Since it doesn't seem as though we'll be going back to in-person events anytime soon, knowing how to plan and execute a webinar successfully became a “nice-to-have” skill for PR professionals.
Munro/Thompson, the Public Relations firm I work for, sponsored two of the first webinars organized by CPRS Vancouver and I had the opportunity to learn, with other volunteers and Chapters’ Directors, how to implement the most popular type of professional development events happening nowadays: the webinar.
Here are the 10 steps I learned while planning and executing webinars for CPRS Vancouver:
Step 1: Identify a relevant topic and speaker(s)
First and foremost, you need to know who is your target audience and what kind of content they want and/or need to learn. Think about it: what have they been talking about or identified in a survey that they would like to learn more about? Perhaps it could be a topic you believe they should have a better understanding of, such as a specific software or the latest trends in our industry.
Once you have a clear idea of the ideal topic and subtopics to be discussed during the webinar, you can look for subject-matter experts who can talk about it and bring value to your audience. Choosing the ideal speakers for your event will depend on several factors, such as service fees, public speaking skills, and availability.
Step 2: Select the date and time
Webinars offer more flexibility to attendees as they don’t need to leave the house to attend it, but watch out for other events your audience might want to attend to avoid scheduling it at the same time. According to the survey we conducted after our own webinar, over 70% of the attendees would like to attend future webinars in the early evening (around 5pm). Try to get a sense of what timing your target audience prefers.
Step 3: Select the ideal webinar platform
Here is where it’s different from a regular event. Because at Munro/Thompson we already use Zoom for online meetings and we love it, it made sense to just pay for the webinar add-on. If you don’t use it or are not familiar with platforms that offers webinars and want some direction to make a decision, here are some important features and details to watch for:
Registration form: build your form based on the information required to understand your registrants’ profile and effectively communicate with them. Different platforms might offer more or less flexibility on this.
Landing page: option to create a web page with essential information about the webinar: title, description, speaker information and other relevant details you need to inform.
Branding: add your brand style to the landing page and make it more attractive to registrants. The more customizable the settings, the better.
Source tracking: option to track from which platforms your registrants are coming from through unique tracking URLs. A great option to find out which platform to focus more promotion efforts in the future.
Chat: it allows panelists and hosts to interact with attendees and/or let attendees interact amongst themselves during the webinar. It’s a good “thermometer” to identify if you are delivering quality content.
Q&A panel: it centralizes questions in a single place and helps hosts manage inquiries more efficiently.
Polls: asking questions to attendees is a great way to engage and understand them better. Definitely an interesting feature to consider.
Live broadcast: it allows you to live broadcast the webinar to other platforms such as Facebook or YouTube. It’s a great way to expand your audience in case you reached your attendee limit or want to attract more users to those platforms.
Price: webinar pricing depends on the desired number of attendees. Most tools offer different packages that can range from 100 to 10,000 attendees. The more attendees you need, the more expensive it gets.
Here is a blog post I found helpful when explaining 10 of the most popular webinars platforms in the market to help you find the one that best fits your needs.
Step 4: Set up your webinar
This step will be different in each webinar platform, but with Zoom, it was very straightforward. There are a few settings that can be easily missed, so make a note to:
Add an alternative host: If something unpredictable happens and you can’t make it on time to the webinar or host it at all, you need a backup to replace you. Always good to have a plan B!
Add panelists: invite your speakers and support team so they can save the link on their calendars. You can promote your team to co-hosts during the webinar if necessary.
Allow practice session: This option will allow you to start the webinar earlier than the official time to do a final run-through with your team without allowing registrants to join you. Once you are ready to start, you can just select the option “broadcast” and participants will join you.
Choose where to save your webinar recording: If you decide to record your webinar, you can choose what works best for you: Zoom’s cloud or your computer. The recording will be downloaded as soon as you end the webinar.
Stop registration when the registrants limit is reached: Nobody likes signing up for a webinar and not being able to join it as expected. Don’t forget to stop registration once your package reaches its limits and be fair with your registrants.
Customize your registration form: Pre-set forms might only request the registrant’s name and email address. Think of what you need and/or would like to know about your attendees. Don’t forget to mark which fields are mandatory or not.
