I hate webinars. I avoid them like the plague.  They are invariably boring, badly constructed, amateur and do nothing to enhance the strategic position of the organisations involved. If you get a few sales as a result of one of these things I guess you could claim a tactical success of sorts, but overall the value of a webinar has to be very questionable. I feel the same about most video content. I just watched a video from a leading marketing industry figure who should have known better. It was just a basic talking head – Its always best to do something simple well rather than completely screw up something complicated – but for some reason the person concerned decided to conduct the entire thing looking away from the camera lens.

This is a technique that can work when there is an interviewer, but as a talking head fails miserably in one basic requirement – it doesn’t engage the audience. I’m afraid the whole thing made for very uncomfortable watching.

Yesterday I forced myself to sit through a webinar staged by one of my clients. It was a three-hander with the speakers in three different locations. The format, as most webinars are, was a sound-track with graphics. Now, I don’t consider I lead a particularly exciting life, but this was probably the most excruciatingly boring forty minutes I have experienced so far this year. One of the presenters was awful. Simply a bad presenter, a woman with a high-pitched voice and a strong accent that made it difficult enough to follow what she was saying. She was talking over a VoIP link, which was then further compressed to get it to me, By the time it was coming out of my speakers whole sections of her presentation was unintelligible.

The other speakers were better, but overall there was no story to the presentation and it came across as three individual and largely unconnected subjects. To make matters worse, the graphics were sparse, poorly designed and totally failed to emphasise the few points that the speakers managed to make.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the principle of video content (and I include webinars in that description). I think it’s definitely the way to go for many businesses, but in the hands of people who aren’t production experts it can be the loaded gun with which you shoot yourself in the foot.

I’ve been asking around and although a few people who have dabbled in content like this make tenuous claims for their events and videos, everyone I spoke to believes they could have done better and the more honest among them felt they failed to present themselves favourably. Surely, that’s the point? So, why do businesses keep doing this to themselves? The answer it seems is they see these initiatives as cheap to produce and consider that what they produce is industry standard. It seems the businesses that produce webinars see them as amateur and unpolished by definition.

Firstly let me dispel the myth about cost. If you do the calculations correctly you’ll realise that all the time and effort that goes into a webinar production  adds considerably to the hard cash you have handed out to produce and deliver it. Most people kid themselves about the cost of videos too. Consider the time and effort you spend scripting and preparing and you’ll realise there’s a whole chunk of resource you could have better deployed elsewhere in your organisation. Of course, if you don’t plan, script and prepare, you end up with a crap outcome, which itself represents not just a waste of investment, but a liability. Showing how crap you are isn’t the objective here.

Following the webinar, I asked my client why he hadn’t manage the contributors better to create a cohesive end-to-end presentation and he didn’t really have an answer.  The truth is, people don’t realise that this is what you have to do. The fact is people who organise these events are so grateful to have contributors on-board that know enough to talk for fifteen minutes, that they are reluctant and sometimes even feel embarrassed to make suggestions regarding their input.

The speakers at these events, be they your local councillor or Tom Peters, need a framework at least to write their content around and its your job as the producer to ensure that they get that and adhere to it.  The starting point for you is to decide what the overall message of the event should be and brief them accordingly. You can’t just turn up on the day for a jam session. It might work with the blues, but we are talking serious business here and these things have to be staged.

You need to identify the key points contained in your speakers’ presentations. If there are none (which is sadly often the case) you need to add them and make sure that those contained in each presenter’s piece link together to create an overall message across the entire event.

Any worthwhile presenter will have their own content – slides, videos etc. – but you can’t take it for granted that this will be of an appropriate standard. If you have to use graphics, you need to get your designer involved and re-work everyone’s content, so that it is cohesive and consistent. Most of all you have to remember that if you don’t have a live video feed of the presenters themselves your visual content has a very big job to do to engage the audience. Make sure it heavily underlines your key points and is graphically interesting and attractive.

Finally, choose your speakers carefully. Just because someone knows their stuff, doesn’t mean that that they can present. In fact I think good presenters are very rare animals and most people massively overestimate their own presentation skills. Once you’ve seen a really good presenter you’ll recognise the difference. The problem is that most of us go through our working lives never encountering one. That’s how rare they are.

A good producer can get around this problem by adopting a different format. I’m working on an approach right now that will resolve this issue. However, voices become very important indeed if you have no visual of the speaker and in these situations you simple can’t have voices that are just hard to listen to.

If all of this sounds a bit expensive and time consuming you shouldn’t be considering a/v content anyway. The trouble with the Internet is it’s like the Sirens in Greek mythology, It lures you to your on-line death by encouraging you to think you can do stuff you can’t. The trick is to know your limits and very, very few people are any good at creating webinars or content. You might say, That’s OK, people will understand, we are just a small business” but you are wrong. If your production isn’t polished and professional people will just think you are an amateur organisation and that’s not a good thing for any business.

There is good content out there, but its rare and I haven’t seen much of it. If you know of something that you feel hits the mark post a link in the comments below and let me see it.

Phil Darby
April 24, 2014

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