‘What Can I Enable My Audience to Do?’; Three Experts Offer New Rules of Engagement

“We realized very quickly that translating live events to digital events is not a one-to-one translation,” Haley Berling, senior manager, digital programs and events, GovExec, told us. “When I look back… and compare them to what we do now, I think that was so cute. We had to say, ‘What do people want?’ They’re lonely, they want to connect with each other, they want to access content. They want something different.”

The pandemic may be over, but the idea that people want to connect is not. A great many are still home and not meeting with colleagues on a daily basis.

“Forget the word webinar; a webinar is an experience,” ON24’s Mark Bornstein told us in one of our editorial training sessions earlier this year. “We tend to think of webinars as that thing you do every month to just get leads and that’s it, but now webinars are taking on all kinds of [roles]. They’re more like programs that you would see on TV.”

Sure enough, in an ON24 email invite I received this morning, there is no sign of the word “webinar.” The subject line says, “Your data has something to say…” Open the email, and the title appears: How to Use Engagement Data: To Excite Audiences With Binge-Worthy Experiences. There’s a date, some copy and a blue Register Now button.

“There are news style formats, where you’re just becoming the thought leader in your particular area,” Bornstein added. “And we see movement from presentations to conversations—a lot of modern webinars have no slides at all. They’re just people talking to other people about things that matter to the people that are on the webinar.” He mentioned Thomson Reuters doing a cocktail-making class for their customers. “I recently participated in a game show webinar. My first big takeaway today is stop thinking about it through the lens of what we used to do in the past.”

And, of course, panelists are more diverse now—mostly gone are the “manels”—which was long overdue. Here are more suggestions from Berling, Bornstein and Regina Harris, program director, Webvent:

Select a top-notch moderator. “You would not imagine how effective it is to have a moderator who is experienced in that particular topic that we’re talking about,” said Harris. “Moderators can help connect the audience with the takeaway by preparing for a successful experience… A good moderator allows the speakers to pay attention to our presentations and do a great job and give our attendees what they need.”

Practice makes perfect. “There are now 300 million experts, and I say that because, as a producer and as a host, I have so many people who come on as presenters and consider themselves an expert,” said Harris. “But it feels really, really good to do a practice session with every presenter that you have, regardless of the fact that they may say, ‘Hey I already know what I’m doing.’ Make sure that they’re familiar with the platform and where everything is. And also that they understand the flow of the presentation, who’s going to open it up, who’s going to speak when, and who is going to end it. Do you want the questions to be filtered throughout the presentation?” Practice is especially important as you get more global, she added.

Build a customer experience. “We created a new virtual experience,” Berling said. “We incorporated things like virtual and customer sponsor resource pages with interactive chat features in downloadable assets for our clients. We created a virtual press room and editorial resource library for our editorial staff. And then we built a simple theater digitally where users can easily consume the content within very intuitive, easy login experience and [more] chat… As a living resource hub of content of all types, and then a place where our VIP community could come and interact with us and each other, it was more of a digital experience.”

Target a specific audience. “We see people creating executive-only webinars where maybe they’re inviting an analyst to come and speak for a few moments, and then bringing everybody into a breakout room—where it’s a much smaller audience or a more targeted audience, or maybe it’s by specific industry type,” Bornstein said. “We see more discussion-based webinars where you get a little bit of presentation and then maybe everybody comes on camera and does a conversation for a smaller group of people.”

Include a handout. We think of handouts more for in–person events, but Harris encourages giving attendees “a one-pager, a fact sheet—something to take away. Each time I review my survey results, the number one [piece of] feedback is, ‘I would have liked some type of handout so that I can write notes for each slide that you go through,’” Harris said. “So think about that as you put together [your webinar]. The handout would be in addition to a PDF of the slides. Because we are in this virtual world, they kind of walk away empty handed if you don’t give them something outside of having them go back to view the recording and do [the] fast forward [thing trying to get to the content that they’re trying to get to…”

Use more video. “We give people lots to do in the experience and that’s how you need to think about it,” Bornstein said. “What can I enable my audience to do, besides just watch my presentation?” GovExec thought this way as well and started focusing on how and where they can produce high-level video content. “We constantly in our production were drawing on examples of TV network and news networks saying, ‘Oh, what if we could do stuff like that,’” Berling said. “…We’ve also been working on producing different types of video content like teaser videos, quick-hit commercials and explainer videos that are all short snack content.”


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