The Webinar Excellence Manifesto

Webinar Excellence for a new decade

Webinar Technology has long made its way along the Gartner Hype Cycle and is now firmly on the “Slope of Enlightenment” or, depending on your adoption of the technology, even on the “Plateau of Productivity”. In other words, webinar technology is mature and established.

The Webinar Excellence Manifesto picks up exactly at that juncture. Its 82 principles aim to ensure acceleration along that path and empower adopters to utilize webinars as a powerful engine for pipeline growth and outstanding marketing performance. Jump straight to the 82 Principles.

Webinars can mean a lot of things to many people. For the purpose of this Manifesto, we define a webinar as a “One-to-Many streaming experience with interactive elements”. This may come in many shapes, but crucially is different from collaborative web conferencing where speakers and audience have equal interface controls.

Results from leading adopters of webinar technology – irrespective of their company size – show the unbroken and accelerating momentum of webinars to drive awareness, engagement, and pipeline at scale.

It is the Excellence Mindset promoted in this Manifesto that is the foundation for the successful adoption and utilization of webinar technology.

The declared goal of The Webinar Excellence Manifesto is to enable everyone everywhere to reach Webinar Excellence.

What the Webinar Excellence Manifesto is not:

Due to its overarching and platform-agnostic nature, the Webinar Excellence Manifesto is not a step-by-step how-to guide. Each webinar platform differs and will provide their own instructions. Instead, the Webinar Excellence Manifesto provides 82 key principles on how to succeed with webinar best practices.

Please note: The principles set out in this Manifesto are platform agnostic. The Manifesto is commercially independent from, but created in anticipation of the endorsement by, all webinar platforms.

Webinar Vision

We will strive to:

Many webinars have deep capabilities, many of which often remain under-utilized. Understand the full range of capabilities, with the goal to apply those most suited to your goals. The true potential of webinars is achieved by looking beyond webinars as a standalone tool.

The potential insight to be gained from webinars is tremendous. Use the left and right side of your brain for the best outcome.

Webinars are perfect for use within the wider marketing context. Through APIs, integrations and when applied with common sense, webinars are key contributors to audience engagement and pipeline acquisition.

Lay the foundations for webinar excellence by ensuring the C-Suite is onboard. Endorsement and sponsorship of a world class webinar vision by organisational leadership will open doors to everything you need to succeed.

Beyond the C-Suite, there are many stakeholders who will contribute to webinar success. Involve them early on and get buy-in for your vision. Together you are stronger.

A vision is a living thing. It requires work to keep it alive, relevant and working. Striving for excellence is not always easy, but the results and competitive advantage are worth it.

Dream big. Set goals. The long-term is just as important as the short-term. Set the path, follow it, but don’t be afraid to adjust along the way. Continue to look several years ahead.

Every journey starts with one step (or one webinar). You at some point you have to get into your stride. Aim to do this as early as feasible – keeping your long-term vision in mind.

There are many webinar platforms available to marketers. Their capabilities differ, so it is important to choose the platform that best suits your needs. Your needs will change over time, as you strive to implement your short and long-term vision. Sometimes webinar platforms can grow with you, other times you may have to pick the best one for the stage of the journey you are on.

Excellence in everything you do is not a luxury, it should be your default mindset. If it is not, there will be someone who will apply this principle – and it is likely to be a competitor.

You’ll never achieve your goals or run truly world-class webinars sitting in a silo. Ever.

Webinar Processes

We will strive to:

It can be daunting and take a lot of effort, but without a fully documented process you will always miss something. The combination of many small things done well cumulates in something truly excellent.

Without ownership there is no accountability. Without accountability there is no excellence. Make it sustainable and be open to sharing the load.

Webinars touch many parts of the organisation, including marketing, digital, web, sales, product, customer success, operational support, corporate communications and many more. Ensure excellence in all touchpoints your webinar processes have with stakeholders and contributors. Make it as easy as possible for others to be inspired by your excellence and adopt it for their own purposes.

Webinar Integration

We will strive to:

Leaders succeed because they know and understand what helps others succeed. The same applies to understanding how webinars integrate with other technology platforms in your revenue stack, including marketing automation, CRM, business intelligence, analytics, customer service and others. Understand what success looks like across the revenue stack and how the webinar platform can support that success.

