5 tips for using experts as guest presenters in marketing webinars

Corrie recently emailed me asking, “We use webinars to generate and qualify leads. Any tips for using a subject matter expert (who is not a professional speaker) as a guest presenter?”

Roger: Subject matter experts (“SMEs”) as webinar presenters are common, largely because webinars are such a cost effective way to connect experts and audiences wherever they  are in the world.

Perhaps even more importantly, the power of “live” means that it’s not just about content (which you could put in a paper). Interpersonal connections help audiences personalize the experience by contributing to the discussion and getting questions answered that are particular to them. They also help presenters/marketers learn something from the audience via polling, captured Q&A or comments, etc.

To take full advantage of these opportunities, consider the following ideas for using SMEs as guest presenters.

Decide where the SME’s topic fits in your prospect’s buying process

What gets a prospect’s attention and compels action evolves as they move from awareness to purchase.

A content marketing model that takes the buying or discovery process into account likely has different types of content that are appropriate at different stages of discovery. There are several factors that go into who you put on stage when. Remember, there is usually an inverse ratio between someone who will draw a large audience (generate awareness and leads) and an expert who will present the intricacies of your industry or solution in a compelling way. Often a SME’s topic will better suited for the middle or latter stages of the sales cycle since their topics usually are more focused and less populist.

Example: Imagine you’re a web conferencing company looking to attract people to the idea that you can meet, present, and train online in an effective way. You need to generate as many leads as possible, but ultimately you need to sell the unique benefits of your service. If you hire Dan Pink, a lot of may people show up, but they might not all be qualified. And Dan may or may not really show off your solution in its unique glory (no offense–I love Dan’s work. And while he’s a charismatic presenter, his promise to you probably isn’t that he’ll figure out the nuances that make your solution really stand out from the pack).

Evaluate a recording from a previous webinar the SME has delivered

Since the dawn of time, telling a story and/or getting someone to take action has not just been about the content, but how it’s delivered. In our 407-response survey earlier this year asking people why they’d leave a webinar early, the number two reason (out of 13) was, “the presenter is boring.”

The SME may not be a “professional speaker,” but they should be professional as a communicator. If they’re is boring as mud, it doesn’t mean they’re not an expert, but it does mean you have a decision to make. If the SME is coachable, a webinar may be a brilliant strategy, but it also might mean you figure out an alternative way to connect them to your audience. Remember that a bad presenter can hurt the cause… you’ve got a message you want your audience to hear, and they won’t hear it if they bail out.

Help the SME adapt to a new way of connecting with their audience

What engages an audience? What they see, hear, feel, and do. As John Maxwell puts it in Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, ability to connect can make you or break you.

In a webinar, it’s useful to help the SME look good on camera, but a single webcam does not engage the same way Hollywood has learned to. Slide design also becomes more important than offline presenting.

Finally, it’s quite common that presenters who move online fall prey to the “webinars are 45 minutes of presentation, 15 minutes of questions” myth. Which leads to the question, “If we know interacting with the audience better gets and keeps attention, how do we get the SME to interact and engage with the audience?”

Rehearse with interaction and focus in mind

Unless the presenter is a keynote speaker, it’s almost certain that they interact with an in-person audience in some way. Seriously, if someone in the front row of the audience raised their hand, would the speaker ignore them? Yet that’s what happens every day in webinars.

The goal of a dry run or dress rehearsal is not to do a full training on the web conferencing, webcasting, or virtual classroom technology. To be successful, however, you will need to help the presenter realize that you’re there to help them succeed… and succeeding involves engaging the audience.

First, figure out together where and how you will engage the audience. Start in “analog,” and ask the presenter how they work an audience when in-person. Since you’re the one with more experience with web conferencing, you will more readily see where and how to adapt what they typically do to the online environment.

Two, teach them only what they need to know to accomplish this new vision of engagement. Walk through the flow of how the webinar will unfold… who’s doing or saying what and where, and how are you transitioning between people and/or sections. How do they grab an annotation tool or pointer? Where do they see questions that you’ve marked for them to see? Maybe they “speak to” the poll, but you actually operate it.

Speak the truth in love

Telling someone that they need to improve takes both delicate skill and courage. It is especially difficult if you are intimidated by their position (you’re the marcom manager and they’re the VP). The question on the table, though, is what is more important– dealing with a little discomfort, or doing something that will create a much more pleasing experience for the hundreds of people in the virtual audience.

To be sure, not everyone is coachable. Some will be receptive, and some won’t. I’ve got one client who likes to complain about a SME whose content is excellent but whose delivery is pure drudgery. Like that client, you have a choice to make… speak the truth in love, live with it, or figure out an alternative modality for delivering the content.

The good news… when you approach it with the right heart, most people are grateful for constructive input about how to be better.

Cheers to your successes!








1 Comment

  1. Kelley

    Love your comments regarding “engagement training” in the dress rehearsal. When approached in the context of in-person engagement, the transition to virtual engagement makes much more sense.

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