email”) – Send this one out about a month before your online event. This is the big unveiling of your event, so you’ll want to treat it with the right level of fanfare to get recipients excited. Focus on the customer-centric benefits of your theme, and the big reasons they’ll want to attend.
  • Email Two (“The Speaker Email”) – A week or two later, send a follow-up email that goes into a bit more detail about who will be speaking at the event. This is where you can do some name-dropping and get into more specifics about different topics on the agenda.
  • Email Three (“The Last Chance Email”) – This one should go out a day or two before the event, and really lean on the FOMO of your audience. It would be a shame if they missed out on this event that so many of their peers will be attending.

Build Anticipation on Social Media

How to Promote Your Online Event on Social Media
Use social media to raise awareness and get more attendees excited for your event.

Posting about your event on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can help build buzz for your target audience and make them more likely to attend. That’s because the more times someone sees an ad, the more likely they will be to take action. If it seems like everybody is talking about your webinar on social media, that will help convince some of these folks to get curious enough to attend.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, try sprinkling in more and more posts about the event. Ramp up the frequency as you get closer to create more “buzz” on the timeline and encourage other attendees to post about it as well.

Ask Speakers to Promote Your Event

Speakers Can Help You Promote Your Webinar on Social Media
Ask speakers to promote your event to help bring in new audiences.

Your speakers want the webinar to be as successful as possible too, because their name is attached to the event. So why not tap into their networks and ask them for help with promotion?

This can be a great strategy to bring in new leads who you might not otherwise reach on your own. Because almost everybody has an audience—whether that’s through a blog, an email list, or on social media. And even a simple retweet from the right speaker could provide a significant attendance boost to your online event. 

Make sure to ask speakers early on to get their buy-in, and consider offering some sort of lead share (as we talked about earlier) to give them even more of a promotional incentive.

Use Popups and Sticky Bars on Your Website

The Set a Reminder Sticky Bar Template for Webinars
Use a sticky bar on your website to let visitors know about your virtual event.

You can set up a popup or sticky bar to appear on your website and promote the event. This is a great way to turn any relevant or high-traffic page into a vehicle for getting visitors to your webinar registration page. You could even place one on your website homepage if you’re serious about driving more registrations.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the Set a Reminder sticky bar template—the ticking countdown clock gets the attention of folks scrolling, but it doesn’t intrude too much on the page itself.

6. Perform Dry-Runs

What’s the biggest thing that separates a ho-hum webinar from an amazing online experience? Practice. (Sorry—that’s like a way less funny version of the famous Carnegie Hall joke.)

Sure, you can put your faith in your speakers and just hope they do a great job on the big day. But if you want to elevate your virtual event and really make it seem polished for attendees like an in-person event, we would highly recommend doing a dry run with each speaker first.

Set up times with all your speakers a week or two before the event, and ask them to go through their presentation as they would when they’re live. While they’re going through, you should look for opportunities and areas of improvement around…

  • Content Flow – Are they making clear points? Can you follow the flow of the presentation? Do they spend too long on one slide and not enough time somewhere else? Are there any holes or obvious questions they can address?
  • Delivery – Not everyone is a natural-born speaker. Look for opportunities to improve their delivery, and make recommendations based on how they perform the dry-run. If someone’s delivery seems off, you may want to ask them to continue practicing and schedule another dry-run before going live.
  • Visuals – To give your event a cohesive feel, try giving each speaker a slide deck template to use. Look for any style inconsistencies or visuals that could be improved during the dry-runs. (E.g., blurry photos, hard-to-read fonts, etc.) You should also check each speaker’s background to make sure the lighting is easy on the eyes, their microphone is clear, and their connection is stable. (For inspiration, check out some of the behind-the-scenes equipment MozCon speakers are using for their presentations this year. Très fancy!)
  • Technical Requirements – Do they need to play a video during their presentation? Is there a web link they want to show? Better to know about these ahead of time than to be surprised live on the day of the webinar.

You’ll also want to do a run-through with your host, and make sure they know what they’ll be saying before and after each presentation. Go over the pronunciation of each speaker’s name, and hold a mock Q&A session so they get a feel for how they’ll be able to interact with attendees.

7. Make Magic Happen on the Day

On the day of your webinar, you’ll want to go above and beyond to bring some of that in-person excitement to attendees. Here are a few of the things you can do to really put the “event” in your “virtual event.”

Make It Interactive

MozCon is encouraging socialization and networking at their virtual event.
I love how MozCon is building in virtual networking time into the agenda and encouraging socializing online this year.

If you’re not planning to have any audience interaction in your webinar, then why not just play a recording? The whole reason you do it live is because you want people to interact and engage with each other.

This means doing more than just a 15-minute Q&A at the end of each presentation, though. Try incorporating live polls into your webinar to engage with attendees as they’re watching. Get people in the chat room talking by having pre-prepared conversation topics that relate back to the topics you’re covering. Think outside the typical mold of a webinar to get your audience engaged.

Make It Seamless

The backend of a webinar platform.
Use your webinar platform to create a seamless experience for attendees.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” In a great webinar or online event, you don’t see all the work that’s going on behind the scenes. Try to make things as seamless as possible for attendees by paying close attention to what their experience looks and feels like.

Have a welcome message ready for each session, prep your host with some topics of conversation to fill time in between segments, and monitor for audience engagement in the chat and on social media. Depending on the size of your event, you’ll want at least two or three people working in the background to keep things running smoothly.

Make It Surprising

High-fives at CTAConf.
We go all out for in-person conferences. Why not treat your online events the same way?

Think about some of the most memorable moments you’ve had at conferences in the past. It’s usually the stuff that you’re not expecting that sticks out, even years later. A delightful curveball—like when there’s a lineup of over-caffeinated Unbouncers ready to high-five you as you walk into CTAConf.

Brainstorm some ways you can surprise attendees and speakers with swag, giveaways, games, or activities. It can be a great way to break up a busy day, and help you go beyond that regular old webinar experience.

8. Follow Through Post-Event

A Facebook Group attached to an online event.
Thinkific created an online community after their virtual summit to continue the conversation (and keep leads engaged).

Now that your webinar is over, you can put your feet up on the desk and relax, right? No way—there’s still one more important step that would make you smack your forehead if you forgot.

Because you don’t want the experience to just be over and forgotten by everyone, follow up with attendees (and registrants who couldn’t make it) afterward to provide any relevant materials or webinar recordings. This will give you another opportunity to track who is engaged and interested in this content—and who might fit into an email nurture to eventually become a customer.

You might also want to consider creating a Facebook Group or a Slack Community Channel to keep the conversation alive between your speakers and attendees. That’s what Thinkific did after their Think in Color Online Summit—and they now have an additional channel that can reach over 1,700 members. (Check out the full customer story for more details on how they got those numbers.)

Oh, and don’t forget to follow up and thank your speakers too! They can provide valuable feedback on what went well, and what you can improve on for next time.

Your Next Webinar Has So Much Potential

You know what needs to happen next. You just gotta start working on bringing your great idea for a webinar into the real world. Get started today with some of our webinar landing page templates, or keep sharpening your skills with our article on webinar landing page best practices for 2020.

I’ll leave you with another nugget of wisdom from Charlene Ditch:

Charlene Ditch, Founder and CEO of Charlene Kate Events

I’ve always built and designed events around the attendee experience, and moving to a virtual event is no different. Put the attendee first and the rest will fall into place.

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About Luke Bailey
Luke writes words and stuff for Unbounce. While he likes to use a little alliteration in his work, he's also aware that readers aren't always in awe of his atrocious adjective additives. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeBailey.
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