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Online Conferencing: WEBINAR BUZZ

By EDWARD RHOLL

Web conferencing is one of the best technology tools for communicating powerful messages to targeted audiences. You can even offer real-time seminars to reach out to clients and prospects.

In the past, lawyers relied on office visits, mailings and telephone calls to communicate with clients. Then came fax machines, e-mails and law firm Web sites. Hot on the scene today is yet another new technology for reaching out and touching clients: Web conferencing.

WebEx Communications forecasts that one in ten Americans will attend a Web conference this year. That’s 30 million people. So, what’s the buzz all about? And how can lawyers use this technology to develop business, advance their practices and nurture client relationships?

What Web Conferencing Can Do

Web conferencing technology allows lawyers to resolve client matters more quickly, give educational seminars to groups of clients and prospects and do high-impact marketing presentations—all without leaving their offices. It can both expand and focus marketing initiatives, decrease lawyer and client travel time, and reduce the time and cost of hosting meetings and seminars.

As an alternative to in-person meetings, Web conferencing provides a convenient real-time forum that allows participants to work through issues "live" from separate locations and great distances. Among the advantages, participants can simultaneously work together on documents with online collaboration tools. They can even negotiate matters using a specific Web conferencing application called a "deal room." (See "Extranets & Beyond," on page 38, to learn what U.K. firms are doing with deal rooms.)

Web conferencing is also a great way to communicate a marketing message to targeted client groups. More and more firms are catching on to this fact and driving another trend by using Web conferencing technology to present seminars, or "webinars."

Firms can, for example, give a Web presentation to introduce a new practice area or communicate changes in the law for which the firm has solutions. Firms can also produce educational seminars on focused, relevant topics and invite specific groups of clients to participate. The firm can charge a fee for the program or provide the material as an extended, value-added service. Either way, the Web seminar brings convenience and potential new revenue streams to law firms. And it can help firms expand their reach nationally, and even internationally.

How to Buy Web Conferencing

There are many Web conferencing companies in the marketplace, each with different pricing and service packages. So, whether your firm is large or small, you will be able to find a cost-effective solution. Three major pricing models exist: purchase of a Web conferencing system; monthly lease of a system; and single use of a system. Within each of these models, companies offer varying levels of service and support. Choosing a vendor that meets your needs will depend on a range of factors, including what specific tools you want available to presenters and audience members, the frequency of your planned usage and the level of customer support you require.

As you begin to compare various products, you will notice that they all have the same basic elements, though each has nuances that you might find particularly compelling. For example, Latitudes Web conferencing (www .meetingplace.net) has highly interactive polling functions. WebEx (www.webex.com) has a very basic but easy-to-use interface for presenters. Placeware (www.placeware.com) features a detailed seating chart that allows you to easily monitor attendees and respond to their questions and comments. And Interlegal’s OneVoice (www.interlegalinc.com) is designed with functionality specifically for the legal industry.

If you like the WebEx product, but don’t want to lease a certain number of seats on a monthly basis, ECI (www.calleci.com) provides the exact same interface and customer service on a per-use basis. Latitudes’ and Interlegal’s products can also be used in this way. Placeware sells seats on an annual basis for a fixed fee for unlimited use. WebEx does this on a monthly, recurring basis. If you like the single-use structure, Interlegal, ECI and Reality Fusion’s TeamView (www.real ityfusion.com) all charge between 20 to 40 cents per seat per minute. (Variations are primarily owing to differing telephony options.) For a comparative sample of several products, go to ConferZone at www.conferzone .com/vendor/webconf.html.

While pricing schemes vary, the basic workings of any Web conference are essentially the same. The software allows a presenter to load a presentation—commonly prepared in Power Point—into the conference infrastructure and then broadcast that presentation online to a group of anywhere from one person to five thousand. Most products allow for streaming video, chat and messaging, some degree of private labeling and telephony options. Telephony is another cost consideration. You have two options: Have a toll-free call supplied by the conferencing company (30 to 50 cents per minute) or purchase a "bridge" to a toll call and either bill your attendees (5 to 10 cents per minute) or provide a toll-free call (15 to 25 cents per minute).

