I attended a webinar the other night, and it was terrible.
No, not the content, but the length. Almost 75 minutes passed by and the presenter STILL hadn’t got to the “secret” she was going to share but, instead, kept talking about her “amazing, one-of-a-kind product” that would change my business forever. Every other sentence was meant to leave me salivating, “just wait until I give you the secret that made me millions,” but no sentence actually gave me something concrete.
So I left.
I’m sure she finally got to her point, somewhere around the 90-minute mark, but I simply didn’t have the patience to stay to find out.
And I guarantee you I’m not the only one.
How Long Is Too Long?
This is a common question that comes up not just with webinars, but with advertising everywhere. We live in a day of bite-size and snackable content. Facebook video ads are meant to be just a few seconds, Snapchats are short and sweet snippets, and TV ads are now just skipped over thanks to the magic of DVR.
So should our webinars be shorter too?
Not necessarily. Somehow, webinars have bypassed the goldfish phenomenon that is sweeping the world, and actually get people to sit down and pay attention. This may be because webinars provide deep, engaging content, that is both live and interactive. In fact, recent observational reports show that, on average, people will actively view a webinar for 55 minutes before dropping off.
Think about that for a second. What other form of advertising or lead-generating source captures viewers’ attention for almost a solid hour?
Most 30-second commercials don’t even hold our attention… I’m personally guilty of flipping through Instagram or playing Candy Crush while the TV blares in the background.
Not even on-demand webinars, which see a 42-minute drop-off rate (still pretty impressive) get close to the kind of captive viewing live webinars do.
However, does that mean your webinar should be 55 minutes? And any longer is too long?
Again, not necessarily. It all depends on the kind of content you’re presenting, who your audience is and how interactive your webinar is throughout.
If you’re running a webinar to sell viewers on your product or service, don’t make the same mistake as the host of the webinar I attended (and left). They ran on way too long for that kind of content. If the average drop-off rate is 55 minutes, you want your main points to have come across before the buzzer.
Marketing webinars should be between 30-60 minutes — and that length should include time for audience questions and answers. So, if you want your webinar to last a solid 60 minutes, plan to wrap your prepared content up around the 45-minute mark and give the audience time to engage you with their questions.
However, if you have to stretch your content and load it with filler to hit that 45-minute mark, here’s a word of advice: don’t. Rather, cut it down to 30 minutes of truly interesting content, and do Q&A after. And if you can’t get to 30 minutes without filler content? Well, it might just be time to take your topic back to the drawing board.
The same goes for your Q&A sessions. If no one is asking questions, it’s better to end it early than draw it out by telling us about the latest adventures of your cat, Jasper (even if the latest video of his exploits seems really, really cute). However, you should set a max for how long Q&A will run on as well (there’s always that one guy that won’t stop raising his hand).
Training Webinars, Online Courses Or Multi-session Webinars
If you’re a professional chef who runs weekly cooking classes over webinars, 60 minutes may just not be enough time. Hello, who can make the perfect lasagna and tiramisu in just an hour? And that’s perfectly okay.
Training webinars for employees and online courses or sessions that reconvene each week tend to draw a crowd that’s more willing to stick it out to the end because there’s a lot of information to be learned. The same goes for paid webinars. If there’s skin in the game, your attendees are more likely to stay until the not-so-bitter end.
However, you don’t want your webinar to drag on. It’s important when you have longer webinar courses to break them up into digestible sections (about 10-20 minutes each) and provide regular intervals for interactions and questions. For example, if you’re teaching a cooking class, ask for questions every step of the way, rather than after 80 minutes is up and the food is already out of the oven.
If people know they can ask questions throughout, they are more likely to stay engaged and attentive the whole time, rather than zoning out, texting friends and perusing Pinterest on another browser until Q&A time hits at the very end.
What About Super-Short Webinars?
Yes, there is such a thing as a webinar that is too short, and that fine line hits right about the 20-minute mark. Anything below 20 minutes will feel like a big fat waste of your attendees’ time, and you definitely don’t want that.
If you’re marketing something, 20 minutes is simply not enough time to build up anticipation, do a big reveal and provide time for questions. Not to mention, if the average viewer sticks around for 55 minutes, you are throwing away precious time where you can have their captive attention. That’s just bad marketing.
And if it’s a training course or a class, well, how much information can you jam into 20-minutes? After introductions and questions, the answer is, not much at all. Your audience won’t be likely to attend again as it’s more work than it’s worth.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule about how long your webinar should be. If you have the content to fill an entire hour, great! If thirty minutes is all you have time for, that’s fine too. Just try to never go longer than an hour for a marketing webinar and 90 minutes for a class, and shorter than 20 minutes (for anything) and you are golden.
And if you tend to be on the long-winded side, here’s a piece of advice: If you can keep your audience engaged by asking questions, dropping in polls, presenting quality content or even throwing in some humor here and there, a lengthy webinar will fly by without anyone noticing.