Proactively pursue the effective integration of your webinar platform into your revenue stack. Work with the experts across all necessary disciplines to optimise this integration for maximum insight and contribution to revenue retention and growth.

Data is insight, and insight is a competitive advantage. Don’t let your data flow into a dead end, but instead ensure it ends up in the right place. Full-circle data flow makes it actionable and valuable.

Don’t “park” your webinars somewhere and assume your target audience will find it by themselves. Make every effort to embed, integrate and make them a continuous part of your owned web presence.

As you scale – and in order to scale – you need full visibility and control of your webinars. Without dedicated project management tools this becomes harder to manage. Why make your life harder than it needs to be, you already have enough to think about and remember. Take control.

There is no reason not to track the wealth of data available from digital engagement. Whether you need the data now or in future, track it regardless. This lays the foundation for key insights. Identify which insights help which stakeholders and ensure they are surfaced in a way and in the location that makes them most effective.

Even without data scientists and business analysts you should know how to analyse the data provided by your webinars. Use it to make informed decisions and evolve the effectiveness of your efforts.

Webinar Automation

We will strive to:

Without clear visibility of all process steps processes will always remain manual. Speed and consistency are competitive advantages, enabled by automation.

Identify painful manual processes and ways to automate them. It won’t always be possible, but there are more than you may think. Explore tools and technologies that can help save time and resources, in order to succeed in effective automation.

Don’t try to automate for the sake of automation. This can come at a cost of quality, creativity or innovation. Set sensible boundaries for automation and revisit them periodically.

Connecting webinars to other tools and technologies via APIs opens up a world of new possibilities and opportunities around automation, integration, data visualisation and analytics. Ignore APIs are your own peril.

Webinar Testing

We will strive to:

It’s the worst thing you could do. Assumptions will come back to bite you when it matters most.

You’re not an island. Things change around you. If you don’t test frequently, you’ll get caught out, even if it worked previously.

You can’t use or test what you don’t understand. Be the best at understanding what is possible, test it and outperform the competition. Excellence is everything.

Know what you want to test, why, how and for which purpose. Only when you have defined this should you test, or risk insufficient and incorrect test results.

Prepare for a test the way you would prepare for the real thing. Preparation avoid having to retest and it provides the assurance you need that you have thought of everything.

Be it your technical equipment or your room, test it before every webinar. Check there are no updates to install, network access that has changed, platform updates to consider, building work or office layout changes to consider. Test your mics, cameras, sound desk, cables, lights etc. Avoid last minute surprises at all cost.

Never try something new without thoroughly testing it first. Don’t test on the day, but leave yourself with enough time to make alternative arrangements.

Do a full dress rehearsal. Don’t just test that equipment switches on, but connect and run it as you would for a live webinar. Setup and position the microphones and/or cameras, check backgrounds, sit people down to check for composition, and run a streaming test. You don’t need your presenters for this, but make sure you are confident everything works the way you expect if you were to go live that moment in time.

If something goes wrong during the test, address it immediately. Get to the route cause. Don’t assume, but aim to replicate the error and confirm it. Take action, don’t save it for later.

Presenting is an art in itself, and it differs between on-stage and online. Evaluate your speakers and hosts (directly or indirectly) to ensure they are going to deliver an engaging webinar. Check their equipment works for webinars and that their content is compatible with a webinar – technologically and format-wise.

Webinar Planning

We will strive to:

You can’t do it alone. If you try, you face a very steep uphill battle. You need buy-in, participation, contribution and help. Involving others early makes you more likely to succeed and creates greater awareness across your organisation. Be mindful of when is the right time to involve others.

Grand plans are tempting, but be a realist instead of an optimist or an idealist. Plans can always evolve over time and become more ambitious.

Plan your plan, don’t rush headlong into an insufficiently thought out plan.

Think and plan ahead. You’ll need the lead time. You don’t have infinite resources. Plan what you want to do, when and how. Is it realistic and achievable? Then go for it! Does it seem overly ambitious? Then expect for your plan to fall short. A shortfall does not reflect excellence.

Align what you want to do with what your audience wants you to do. What does your audience want you to do? Something that reflects what they want in order to succeed. Understand their requirements and pain points, then plan your webinars and the format you deliver them in accordingly.

This is very instructional, but it works if you have your vision and plan clearly defined.

