[Updated April 24, 2020] Running a successful seminar has, traditionally, been a great business model for edupreneurs. Successful seminars can be extremely lucrative and give you the opportunity to grow your authority while traveling around the country (or world) teaching an enthusiastic and engaged audience.
But there’s an obvious catch.
Even the most popular seminars can only reach a limited number of attendees, with many more interested students unable to attend because of time, distance, or financial constraints.
And now, of course, with COVID-19 upon us, there’s a good chance you will not be able to offer or attract people to seminars for quite some time.
By taking your seminar business online, you can reach thousands of new learners, keep your seminar business going in spite of current conditions, and open whole new revenue streams for your business in the future.
Here’s a detailed guide to why and how to do it.
Why to take your seminars online
Before we dive fully into “how,” let’s take a little closer look at why because understanding your whys can play an important part in your overall strategy for going online.
We’ve already covered what most edupreneurs will see as the obvious why: the ability to scale and reach more customers. This usually translates into more revenue, but it also translates into more diversified revenue. You may very well continue offering face-to-face, classroom-based seminars, but providing an online option means will still have revenue coming in even if your face-to-face business experiences a downturn or you decide to take a break for a while.
Another core business driver is the ability to streamline and automate your business processes. Once you’ve got your content online – and particularly if you make it on-demand – it becomes much easier to set up promotional campaigns and sales funnels that move your visitors and followers from prospects to customers much more efficiently. Also, you greatly reduce or even eliminate all of the operational energy you may be devoting to managing travel.
And, let’s face it: travel can get really old after a while. As Learning Revolution reader Bill Welter puts it, “I’ve had a workshop / seminar business for about 20 years and I’m awfully tired of airports and delayed flights.” So, Bill has converted a seminar he has taught for 15 years into a mini-course on Udemy titled Essentials of Strategic Thinking. If the course gets traction, he plans to launch a longer version on Thinkific.
The personal wear and tear from travel is one issue. Another is the impact on the environment. This was an important consideration for Learning Revolution reader Ian Roberts. “I am very environmentally conscious,” says Ian,
I don’t own a car … ride a bike instead, recycle, etc, etc. Then I hop on a plane from LA to Paris and dump, in one trip, a million times more CO2 into the atmosphere than what I was consciously saving in environmental damage in a year. And then I get 12 more people to do the same for the workshop. It was definitely a factor.
Ian is also tuned into how shifting to online delivery can actually support much more effective learning. I’ve written and spoken on many occasions about how we typically try to cram too much content into live learning events like seminars, workshops, and conferences. The human brain simply isn’t built to absorb large amounts of information in one shot. We benefit from having content and practice spaced out and repeated over time. Ian is aiming for precisely this with his online workshops. He writes:
In an 8 to10 day workshop in a disciple (painting) that demands a high degree of competence in a number of interconnecting skills, after about day 2 the student is stuffed. They just cannot assimilate any more. Complex learning needs to be broken down into small, easily-comprehended pieces and then practiced – say, for a week – and integrated and assimilated before another piece is added. So, that is what my current course is doing. Just with pencil and paper, understanding the underlying need for design or composition BEFORE you begin to paint. Small steps each week, with 20 minutes a day of practice and posting the drawing with a buddy who will critique it on Friday before I take a number and critique them on a Saturday Zoom call.
So, there are at least six compelling reasons for taking seminars online:
- Potential for a larger customer base and increased revenue
- Development of a more diversified revenue base
- Great potential for streamlining and automating parts of your business
- Less personal wear and tear from travel – for you and your students
- Less environmental impact from travel – by you and your students
- Potential for offering much more effective learning experiences
Now, let’s take a look at what the shift requires.
Approaches to creating an online seminar
One of the most obvious ways to create an online seminar is to capture a seminar you are already offering on video.
Beware, though, of simply setting up a video camera in the back of the room and pressing record. You probably already know from having seen such videos before that they can be beyond boring. To end up with an online product that will attract and engage learners, you need to do some planning. Specifically, you should:
Chunk your content
Review your content to remove anything extraneous and to try to provide learning in short segments whenever possible. Aim to divide up the material so that you focus on any particular point for no more than ten minutes (less when possible and appropriate), then shift gears and move to a new point or at least a different perspective on the same point. Chunking in this way will help provide natural breaks when editing the content later. Also, regardless of whether you plan to record, chunking is a valuable practice for helping to maintain learner attention and motivation. In other words, it will help you create a more effective, higher-value product.
