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Should you host a live or pre-recorded webinar?

If you're hosting a webinar, you have an important decision to make: live vs. pre-recorded webinars? Learn the pros and cons of each and which is right for you.

October 23, 2020 by Rachel Burns

If you've been thinking about hosting a webinar, you're not alone.

Now that many of us are doing most things from home -- including working and learning -- webinars are more popular than ever.

And for creators, webinars are a great way to build trust with your audience, bring in potential customers, and share your expertise.

But first-time webinar hosts have a lot to figure out. What webinar software should you use? Should you sell your webinar, or offer it for free? Should you host your webinar live, or pre-record the content ahead of time?

In today's post, we're answering that last question -- live vs. pre-recorded webinars. We'll cover the pros and cons of each approach, tips on making the most of both formats, and how to figure out which type of webinar is right for you.

What is a live webinar?

Live webinars are exactly what they sound like -- the audience watches you present your webinar in real-time. Live webinars need a host on-hand to start, run, and close the webinar.

Because the audience watches your webinar in real-time, live webinars have a variety of unique pros and cons. Let's start with the pros. 

Pros of hosting a live webinar

Hosting live webinars can be scary because it feels like a million things can go wrong. But small mistakes and interruptions -- like your kid or pet running into the frame -- can also make you seem more human. 

Take, for example, the BBC Dad. In 2017, Professor Robert Kelly was participating in a live BBC segment on Korean affairs -- from his home office. He was mid-segment when his two young children burst into the room, followed quickly by their mom, who whisked them away. 

A clip of the segment went viral. People loved it, and the moment made a serious news segment seem more human and relatable. What could have been a disaster of unprofessionalism turned into an authentic, human moment.

And that authenticity is what your audience wants. 86% of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support.

Along with authenticity, live webinars can also be more interactive than pre-recorded webinars. 

Real-time interaction is exactly what many audience members are looking for when they sign up for a webinar.

A HubSpot survey found that the top two elements people would like to see in a webinar are a host that takes audience questions and anything interactive: 

When you host a live webinar, you can answer questions throughout or save time at the end for a live Q&A. 

On the other hand, hosting live presentations has its downsides. Let me explain.

Cons of hosting a live webinar 

The biggest potential downside of hosting a live webinar?

No do-overs. 

Live webinars are riskier than pre-recorded webinars because you have to get them right the first time around. For solopreneurs, a live webinar can be an even bigger handful -- you need to handle all of the technical pieces, audience interaction, and your presentation.

If you make a big webinar hosting mistake or your audiovisual gear breaks down, your audience may have a bad webinar experience. They may also be less likely to sign up for future webinars. 

Another way real-time webinars can create a less-than-ideal audience experience is timing. If you host a live webinar without offering a recording, you may be missing out on a big chunk of your audience by scheduling it for the wrong time.

Scheduling doesn't have to be a total guessing game, though. Research shows that webinars scheduled between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. have the highest attendance rates, and Wednesday and Thursday are the best days to host webinars. 

That said, if you have a global audience, you also have to keep time zones in mind. 11 a.m. in New York City is 1 a.m. in Australia, so when your webinar is a one-time-only, no-replays event, you may miss out on a big chunk of potential viewers. 

Now that you know the pros and cons, let's dive into some best practices for hosting a live webinar. 

How to host a great live webinar

One of the key parts of running a successful webinar -- live or pre-recorded -- is choosing the right webinar tools and gear. 

TechSmith found that 75% of the videos that viewers rated as "good" or "great" had clear voiceover audio. Your microphone is particularly important for live webinars because you can't edit audio before your audience sees the webinar like you can with a pre-recorded webinar.

The software you choose also plays a big role in the webinar experience, especially when it comes to interactive features. For example, Zoom lets webinar hosts collect audience questions throughout the presentation and launch up to 25 audience polls per webinar. 

(If you don't know which webinar platform to choose, take a look at our list of the top webinar platforms.)

Whichever platform you choose, make sure to give your software and gear a good test run before the big day.

Do a dress rehearsal on your webinar platform of choice with friends or family to get comfortable before your live webinar starts.