Process steps are never sequential. They overlap and vary in length. Gantt charts are your friends, don’t be afraid to use them, but be sure to assign the correct timelines

Don’t assume content can be used 1-to-1 for webinars are it was for on-stage or in-person presentations. Webinars offer a different audience experience and different types of, and tools for, engagement. On the flip side, webinar content output shouldn’t be used 1-to-1 in other channels without first being adjusted.

N+1 is used in technology to signify redundancy (i.e. back-up). You can also read it as meaning “Need + 1 backup”. In other words, if something fails, ensure you have a back-up plan. If, in the heat of the moment (e.g. shortly before you go live with your webinar), something goes wrong, make sure you know where to get instant and qualified help. This can cover platform support, speakers, or equipment.

Would your audience rather see high volumes of mediocre webinars or a smaller volume of excellent webinars? Which do you think will help drive more pipeline? Aim for excellence.

We’re used to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between customers and vendors, but why not set SLAs for internal teams. Marketing and Sales, Webinar Organisers and Speakers, IT and Marketing etc. Being clear on expectations helps everyone and ensures reliability and consistency. It also helps identify gaps or broken processes.

Standardising your plans helps scale them. It saves time and streamlines everything that relies on your plans. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time.

Webinar Setup

We will strive to:

Standardising your setup and related processes helps to save time, effort and headaches. It is the foundation for scaling your webinar output. Test, evaluate and then standardise the setup that works best. Make it easily repeatable.

Create accountability for your setup, regardless of which part of the setup it is. Webinar, landing page, promotional emails, content, speakers, testing, execution and other aspects should all have an owner who is accountable for the correct and proper setup. Accountability creates reliability, reliability creates consistency, and consistency creates the basis for continuous improvement, which in turn creates the foundation of innovation excellence.

Enable others to be proficient. Empowering others to deliver key aspects of your webinars creates trust and allows webinar organisers to spend more time on other important aspects. Creating awareness of what is required allows contributors to excel.

Adhering to brand guidelines is not the sole domain of the brand team. Webinars should accurately reflect your organisation’s branding – from emails to webinar interface and slide deck to messaging.

Save time and create consistency by using templates for webinar interface, webinar interactivity, emails, landing pages and more. Don’t be adverse to updating the templates regularly to meet your (changing) needs.

Audiences appreciate consistency. Video is popular, but ensure that your use of video (or audio) for streaming is consistent. If you commit to video, ensure you are able to consistently use it. This may mean restricting from where and how speakers present. This may restrict your flexibility to scale. Also, decide whether video is the best medium for your preferred webinar format. It is rarely the best format for a single presenter who is focused on presenting a slide deck or running screenshare demos and unable to keep eye contact with the camera.

Video is everywhere. It has become affordable and easy to do. However, this does not automatically translate into good video production. Understand the nuances of camera setup, transitions between shots, setup of camera angles and positions, lighting and backgrounds, sound and video quality, and not least of all video encoding for webinar streaming. When you understand these, you are ready for video webinar excellence.

There is no one-size-fits-all, when it comes to webinar formats. Your audience’s requirements change as they journey through the buying cycle. Ensure you understand these requirements and what it means for your webinar formats.

Many webinar platforms offer a wide variety of interactivity and engagement tools to create a great audience experience. However, just because something is possible, or something appeals to you, doesn’t mean it works for your audience. Offer your audience the experience they want and are willing to use. You may only find out what that is over time by trial and error.

We live in a globalised world with 100s of languages. Offering webinar content in languages other than English goes a long way and helps to engage your wider audience. Consider fully localised content, translated closed captions, or supporting material in multiple languages.

Don’t rush your setup. Allow enough time to ensure quality, consistency and accuracy. Test your setup prior to the live day to ensure you’ve thought of everything.

You may be under pressure to deliver many webinars over the course of a year, but your next customer may only attend one of those webinars before making a purchase decision. Ensure that every attendee consistently has a great digital experience, which can extend from a single webinar into their entire content journey with your organisation.

Webinar Execution

We will strive to:

Webinar execution is the coalface of where the action happens. Deadlines come to a head and time counts down towards the go-live. Standardising what you do in the back-end of your webinar platform and how it is presented to your audience in the webinar front-end is key to reducing nose and distractions. Standardised execution is consistent execution.