Plot learner interaction
When it’s just you and roomful of learners, you can pause for questions or engage in tangential discussions whenever you want. That doesn’t play so well in a recording. You’ll want to be much more careful about when and how you interact with the learners in the classroom. Part of the power of the chunking approach described above is that you can use the natural pauses between chunks as places to pose or ask for questions. This makes it easier to handle questions from remote learners, if you decide to broadcast live (see below), and it also makes it much easier to edit the content to create an on-demand online version later.
Upgrade your slides
You may be the exception, but the vast majority of seminar leaders need better slides. In the classroom, it’s possible – though far from ideal – to get away with slides that are text heavy and/or not very visually compelling. When someone is watching you online, poorly designed slides lead quickly to learner disengagement. There is plenty of guidance out there on how to create more compelling slides. This article on Making Better PowerPoint Presentations from the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching rounds up quite a few of them. This is also an area in which you might seriously consider hiring a professional designer on a site like 99Designs.
Prep your audience
If you are going to record a live, placed-based seminar as the basis for an online seminar, it’s important to make sure your audience knows what you are up to. You’ll want them to know that you will only be taking questions at certain times and you’ll want to be extra certain that they take basic steps like turning off their cell phones. (and be sure to turn off your own, for that matter!) And, if you plan to use any shots of the audience in your course (a detail that I think can make an online seminar more compelling), you’ll need to have participants sign a basic consent form.
Finally, as noted, you will want to leverage your place-based audience for promoting your online version of the seminar. So, take some time before and after filming the main seminar content to provide information, generate excitement, and capture some videos testifying to your expertise and skill as a teacher.
While edupreneurs will often film their classroom-based seminars purely for purposes of making the recording available as a product, keep in mind that broadcasting live is an increasingly viable and popular choice these days. You can go live on a number of web and social platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and using software like Wirecast along with a Mevo camera you can get really professional results without spending a fortune.
Of course, you also don’t have to take the approach of filming your seminar live. Other possibilities include:
- Staging delivery of your seminar: do everything describe above, but wither without an audience or with a “dummy” audience – i.e., friends and colleagues you invite in for the purpose
- Delivering as a Webinar: simply record your seminar as a Webinar, with our without an audience. If you take this approach, remember that everything I said above about chunking and slides still applies. Also, my bias is that opening the Webinar with full screen video of you and cutting back to full screen video throughout – the gaps between your chunks provide a perfect opportunity for this – can make the Webinar much more compelling.
- Using screen capture tools: this is similar to recording with a Webinar tool, but instead you capture your seminar using a screen capture tool like Camtasia or Screenflow. This give you much more editing flexibility than the average Webinar platform – including the ability to easily insert text boxes, questions, and other on-screen elements where appropriate.
For more detail on how you should approach designing an online course – which is essentially what you are creating by taking your seminar online – be sure to see How to Create an Online Course to Sell.
People and equipment
The approach you decide to use will, of course, impact how complex your production needs will be.
If you decide to capture delivery of an actual live, in-classroom seminar, you will definitely benefit from having some assistance, if not professional help. Even with potentially do-it-yourself approaches like Wirecast and Mevo, having someone else pay attention to the production details will free you up to focus on delivering a great learning experience.
(If you do decide to go with a do-it-yourself approach, be sure to see my post on setting up a basic video studio. Everything in that post applies to capturing video of you delivering a seminar.)
A professional videographer – easily found for reasonable rates on sites like Thumbtack – will increase the chances that you capture high quality video. You may even want to invest in hiring more than one videographer to shoot from multiple angles and capture b-roll footage of your audience and venue. Again, I think it can be valuable to have these clips edited into the online version to make the video more visually stimulating.
If you decide to go with the Webinar approach, my preference is Zoom, which I have used for producing many Webinars and online conferences.
For the screen-capture approach, Camtasia (reviewed here) is my main all around recommendation because there are both PC and Mac versions. Also, while I’m a longtime user and fan of Screenflow on the Mac, I think Camtasia has better tools for actual course production.