Step 5: Write copy and promote your webinar
Great webinar copy must be able to communicate why this given topic and speaker are relevant and how they will bring value to your target audience. Ensure to include a short bio of your speaker(s), information about sponsors, and choose a creative title that briefly states what is the webinar about and can attract more participants.
Promotion could be a topic for a blog post alone, but as PR professionals we know to always have the interests and needs of our target audience in mind while writing and promoting something and a webinar wouldn’t be different. You should promote your webinar in platforms where potential attendees are active, such as social media channels, websites, and even consider including it in event platforms such as Eventbrite (and follow CPRS Vancouver for upcoming events) if it’s a good fit.
Step 6: Create the webinar run-of-show
The structure of a webinar usually involves welcoming attendees, housekeeping, speaker(s) introduction, content presentation, Q&A, and wrap-up, but you can adjust the dynamic as you see fit.
If you want to have a more interactive webinar, you can plan to have a few questions addressed between sections - instead of only at the end - or have quick polls launched to get a sense of what are your attendees’ opinions in a specific matter related to the topic.
Once you decide on the structure, you can create a detailed breakdown with timing (very important!) in your run-of-show document and share it with your team so everyone knows what should happen and when in advance.
Step 7: Know your audience and tailor your content
Depending on the registration form that you chose, if it gathered information on the attendee’s organization and position, for example, once you download a list of the registrants you will be able to see what industries they work for and how senior or junior the group of registrants is.
You can also consider sending the link of a survey requesting what registrants would like to hear during the webinar and if they would like to submit any questions ahead of the event. Those are insights that could help you tailor your content when the time comes.
With the registrants’ background information and the insights submitted through your survey on what should be addressed during the webinar - if you created one - it will help you tailor the content that will bring the most value to them.
To top it off, ensure to create a visually pleasing presentation deck. Remember that less is more and reserve the notes section to add more context to what you want to speak about and leave only key points on the slides. You can also play videos or show any other resources that would help convey what you are explaining, of course, keeping in mind the time available.
Step 8: Assign roles and responsibilities
Considering your webinar structure, make a list of what tasks are necessary to make it happen. Here are some questions to guide you:
Who will welcome the attendees and make housekeeping announcements?
Who will share the screen and pass the slides?
Who will manage and read the questions?
Who will launch the polls and read the results?
Who will interact with attendees on the chat?
The tasks required will determine the team you need to assemble and help you delegate what each one of your team members will be responsible for. As each platform adopts different names for webinar roles, once you assign responsibilities, do some research to confirm what role each team member should have to perform their respective tasks. For example, on Zoom, only hosts can create polls ahead of the webinar. You won’t be able to delegate this task unless you share your login with your team member.
Step 9: Webinar testing and final run-through
Ideally, you should set up a test with your support team and speaker(s) a few days before the webinar to go through your run-of-show and become familiar with the webinar settings. It’s also a great opportunity for everyone to get feedback on what to improve and make sure the webinar happens smoothly.
For the final run-through right before the official webinar, if your platform is Zoom and you enabled the “practice session” option in the settings, you can start the webinar earlier to go over some important details and have only your team join until it’s time to broadcast it to the participants.
Step 10: Send a thank you email
Best practices also include sending a thank you email to those who attended your webinar. This is the perfect opportunity to request feedback through a survey and share the webinar recording. You might receive insightful feedback that will allow you to deliver an even better webinar next time! I have also seen companies sending a separate email to those who missed their event to provide the recording and ensure registrants can access the content whenever they can and/or want.
I hope this step-by-step gives you enough practical tips to help you implement your webinar more efficiently. All the success to you and your next webinar!
Zoom: Pre-Webinar Checklist for Hosts
Zoom Webinar Best Practices for Presenters
Roles in a Webinar
Paula Schütt is an Account Manager at Munro/Thompson. She has a bachelor's degree in Public Relations from UNIVALI and a Marketing certificate from Arbutus College. With over 4 years of experience working both in agency and in-house, she has been involved in communications projects for non-profits, First Nations communities, local governments and organizations in the fitness, logistics, and cosmetics industries.