For many organisations, webinars are a fantastic way of showing off a product, offering tips and demonstrating your expertise on a particular topic to an online audience. It’s also a good way of making face-to-face contact with people and showing that you are on hand to offer help and advice.

Some of you may have already attended webinars and be familiar with the way they work, but many companies who would like to take the next step for their own marketing strategy and host a webinar are often faced with a number of unknowns. These include finding the right platform to use, how to convince people to sign up, and even what you should be talking about when you do host the event. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that a lot of different factors – as well as a lot of preparation – go into pulling off a hiccup-free webinar with the desired results.

Here are some essential tips that should help you navigate your way around hosting a webinar:

1. Choose the right platform

Selecting the right place to host your webinar may very well be the most challenging part of this process, because each one has different pros and cons, depending on the number and type of attendees you’re looking to host. If you’re looking to do something at very low cost, you can use the free tool Google Hangouts on Air. However, this doesn’t have all of the same features that its paid alternatives offer. Two of the most popular paid options are WebEx and GoToWebinar, the latter offering an unrestricted 30-day trial. Ultimately, it’s all about your needs, budget and preferences, and trying out a few internal tests will probably be your best bet to figuring out which one will be the best fit for you.

2. Determine the format

Once you’ve settled on a platform, you can turn your attention to what you’ll actually be presenting. Whether it’s a lecture, an interactive panel or a product demonstration, you will need to decide the topic and the length of time you will allocate to the webinar. The recommended time is between 30-40 minutes, but it could go as long as up to two hours.

Remember that you’ll need to keep the content interesting and the format varied so you’ll need to write up an agenda, allocating time for questions at the end. Consider as well how many people you’re likely to need to run the event smoothly, such as including one or more speakers, one moderator to introduce topics or ‘interview’ the speaker(s) and someone who can help with technical issues as well as monitor social media engagement as it happens.

3. Plan your slides/visuals

A good slideshow is recommended for webinars – expecting attendees to look at one person’s face for long periods of time is likely to make them either fall asleep or log off. Put together slides on PowerPoint or Keynote to introduce each sub-topic as it comes along, and share images, screenshots, graphs or whatever you can to help illustrate your current point.

4. Schedule a practice session

As with any event that involves public speaking, practice makes perfect. Hold a dry run of the event internally, going through the motions as if it were the real thing. Make notes while you practice to help you remember things you want to do during the event. The more webinars you host, the more natural it will feel, so don’t worry if the first one seems a little nerve-wracking.

5. Set up a registration page

Now that you’ve decided on all the important things, it’s time to set up the technical stuff. For instance, you’ll need to create a landing page on your website where you can direct people to sign up. There are plenty of tools out there for this, such as Unbounce, Formstack, Hubspot or Landerapp. You can also use Google’s URL builder to create a different link for each traffic source – this will create a campaign in your Google Analytics so you can easily measure which method of publicising the event was more successful.

6. Publicise your webinar

Getting the word out about your webinar and convincing people to sign up is where the hard work comes in – use a variety of different methods for the best results, including social media channels, email campaigns, newsletters, your website and your blog. Make sure your call to action is compelling and that the date, time and time zone can’t be missed.

7. Make a special offer

One of the ways to incentivise people to sign up for the webinar as well as increase your conversion rate, is by offering value to the attendees. Consider offering an exclusive package or a discount, or perhaps the chance to win a prize if you’re doing a product launch.

8. Announce a hashtag

If your audience is on the internet, suggest a Twitter hashtag to get the conversation going online and get more people engaged. Suggest something with your company name to make it unique and easy to follow on Twitter.

9. Record and upload

This may sound obvious, but it’s important not to forget to hit the record button when you start – you really don’t want to be halfway through the webinar and realise you haven’t been recording! Once the webinar is over, you can edit the video if necessary and upload to YouTube and your website for anyone who missed it.

10. Keep in touch

Make sure you don’t forget the very last step – add any new email addresses to your general database, and keep in touch. Send a follow-up email to your group with the link to the video recording and follow through on any special offers you promised for those who attended.

More than anything though, it’s important to relax, have some light-hearted fun with your audience and enjoy the exchange of knowledge and ideas that webinars bring about. And remember that here at Pinnacle, we are always on hand to help clients get the best out of digital marketing events.