Creating a Great User Experience

Each conferencing product has certain functionality that can add to the enjoyment of attending a Web conference. However, it is really the quality of the presentation and the value of the content that matters most. The content is the message." The art of conducting a great Web conference is focusing your content and converting it into an appealing presentation. There are three steps to ensure a great performance.

Step 1: Choose your message and your audience. Good lawyers know how to prepare for different audiences. It’s a necessary skill of the trade. Litigators, for example, know to prepare briefs in a persuasive style and target them toward an individual judge. Transactional lawyers know to carefully craft document language for those who will use it to achieve a common purpose. The same principle holds true in creating excellent content for Web presentations. You begin by considering who you want to reach and for what purpose. Only then can you determine exactly what the message will be and how you will communicate it.

If you could bring all your clients together in a group and speak to them for one hour, what would be the common themes you’d choose to communicate? If you could divide your clients into smaller, more-specific groups, which group would you most like to reach? If you want to generate new business, where is the potential need for your services greatest?

It is very important to work through this questioning process to determine the right target group and your message to that group. After all, you’re going to spend a few hours of your time preparing and presenting the event and you’re going to ask your audience members to give you an hour or two of their time. Make it powerful.

Step 2: Create a dynamic presentation. Once you’ve determined your audience and your message, hone your presentation skills and think like a marketer. You have a timely message for a targeted group that has a strong interest in hearing it—you don’t want to put them to sleep. Think of a great closing argument you delivered or a masterful presentation you made to get a new client. You want to inform and engage people.

Then begin to create your visual presentation. Typically, this will consist of PowerPoint slides and perhaps other related documents or views of a relevant Web site. The conferencing software tools are simple. You won’t have to spend hours figuring out how to make them work. Spend your time making the visual elements compelling. Highlight important points in your slides by using varying fonts, colors and sound clips. Variety keeps people engaged.

Now write your script. This is a very important process that ties what you want to say to how you choose to display it. Develop a script that will keep your entire presentation flowing easily from point to point—and within, but not less than, the allotted time. Attendees will come away feeling they’ve spent an hour with a true professional.

Lastly, practice until you’re comfortable. Many Web conferencing providers will allow you to access the conference center to practice at little or no cost. And nearly all provide free training for beginners.

Get familiar with the way the slides work, the messaging tool functions and how to show a Web site or document. Ask a colleague to listen to your presentation and offer comments. You will gain a ton of confidence, and it will show on webinar day.

Step 3: Provide proper customer service. When clients and prospects come to your office, you take steps to ensure that they feel comfortable, right? Think of the Web conferencing center as an extension of your office. Focus on making sure your audience feels comfortable and well informed, and be timely with your appointment—the presentation.

Make sure you provide clear instructions on how participants are to access your presentation—including the URL, password and telephony dial-in number—well in advance of show day. Also, make sure your instructions provide a technical service number for people to call if they encounter a problem with the site.

During the presentation, take a few moments to explain what you’re going to do, where people can access the instant messenger feature, how they answer a poll question and what to do if they lose the conference for some reason. This will take only a couple of minutes, but it will put everyone at ease.

After you’ve finished your presentation (on time), ask people to send an e-mail to you with their comments on how you did. You might choose to provide a survey form by e-mail. Generally, your audience will want you to do well, and most people will be gracious in analyzing your performance. But you’ll also benefit greatly from the few who offer criticism.

Finally, a thank-you e-mail to all your audience members caps off the presentation and can open the door to response messages that may lead to business.

It Brings in the Benefits

New technology tools are always coming along. But few offer the immediate impact to the average law practice that Web conferencing, and especially the webinar, does. By learning to use this fairly simple technology, firms will see tremendous benefits in economy, business development, branding and client relationship building.

 

Edward Rholl (edward@inetlegalnetwork.com) is Chief Legal Counsel for INET Legal Network, LLC, in San Diego. He was formerly in private practice, where he focused on business transactions for technology companies.

 

ACTION

• Want to explore this powerful medium in more depth? The Law Marketing Portal and Internet Bar Training are offering a 60-minute seminar designed to provide all the tips and tricks needed to create and present excellent Web conferences. The program is being held live on the Internet in a Web conference format, December 6, 12:00 p.m., Central time. For more information, go to www.internetbar.org/webconference.