Really, no matter which approach you use above, an editing tool like Camtasia is almost certainly something you will want to have in your mix. It will allow you edit your video content as needed, whether that’s for purposes of creating your online seminar or carving out video to use for promotional purposes. Editing can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, from cleaning up sound and picture clarity to using split screens, illustrations, and more.
Finally, once you have your approach – or approaches – figured out, you are going to need a platform for delivering your content online – including enrolling, managing, and supporting your learners. For that, be sure to see 15+ Platforms to Create and Sell Online Courses (and Counting).
Promoting your online seminar
If your business is rooted in seminars, it can be difficult to decide where to start promoting online. The obvious solution is to begin your online promotion offline with your current offline seminar attendees.
I find that most edupreneurs assume that people who have attended their live, place-based seminars are not good candidates for participating in an online version. In my experience, the opposite is usually true. The old rule about your easiest sales being to your current customers applies here.
Many of your current seminar customers will appreciate the opportunity to review what they learned by re-experiencing the seminar online when they can follow along at their own pace. So, definitely promote to this group. To jumpstart your efforts, you might consider offering a significant loyalty discount for access to the online version. Or, you may even consider giving access to some of your best customers with a request that they provide a testimonial.
(Note: unless you are recording the seminar primarily to use for content marketing, I do not recommend giving it away to all current seminar customers. This will damage perception of its value and rob you of one of your most readily available revenue streams.)
Keep in mind, too, that word-of-mouth promotion improves dramatically when attendees can point their colleagues, friends, and family directly to your seminar online. As suggested above, be sure to announce during your seminar where it will be available afterward, and include a web address in any promotional handouts or programs.
Where you decide to host your online seminar will also play a key role how you promote it online. While, as mentioned above, there are a variety of online course hosting platforms, it might be more profitable for you to offer the video natively through your website. Most Web content management systems (e.g., WordPress) have options for setting up password protected areas for your content.
Alternatively, if your aim is to offer the video for free to promote your offline business then you’re more likely to get views on a social site such as YouTube.
In general, how you want to use your video will determine the best place to post and promote it. The main thing at this point is to own up to the fact that you are going to have to promote it. There are no magic services or sites (e.g., Udemy) that will make your site successful for you. (Yes, there are exceptions, but they just prove the rule.)
Because I’ve written so much about the marketing and selling of online education here on Learning Revolution, I’m not going to go into great detail in this post. Instead, I encourage you to read/review the following:
- Build An Audience – What I Did (and You Can, Too)
- 15 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea
- How to Build an Email List for Marketing Your Courses
- 7 Key Reasons Online Course Creators Fail at Selling
- The 4 Critical Components of a Successful Product Launch Formula
- Are you undervaluing what’s unique about your course?
- Why you probably already know how to market your online course
I could go on, but those cover just about everything you need to know.
Making money from an online seminar
Most edupreneurs choose to monetize their online seminars in order to add additional revenue streams to their businesses. There are a variety of ways to generate income from online educational videos. Choosing the best one for your videos will depend on a range of factors, such as video length, subject, target audience, and your preferred income model. While I’ve written about all of this in many other places, I’ll cover some of the main models again here for convenience.
For most seminar creators, a one-time fee model works best when starting out – i.e., when you only have one or two seminars to offer online. Similar to what you have probably done with your placed-based seminars, the attendee pays once to be able to access the seminar content, whether through a live broadcast or in an on-demand version. A major benefit of an on-demand version, of course, is that learners have the ability to participate at their own pace within whatever timeframe you allow for access.
Keep in mind that, while the price for an online seminar can be as high or low as you choose, there is a good chance you will be biased toward not charging enough. There is ample evidence that, when it comes to learning, it is not the medium that matters. A well-executed online offering can achieve the same or better results as a classroom-based offering, so don’t sell yourself short by charging less for the online version. E-learning, as with any online industry, can be a race to the bottom when it comes to rates, but if you want to create and monetize an online seminar successfully, aim your prices high.
While one-time fees tend to work best early on – and are always a potential model – one of the most exciting opportunities for transitioning a seminar online is to transform it into one of the most valuable assets any entrepreneur can have: a source of recurring revenue.
By providing an environment in which you post related content, new courses as you create them, and opportunities for learners to interact with you and each other (e.g., through discussion boards, live online Q&A or coaching sessions) you generate a whole new level of value with your seminar – one for which you can charge learners on ongoing, recurring fee for access.
