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Webinars—also known as Internet conferences—can create opportunities for HR consultants to expand their reach whether they are conducting training sessions, pitching proposals to clients, presenting findings, or selling access to a particular area of expertise.
As an online information provider, webinars have tended to be mostly one-way presentations with the speaker providing the information to an audience that has limited interaction. However, depending on what the presenter wants, a webinar can be very collaborative and include polling and question-and-answer sessions that allow substantial audience participation. The technology has been around for a while and has become the norm in a variety of situations. So it is no surprise that savvy consultants are using webinars to increase their networks of prospects and clients.
Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation Inc. in San Diego and the author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing Co., 2nd ed., 2005), says consultants need to know how to generate awareness of and interest in their products and services. Webinars are one of the latest tools that can do both, he said. An example he cites is an e-mail missive that said in the subject line: “Free Bob Nelson webinar: Creating a Culture of Recognition @ Dow Chemical.” The e-mail was an HTML-based message with a colorful banner and photo of Nelson and his books. To register, interested recipients would simply click on the provided link. For interested parties, it was quick, easy and free, he says. The benefits to the presenter are an opportunity to extend the consultant’s message and build a list of qualified prospects for future interactions.
Rick Maurer, of Maurer & Associates, in Arlington, Va., is another consultant who has found webinars to be useful at extending the consultancy’s reach and reputation. With webinars—or “teleseminars” as he calls them—there is no driving, flying or missing work, which makes them an efficient use of time, he says. Therefore, Maurer says, “I use teleseminars a lot.”
Maurer’s consultancy is focused on change management, and, with such a specific niche, webinars make it easier to build the consultancy’s credibility, he says. With some webinars, Maurer will e-mail handouts prior to the session, or he will direct participants to a specific web site at a specific time where the participants can access a few PowerPoint slides or some text, he said.
Maurer’s webinars are interactive, and he uses that feature to include audience members in the program. He has even interviewed members of the audience who are experts on particular subjects. “Let’s say I’m doing a teleseminar on change management and you’re an expert on employee involvement. I might say ‘I’ve got a special guest on the call today.’ And I open up the line, and you and I are talking and the others can hear the conversation,” he says.
Because of the interactive nature of his webinars, Maurer says, it is important to control the distribution of the message by opening up or blocking off the ability of the audience to hear what is being said. That was a “lesson learned” when an attendee put the phone on hold during a webinar while stepping off for several minutes, he said. The attendee was attempting to be polite, but when the phone was put on hold, the rest of the audience was left listening to music in the background, he said. Depending on the service used, webinar presenters need to be aware of ambient—or not so ambient—background noise such as dogs barking, children crying and the like.
However, an advantage a webinar can have over an in-person presentation may manifest itself when a particularly enthusiastic participant monopolizes the discussion with questions and comments. Webinars give the presenter the option of “muting” such a participant, with none of the other participants any the wiser. Webinar presenters should use a service that provides them with that option, he says.
Making It Happen
It is not difficult to arrange a webinar, Maurer says. Consultants needing to set up a webinar for a conference between the firm and a client will find it can be arranged within a day or two. More time is necessary only if the consultant is promoting or selling the webinars and needs the extra time to entice people to sign up.
The first step is selecting a service provider; that requires some “key considerations,” Maurer says. Those considerations are:
• Cost. While the cost of a webinar can range from insignificant to substantial, consultants are always concerned about keeping costs low.
• Accessibility. The ease of accessibility for the consultant and attendees is of prime importance.
• Polling capabilities. The ability to ask a question of the audience and get a collective response is very useful.
• Interactive capabilities. The ability to “hear” a participant’s question privately and then make a decision to “share” the question with the group at large is also useful.
• Simple interface. Just because the technology offers plenty of whiz-bang options does not mean a consultant should use them. It might be better to keep the webinar simple.
Look to others who have conducted webinars for recommendations on their service providers, Maurer says. In addition, participating in some webinars can provide a consultant with good ideas—from the audience perspective—of what works well and what does not, he said.
When a consultant has put together a short list of providers, before making a final selection, give the system a try. Request a demo from a vendor, which the vendor should be eager to provide. During the review of the system, assume the perspective of a potential attendee and pay attention to the sound and visual quality—watching for delays, static and “choppiness”—as well as how easy it is to use and navigate.
Tips for Making It Work
Additional information and tips that can help consultants prepare to use webinar technology are:
• Recognize that making a presentation in the webinar format is different and can be a little unnerving at first. The presenter cannot see or oftentimes hear the audience, so they are not getting the nonverbal feedback of a live presentation. It helps to learn to picture people when talking instead of just talking to a computer screen.
• Practice beforehand to get the presentation’s timing right. Unlike a live presentation where the session can be extended if needed, with most webinar services when the time limit is reached, you’re done.
• Indicate up front that not all questions might be answered within the allotted time. Presenters might want to provide an e-mail address to which attendees can send unanswered questions.
• Keep the technology simple. Presenters who use a slide or two to show a diagram or picture will keep an audience’s interest. An hourlong PowerPoint presentation that uses all types of bullet points tends to be boring.
• Offer the first few sessions free. This can help generate interest. And it gives the consultant an opportunity to practice before implementing a fee for a presentation.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues. She is the author of Human Resource Essentials: Your Guide to Starting and Running the HR Function (SHRM, 2002).
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