When you’re a small business owner with big dreams, sometimes they can seem out of reach. You may not think you have the budget or time to do the things that are on your small biz bucket list. Well, if hosting a webinar is one of them, I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely doable — and it doesn’t take mammoth sized-production skills or piles of cash.
After working on an hosting five of the six Grasshopper Fireside Chats, I’ve come away with a good understanding of what goes into creating and hosting a quality webinar. I also have some behind the scenes hints (and maybe a selfie or two) that I’ll share to show how hosting a webinar isn’t as complicated as you might think!
Where to Start
What’s your topic?
First things first: you need to have a good topic. It doesn’t need to be anything profound, just think about what matters to your audience and customers. Are you an accountant? Maybe you chat with a few freelancers for 20-30 minutes about how they keep their financial stuff organized come tax time. A personal trainer? Create a 15 minute talk about current exercise trends and how they affect your body.
Those are just two examples — with some good brainstorming, I bet you can come up with a few topics that you can get excited about, and get other people excited about watching.
What’s your format?
Next, decide how you want to format the webinar. Do you want it as a solo, TED talk-style? Or do you want to have guests, either virtually or in-person, join you to have a discussion?
Whichever format you choose will tend to dictate your setup, and also can affect how long you need to prepare. We’ll go over those next.
What’s (or where’s) your setup?
With our Fireside Chats, we have 3-4 panelists in a Google “on-air” hangout, so all we need is for everyone to have a computer with a camera and microphone, an Internet connection, and preferably a quiet place to sit during the webinar.
If you’re having guests join you virtually, your setup will likely be very similar. If you’re having them join you in person, then you’ll need a space to comfortably fit you and your guests, and a camera with an angle wide enough to capture everyone. A good microphone is a must to make sure you can capture the sound.
If you’re going it alone, you really have your pick of your setup. Just make sure it’s somewhere that you can be easily heard and seen on camera!
What platform are you using?
So far for Fireside Chats, we’ve used Google “on-air” hangouts. It’s free, it’s easy to set up, and you can embed the video anywhere you’d like with some simple code.
If you want to use a platform specific for webinars, there are plenty to choose from. Many of them require a subscription, so be aware of that when you’re looking into different options.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into a little bit more of the nuts and bolts of getting your webinar off of paper and into the Internet world.
Now that we’ve run five webinars, we’ve created a pretty well-oiled machine with a process that we follow each time we plan a new event. I’ll take you through our process, so you can see it’s really not that intimidating. You can model your process after ours, or you may create something completely different that works for you. Just remember — this doesn’t need to be overly complicated. It’s like any other project you might tackle!
Full disclosure: We do work with an agency, Propecta, on our Fireside Chats. They do a terrific job of outreach to secure our panelists and sponsors, but you can absolutely do this on your own — just make use of your network.
Step 1: Choose the topic and date
We like to keep a running list of topics we think would make good Fireside Chats. Once we decide on a topic, we nail down a date. We’ve found that Wednesdays actually are the best day of the week as far as getting viewers goes, and we like to give ourselves 3-4 solid months of prep for getting our panelists together and creating the landing page. For this past chat, which was in February, we started planning at the end of November.
Step 2: Choose your guests
A one-on-one chat is a great way to get yourself started in the webinar world. Start putting the word out that you want to host a webinar and what topic you’re going to cover. Let people know you’re looking for a guest. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to do this. Chances are, if you ask around a little, you’ll find someone who’s more than happy to sit down with you for 30 minutes to an hour to lend their expertise to your topic.
Step 3: Get your digital assets together
For every Fireside Chat we host, we create a landing page. Having one page dedicated to your webinar is key in getting the info out. Think of it like a party invitation: If you don’t have the information available, how will people know when and where to show up?
Here’s what we always make sure to include on our landing page:
- Webinar name, date, and time
- Guest names, titles, headshots, and short bios
- RSVP form (this is really important — you want to be able to email your guests to remind them to join the webinar!)
That’s it! You don’t need a super fancy landing page with an extensive form. Just the basic info so people know when to tune in.
Step 4: Dress rehearsal
For every Fireside Chat, we hold at least two “tech checks” with each guest and myself. In a tech check, I use the same room and same equipment that I’ll be using on the day of the webinar, to ensure everything looks and sounds good. Since our guests are always joining us virtually, this is really important to do so we can avoid any major snafus during the live broadcast.
Step 5: Iterate
After every webinar, the team meets to talk about what went well, what could have been better, and what we need to change for next time. Every webinar we’ve hosted has had something a little different than the last — we’re always testing and working on making them better. If something goes wrong, we learn from it, move on, and change it for the future. And then we start planning the next one!
Along with our process, we have a really good handle on what equipment works for us. And, surprise! We don’t have a super technical setup. Let’s talk about what we’re using to get that shiny, webinar feel.
We’ve used a few different rooms, but we’ve found one corner conference room in particular that works well. It’s on the small side, so sound doesn’t echo. It also isn’t used all that often, so it’s really easy for us to block off for two days every couple of months to have our webinars.
Now, you’re probably wondering what we use for a technical setup. Well, it isn’t really that “technical” at all!
We have a spare Windows laptop in HQ that we borrow for our webinars. We’re able to connect it by ethernet cable into the internet connection, so we’re not relying on a wireless connection. It gives you peace of mind, if nothing else.
The laptop we use doesn’t have a built-in camera, so we mount an external webcam on top. It actually works out a little better – we can adjust the angle of the camera without having to move the entire laptop screen.
Again, the laptop we use doesn’t have a built in microphone, so we use a Blue Yeti microphone — like the kind you might see a radio announcer using. To be completely honest, I’m not sure where it came from — it was one of those random things we had and decided to make use of!
Before we used the Yeti, we tried our wireless microphone that is usually used for team meetings, but we found the sound quality is much better with this.
To avoid feedback and echoes, we request each guest (and myself, the host) wear headphones during the webinars. You don’t need anything fancy here — the earbuds that came with your phone work just fine.
Here’s what our setup looks like all together:
Yes, the laptop is sitting on top of some boxes to bring the camera to eye-level. We haven’t gotten a tripod for it yet, but that’s on our “learn and improve” list.
There are a couple of extra things we have in our setup that are unique to us, but may be helpful when you’re thinking about your setup.
Step and repeat backdrop: We got this idea trying to figure out how to make the wall behind me less boring. We got this backdrop for $75 for a 4’x’6’, and it’s really sturdy and should last a good long time.
Large post it paper: I try to memorize the script as best I can, but I also like to have cues written out for me, like the guests’ names and titles. We have a large post-it note pad that I write on and hang up across from where I’m sitting.
A team member: I like to have someone else in the room with me while the webinar is going on, in case of any technical difficulties (since I can’t really communicate with the outside world). Matt, our SEO guy, sets up a computer across from me where he watches the hangout as it’s broadcasting. We’re able to communicate using Gchat, and he can chat with our other team members out in the office who are also watching.
Don’t Fear the Webinar
Well, there you have it — hosting a webinar, demystified! As long as you have a great topic and the right equipment, you can put on an awesome broadcast that will grow your brand awareness and business.
Have any questions for Mary about hosting a webinar? Leave them in the comments below!