For seminar creators concerned about preserving their price point and learner interactivity when moving online, a membership model is one of the best paths to increasing both. Most of the major online course platforms – from Thinkific to Kajabi to WordPress-based solutions like LearnDash – provide tools for selling subscriptions and managing a range of membership tools.
Last, but far from least, the prospect of paying smaller, ongoing fees rather than one big, upfront fee is appealing to a lot of learners who might otherwise decide they can’t afford your offerings.
A less common model, but one that many seminar creators should consider is to sell your seminar or parts of it through a Video On-Demand (VOD) service such as Vimeo or Amazon Prime Video Direct. Like conventional video sales, these platforms work by distributing your videos to the paying public, who can choose from a variety of ways to purchase and view your content. As the creator, you can set a fixed price for individual videos and full collections, or collect revenue through subscriptions, rental models, or ad and other revenue splitting.
One significant upside of this approach is that by hosting with an established video provider such as Vimeo or Amazon, you also get access to their large user base. Amazon Prime surpassed 100 million users in January 2019, and Vimeo has 170 million regular users viewing 715 million videos each month.
Even if you don’t think your target learners will be looking for e-learning videos through large video on demand sites, there are smaller VOD services such as Uscreen to consider. These provide “over the top” or OTT film and TV services delivered through apps to smart devices such as phones and TVs. Uscreen has over 1 million subscribers, and provides a convenient way for you to deliver your course directly to your learners’ devices.
The big potential downside for this approach is that it focuses only on video. If you plan to incorporate assessments, community elements, or other types of interactivity into your online seminar, you would not want to pursue VOD as your only model. Still, it might provide an alternative for distributing your seminar content in a way that will appeal to a segment of your audience.
There are a number of less direct options for monetizing that, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to lump together. These include:
Ad Revenue: Generating ad revenue is an option if you make your recorded seminar available on a public platform like YouTube (basically the default option for this monetization method). To do this, you’ll need to set up a channel with monetization enabled. Appropriately enough, you can learn how to do that with this YouTube video.
The downside to this kind of revenue generation, of course, is that is is volume driven. A video on YouTube could have zero views or a billion, so there’s no way of accurately predicting what the revenue will be from any particular video, especially for edupreneurs just starting on a platform and still building their audience. However, if you are producing content in areas that have a broad appeal, especially to a younger audience that doesn’t control their purchases or has low disposable income, ad revenue can still generate large and sustainable profits.
Affiliate Revenue: As an expert in anything, you are in a great position to highlight products you know your learners will need. By earning commission for sales of products you highlight in your course or through communications with your learners and prospective learners you can, in fact, generate quite a lot of income. I talk about this in more detail in The Top 7 Ways to Monetize A Podcast and all the points I cover there apply here.
In general, when you’re choosing your business model and pricing level, you need to find a balance between your market size, learners’ circumstances, your fair compensation, and the ultimate benefit to the learner. If they finish your course with knowledge that will improve their career prospects, price according to the value you have added and their potential gains from the information you imparted.
And remember, people spend thousands of dollars each year on their hobbies, so even just-for-fun courses shouldn’t be devalued.
For additional thoughts on pricing see:
The Online – Offline Loop
Hopefully by now you have gotten a good idea of the value you can get out of taking your seminars online and how to do it. One final point I’ll make is that the value can easily flow in reverse.
What do I mean by that?
Well, for starters, as you begin to engage with learners online, you’ll gain new experience, very often with learners who are different from those who show up for your face-to-face seminars. The insights you gain from interacting with these learners can almost certainly be leveraged to improve and create new value in your face-to-face seminars.
Also, may already have or soon move to having educational content you offer only online. Very often there are opportunities to turn these into face-to-face seminars, workshops, or breakout sessions. Recently, for example, I was able to take a Webinar on learner engagement that we run as a sponsored offering at my company, Tagoras, and turn it into a very successful breakout session to accompany a keynote speech I delivered. (And, of course, I charged for the breakout and the keynote.)
Finally, don’t ever forget that your face-to-face offerings are always a great place to promote your online offerings and vice-versa. As you head down the road of creating online seminars, you will be creating a virtuous cycle that can create significant growth for you education business.
Other posts in this series:
- Why you should start hosting seminars
- How to start your own seminar business
- How to run a seminar on a budget