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10 tips for shaking up your webcast

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I've moderated or presented more than 200 webcasts over the last 15 years, which is enough to know how boring they can be. Speakers churn through their 40-slide PowerPoint decks robotically, as if the point of a webcast is to get through the presentation rather than to engage the audience. Webcasts don't have to be boring, however. Most platforms now support video, animation and audience interactivity. Even throwing another speaker or two into the mix can make a big difference. Here are 10 ideas I'd like to see presenters—including myself—use more often.
  1. Limit the time. There's no reason to stretch an event to a full hour if the content doesn't justify it. Flip the equation by limiting the webcast to a half-hour and promote brevity as a selling point. For example: “Ten Ways to Juice Sales Productivity in 30 Minutes.”
  2. Make it a conversation. Webcasts typically consist of a brief moderator introduction followed by a 40-minute presentation and Q&A. Break up this monotony by directing the moderator to interject questions along the way. Or simply ask questions from the audience as they come in rather than at the end of the presentation.
  3. Ask questions. Many webcast platforms make it easy to poll the audience, so take advantage of this feature whenever possible. Not only does polling keep the audience engaged, it gives the speaker guidance on where to take the presentation. If you really want to shake things up, branch the presentation and ask the audience to vote on where to go next. For example, let then choose whether to watch a demo or hear customer case studies.
  4. Use a Twitter hashtag. I'm amazed that more webcast sponsors don't take advantage of this cheap and easy way to extend their reach. Encouraging people to tweet comments and questions using a hashtag involves listeners with the discussion and creates bonus awareness.
  5. Involve a customer. I've seen this tactic used—rarely, but almost always successfully. Invite a customer to close out the webcast with a case study of how it has put the sponsor's product to use. Customers provide that important peer endorsement and also add variety to the program.
  6. Create audio and video podcasts. Long after the webcast has outlived its lead-generation usefulness, it can give you bonus views for free if you post the recording on media sharing sites such as YouTube or SlideShare. If you have multiple webcasts in your archive, make the audio available as a podcast series so listeners can subscribe and consume the content when they aren't in front of their computers.
  7. Hold a contest. Give away books, software downloads, movie passes, T-shirts or whatever inexpensive items you have at your disposal. Award prizes for the best question or the most retweeted comment; or simply hold a random drawing. Wait till the end of the webcast so people have an extra incentive to stay with you. Or simply promise to reveal a link to a free download at the end of the session.
  8. Ditch the PowerPoint. There are alternatives. Prezi, SlideRocket, Vuvox, GoAnimate and Xtranormal are among the tools you can use to add multimedia, animation and fun to your message. Most are free or come with a nominal fee. They may take a few hours to learn, but once you master the basics you can use them again and again.
  9. Include a to-do list. There's a reason the Internet is awash with “top 10” lists. People like them. Give your audience a numbered list of actionable steps they can take based upon the content of your presentation.
  10. Offer self-scoring. Give your audience a download or website they can use to assess their own needs. The scoring key should guide them to the most cost-effective options for using your service—or not using it in some cases.
And here's a bonus eleventh idea: Use Google Hangouts. This free video conference service is gaining momentum as a presentation vehicle. It easily integrates screen sharing, presentations and multiple speakers. Fire up your webcam and go. Paul Gillin (gillin.com) is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB. He can be reached at paul@gillin.com.
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