Rarely the convenient option for you results in a better-quality output for your audience. You are running your webinars for your audience, so opt for quality output over organiser’s convenience.

Just like events, live webinars have a clear start time. Don’t leave your execution quality to chance. Be clear on what is expected, when and from whom. Be sensitive of other people’s workload and make it realistic and reasonable. We’d all love the final slide deck a week prior, but that may be a utopia.

Without clear assignments there is no ownership or accountability. Set expectations early on to give stakeholders and contributors the opportunity to deliver. Consider this for all aspects that make up a good webinar, including promotion, content, webinar execution, webinar management and sales follow-up.

Understand which channels drive webinar registrations. Each promotional channel has a different effective lifespan, i.e. the likelihood of a promotion being visible and acted upon by your audience. Email last longer than Linkedin, Linkedin lasts longer than Twitter. Plan your promotional execution accordingly and avoid falling foul of GDPR.

There are many aspects to consider during a live webinar. Rarely are the moderator, speaker and producer the same person. Working with a webcast producer creates consistency and reliability, and allows speakers and hosts to focus on their primary responsibilities.

Speakers and hosts are about to go live in front of (potentially 100s or 1000s) of webinar attendees. They have prepared, often for days, to deliver a great webinar. They deserve to have a calm lead up to the webinar, free from distractions or last-minute panics and new instructions. Cover everything well in advance and make them feel at ease before the webinar is due to start.

Falling firmly into the innovate sensibly category, additional production hardware should be added if it improves the audience experience, webinar output, or reduces the resource required to deliver your webinars. Just don’t go spending your entire marketing budget without a potential ROI.

Webinar technology is beautifully flexible, but that doesn’t mean you should run them from just any location. Room attributes such as materials (glass, wooden floors), size, air conditioning, lighting, and noise from neighbouring rooms can influence the audio-visual quality of your webinars.

Ensure that host, speakers, producer, organisers and other stakeholders (e.g. comms, campaigns, marketing) meet and prepare for the webinar together. Content should be coordinated and aligned, roles and responsibilities should be assigned, webinar logistics should be covered and expectations set, and dry-runs help iron out uncertainties or (wrong) assumptions. Don’t leave it to the live day, or risk being caught out.

A professional and qualified moderator has a positive and instant impact on the quality of any webinar. Moderators can manage the non-content items, such as housekeeping, interactivity and Q&A, as well as Calls To Action (CTAs), while speaker can focus on their subject matter. This makes the webinar easier to listen to and audiences become more engaged and are likely to stay for longer.

Setting your audience’s expectations of what will happen before, during and after the webinar ensures better receptivity and overall improved audience satisfaction. Communicate these aspects clearly before and during the webinar for an optimal outcome.

Don’t just let it end. Follow-up with speakers as a sign of your appreciation for the time and effort they put into their preparation and delivery. And don’t forget to follow-up with your audience, who may wish to find out more about the subject and related content. Add value, instead of driving the hard sell.

Confidence is audible and visible. Over-confidence is too. Choose to be confident.

Webinar Reporting

We will strive to:

Open and honest reporting of successes and failures is the key to recognition and improvement. Choose to see failures as a way to improve and evolve. This approach also involves advice, contributions and support from others.

Run root-cause analysis on failures and act decisively on your findings. “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” (~Henry Ford)

Reporting performance regularly helps to create awareness, buy-in and sponsorship. It forms the basis for improvement, evolution and further investment.

Webinar Innovation

We will strive to:

Evolution is the result of many small steps. An agile approach relies on the same. Make many small subsequent changes to achieve a better outcome. Test, try, measure, test again, try again, measure again. Don’t work towards a big bang.

With insight comes wisdom. Only if you measure can you make informed decisions. The more you measure, the more you can improve.

Metrics are rarely definitive. Often a range of factors influence a metric. Don’t follow them blindly, but decide which are appropriate to act upon.

You don’t need metrics to be prompted to try new things. Use your imagination and creativity to differentiate your webinars. By measuring their impact and effectiveness you are able to confirm which aspects are worth adopting permanently.

Clayton Christensen coined the term “Innovator’s dilemma”. It describes the need for innovators to continuously improve and innovate, to secure their leadership position. This can mean you may have to evolve from something that works well, in order to stay ahead of the rest. It can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Practice it and become great at it.

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