If you're using a Powerpoint or other form of presentation, practice flipping between slides and know how your software's screen-sharing functionality works. 

It's not all about troubleshooting technology, though. Practicing your presentation to a live audience can help you feel more confident on webinar day, especially if you're working to overcome imposter syndrome.

Another way to make the most of your live webinar is to offer it as a recording.

Live and recorded webinars don't have to be mutually exclusive, and often aren’t.  94% of webinars are made available on-demand after the event runs live.

Here's why. A lot of people sign up for webinars and don't attend for whatever reason. 

Marketing webinars have an average attendance rate of 44%. But the other 56% of would-be audience members still registered for the webinar, so you know they're interested in your webinar content. 

Why not offer them the recording as a free download?

Let people know on your webinar registration page that there will be a recording sent to everyone who signs up, even if they can't attend the live event.

That way, you won't miss out on people who don't sign up because they can't make the exact date or time of the live webinar. And once someone registers for your webinar, you have their email address, and you can continue the conversation and nurture the relationship.

Recording live webinars can even help you profit off of them.

Take MyArtist.Life, a membership site for musicians. MyArtist.Life offers live webinars and replays to members and sells the recordings to non-members. It's the best of both worlds. 

Offering your webinar recording alongside a digital download, like the handouts MyArtist.Life includes, makes the content even more valuable.

We'll cover more tips for selling webinars later on. For now, it's time to talk about your other option -- pre-recorded webinars.

What is a pre-recorded webinar?

Pre-recorded webinars are recorded before the webinar goes "live," then either played at the scheduled time as though they're live webinars or offered on-demand.

Depending on the setup, pre-recorded webinars may also be called on-demand webinars, simulated webinars, and automated webinars. 

Pros of using pre-recorded webinars

Pre-recording webinars takes some of the pressure and multi-tasking out of hosting a webinar, especially if you're running things single-handedly.

And with over 70% of small business owners working over 40 hours a week, and 89% working weekends, saving time is a major perk.

When you pre-record your presentation, then air it at a set time, you have one less piece to worry about than you would during a live webinar. You can focus on other important things, like:

  • Interacting with your audience in the chat
  • Running polls and quizzes
  • Monitoring for technical difficulties on your webinar platform
  • Everything else that goes into a successful webinar

If you're nervous about presenting live, pre-recording your webinar can help you overcome that fear of public speaking and ease the pre-webinar jitters. 

After you record your presentation, you can edit your recording to fix audio errors, add other media -- like visuals, video clips, or additional audio -- and cut out any mistakes or lags. 

One more benefit of offering webinars on-demand is that your audience can watch your presentation whenever they want. That's probably why 84% of business-to-business audiences told GoToWebinar that they prefer on-demand replays to live webinars. 

Plus, whether you record a live webinar or release it on-demand, you can earn passive income by selling access to your webinar recordings. Check out these tips for selling webinars to learn more.

So, when it comes to pre-recorded webinars, there are a lot of positives. But what about the downsides? Read on.

Cons of using pre-recorded webinars

Live webinars' biggest asset is pre-recorded webinars' biggest downfall. Pre-recorded webinars are less interactive than when you host live.

If you only offer on-demand webinars -- meaning viewers can access the webinar recording at any time -- there's no audience interaction or Q&A. This can feel extra inauthentic if you bill your recording as a webinar but don't offer any interaction during the webinar time. 

Along the same lines, 32% of webinar attendees feel the most engaged when the webinar host is passionate and energetic -- and it can be a lot harder to be engaging when you're talking to your webcam instead of to a live audience. 

Pre-recorded webinars also run the risk of becoming outdated quickly, especially if you work in a fast-changing industry, 

Your on-demand webinars need to be evergreen, meaning the content stays relevant long after recording. And if you want your automated webinar to seem like it's live, you need to avoid talking about what day it is or current events.

That's a lot to keep track of.

But it's definitely doable.

Keep reading for advice on making the most of a pre-recorded webinar -- for your audience and your bottom line.

How to create an awesome pre-recorded webinar

One tip for pre-recorded webinar success is to make it feel as much like a live webinar as possible. 

As we talked about earlier, your audience wants to interact with your webinar, not just watch it. The good news is that you can still offer that interactive webinar experience with pre-recorded content. 

