How Webinars Work

Mark Szelenyi
VP, Product Management, ON24

We all know that webinars are one of the most indispensable weapons in a marketer’s armory. But how does a webinar work? There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of even the most basic webinar software. And when it comes to a world-class platform like ON24, we rely on some of the best talent in the biz to make the experience of setting up and delivering a webinar seamless for you, the marketer.

Let’s start with a simple definition:

A webinar is an engaging online event where a speaker or small group of speakers delivers a presentation to a large audience, who participate by submitting questions, responding to polls, and using other available interactive tools.

Webinars are different from meeting tools, which are designed to let small groups meet and collaborate in real time, and from traditional streaming media like videos, which don’t give the audience any way to engage with the content.

Even the most bare-bones webinar has separate streams for slides and audio. But most modern webinars go far beyond that, with slides, presenter video, integrated social media, and live attendee feedback in the form of questions, polls, idea storming, and more. So what are the most important factors of webinar technology? Let’s take a look:

Making the presenter successful

At ON24, we’ve spent years perfecting our presentation manager, PMXD. Obviously we wanted to make it easy for you to upload, modify, manage, and deliver your presentations. But we quickly discovered that a great webinar presentation took more than a well-uploaded presentation deck.

Most of our customers go into every webinar with at least two key players: the presenter, who delivers the webinar content, and the producer, who takes care of all the behind-the-scenes work, like queuing up video clips, managing guest speakers, and routing questions from webinar attendees. We knew that delivering live webinars can be stressful, so we help the production team keep in touch with real-time chat and intuitive controls for controlling the flow of the webinar, pushing polls, and swapping out presentation content on the fly.

Providing an engaging webinar experience

Engagement is what really makes the ON24 webinar platform. And we take that very, very seriously. When you’re asking people to stare at their computer screens for up to an hour, of course you have to give them something interesting to stare at, but it helps if you can also give them something interesting to do.

Most webinars these days include the basics, like a place to submit questions. But we didn’t think that was engaging enough. So we’ve added to it with popular interactive tools like surveys, polls, downloadable assets, and integrated social media, and with more niche widgets like idea storming, testing and certification tools, and group chat.

But that isn’t where it ends. We also built a robust suite of integrations to make sure that the data collected through all that interactivity is passed to your marketing automation and CRM platforms, creating a seamless marketing data environment.

Treating on-demand audiences like live audiences

If you only consider the live audience, though, you aren’t taking the full picture into account. According to our 2017 Webinar Benchmarks Report, over 30% of webinar attendees only sign up for the on-demand event. That presents an interesting challenge for those of us on the back end of webinar software. How are we going to treat all those people who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t make it to the live event?

Sure, it would have been easier to treat on-demand webinars like static videos, but then your audiences wouldn’t get the full webinar experience. When we think about webinar engagement, we always consider those additional viewers who watch webinars on-demand or simulive (that is, webinars that are pre-recorded, then broadcast to a live audience at a designated time). Every ON24 webinar, no matter how it’s delivered or when it’s viewed, must have all the bi-directional interactivity of a live webinar, from moving windows around the console to the ability to submit questions — and actually get an answer.

Webinars have changed a lot over the past decade or so, and they’ll continue to evolve as new technologies emerge. But for those of us who build the platform, the mission is always the same: To give you everything you need to engage an audience and meet every one of your business goals.

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