Archive for Event Marketing

Are your webinars losing their audience?

I recently found a Marketing Sherpa study from March of 2008 about why people drop off of webinars before the presentation is finished. The study had 880 respondents, and found that the top 6 reasons people leave a webinar early, in order of importance, were as follows:

  1. The content was not as advertised
  2. The presenter read directly from the slides
  3. The webinar began with information about the company, or selling its services
  4. The information on the first few slides was already familiar to the attendee
  5. The webinar was an hour long
  6. The presenter spoke slowly

You can read the statistics behind these reasons here.

I know that I have dropped off of webinars for all those reasons, so I was not surprised to hear that others had too. But there is one key reason that causes me to drop off webinars that wasn’t mentioned in this report. That is, there was nothing to keep my eyes occupied while my ears were listening to the speaker. When a speaker is physically in front of an audience, they occupy the audience’s eyes both with the slides and their own physical presence. If those aren’t enough to keep all the eyes in the room occupied, then the venue and the rest of the audience usually provides enough visual interest to keep the audience in the room, and hopefully listening to the speaker.

Many speakers, including myself, have been trained to pare down our slide content to a bare minimum, so that the audience will focus on what we are saying and not just read the slides while we talk. That seems to work OK when the speaker is physically in front of an audience. But when they are on a webinar, it creates problems. Webinar audiences are typically sitting at their desks, and so there are lots of distractions all around them. If the speaker’s slides can be understood quickly, they don’t keep the audience’s eyes occupied, so those eyes will wander off to manage email, read a report that was sitting on the desk, or whatever else they can do “while still listening” to the webinar. This lack of attentiveness reduces the productivity of the seminar for the firm delivering it.

The slides that are most able to keep my attention are slides with a lot of visual appeal, and something that I need to figure out or have the speaker explain to me embedded in the content. So, for example, I love a good graph that contains something more than a simple “up and to the right” story. I’ll start by trying to figure it out myself, and also remain engaged with the speaker to hear the point that they want me to take from the chart. I also love a good built up slide, where the punch line is not displayed until the speaker gets to the point, because those keep me guessing long enough to remain engaged. These aren’t typically the highlights in a presentation delivered by a speaker who is physically in front of the room, but they work really well to keep me engaged during a webinar.

One last point on visual interest during webinars: pacing. Webinar speakers always lose my attention when they don’t move through their slides fairly quickly. Perhaps I’m too much a product of the TV generation, but when I am sitting alone and looking at a screen, whether it’s a computer or a TV, I have an expectation that the visual environment will change frequently. When it doesn’t, my attention turns to the work on my desk or some topic other than what’s on my screen. I recommend that webinar presenters try to cut their time per slide to about half what they would do if they were physically in front of their audience. That way, even if the slides themselves aren’t super visually interesting, the visual environment is changing at a pace that will maintain audience interest. This can be accomplished by increasing the number of slides, or cutting back on the prepared remarks, or some combination of both approaches. The key point is that a good webinar presentation does not use the exact same slide deck and script as a good presentation delivered in person. The presenter should re-work a presentation that was delivered in-person, before delivering it online.