Many webinar platforms let you run a pre-recorded webinar in a way that makes them seem like they’re live with automated polls and Q&As. You can set your webinar to "go live" at a specific time, monitor the chat and Q&A, and then send out the recording to registrants afterward. 

That said, if you don't want to air your recording like a live webinar, you can still create a high-quality webinar experience. 

Take Save Your Town's Restarting Local Shopping webinar, for example.

Instead of coordinating a live webinar for a countrywide audience, Save Your Town focuses on the benefits of their webinar being pre-recorded:

An on-demand webinar also gives Save Your Town the opportunity to add testimonials to their landing page, which in turn makes others more likely to download.

If you offer your webinar on-demand as a digital download, you can also include something extra like a worksheet, checklist, or template. You can also make your slides available to download as a PDF. 

The Enterprise Collective sells pre-recorded webinars through Podia. Their webinar with Sophie Cliff includes a PDF copy of the presentation and a mini workbook as a bonus digital download.

(You can create a webinar landing page like Save Your Town and The Enterprise Collective's with Podia. Try it out for yourself with a 14-day free trial.) 

The Enterprise Collective is also honest about their webinar being pre-recorded, and they explain why:

"This product includes a pre-recorded webinar. You cannot interact with it . . . After the amazing feedback we received we didn't want anyone to miss out on this fantastic session."

On the topic of being honest, this last piece of advice is a cheesy one, but I mean it: Be yourself. 

When you pre-record your webinar, you might not have an audience outside of your camera. Still, try to speak like you're talking with a friend, rather than lecturing or performing. Your video will be more engaging and authentic.

OK, it's time to bring it all back around to our original question. With everything you know now, should you host a live or pre-recorded webinar? 

Should you host a live or pre-recorded webinar?

At the end of the day, there's no right or wrong answer here. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each webinar style and figure out what works best for you, your presentation style, and your audience. 

If you value live audience interaction and feel confident in your presentation and technology, a live webinar is your best bet -- just consider offering a replay to registrants who can't join at your scheduled time. 

On the other hand, if you plan to create evergreen content and are less concerned about interacting with your audience in real-time, a pre-recorded or on-demand webinar can save you time (and those pre-webinar jitters). 

Whether you choose live webinars or pre-recorded ones, an all-in-one platform like Podia makes it easy to host, promote, and sell webinars

Podia's webinar features include landing pages, advanced webinar scheduling, automatic replays, reminder emails, coupons, payment plans, and more. 

Plus, you keep all of your digital products in one place, which is especially helpful if you're launching online courses with webinars or repurposing ebooks into webinars

You can also use Podia's email marketing tools to promote your webinar. And that's good news, because 57% of marketers say that email is their top channel for promoting webinars. 

With 20 to 40% of webinar attendees becoming qualified leads, a solid webinar marketing strategy can help you end up on the upper end of that range. And when you use Podia, you own everything, including your email list, payments, data, and relationship with your audience.

See Podia in action

Join a live demo to see how Podia's all-in-one platform can help you grow your business.

No matter what platform you choose, you can create a webinar that wows your audience and brings in new customers.

Live vs. pre-recorded webinars, the final round

We've gone through a lot of information today. Here's the lowdown on live webinars, pre-recorded webinars, and choosing between them:

  • Live webinars can be more interactive and authentic than pre-recorded ones, but that also makes them riskier.
  • If you choose a live webinar format, make sure you're comfortable with your gear, software, and presentation before your webinar airs.
  • Pre-recorded webinars can save you a lot of time and pressure, but they may also come across as insincere.
  • If you do record your webinar ahead of time, make the most of your webinar software's interactive tools.
  • For on-demand webinars, consider including bonus content, like templates or workbooks.
  • Whether you choose a live or pre-recorded webinar format, an all-in-one platform like Podia makes it easy to manage all of your digital products in one place, including hosting, selling, and promoting webinars. 

All in all, there are ways to make both live webinars and pre-recorded webinars work for you. 

Don't be afraid to try out both webinar formats and figure out what you're most comfortable with and what seems to resonate the most with your audience. If you don't try, you'll never know. 

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