Tips for hosting an Online Workshop event from Mark Miller of EndUserSharePoint.com

mark millerMark Miller, founder and editor of EndUserSharePoint.com, runs a successful business offering live online training sessions. We interviewed Mark, asking him to share his experiences and offer some tips and tricks for using Eventbrite to market and manage your own online workshop or webinar.

Describe to our audience what an End User SharePoint Online Live Workshop is and how it came about.

I have been a technology trainer for over a decade, flying around the world giving SharePoint training. Last year on my birthday I was in Singapore and my 3 and 5 year-olds Skyped in to wish me a happy birthday. I though to myself, “This is just wrong.” So I started moving my business model online.

There are a lot of people that are trying to get a handle on SharePoint or a specific technology, and don’t have the money or resources in house to send people to training and can’t afford to bring in a consultant. Online training is a great solution.

I’ve been doing it for almost a year now and it’s really taking off: I’ve done over 60 events in the last 6 months.

How frequently do you hold Online Workshops?

Normally I hold two, one on Tuesday, one on Friday, but in a busy week I’ll do three. Doing them live is critical to putting the workshop into context. The training has to relate to the problems attendees are having in house, and the live hands-on nature of the event allows attendees to find solutions in real-time.

How do you gauge interest in the topics to ensure that the workshops will be popular?

I’m using Eventbrite as a workshop registration platform, but have also found it very useful as a marketing vehicle. As an example, if you look at the events I currently have running, you’ll see three “Announcements” lists.

When I write an article on my site that relates to a specific technique from one of the live online workshops, I include a “sign-up” form from Eventbrite at the bottom of the article, letting people register for notification the next time a workshop is scheduled. What this does is a allow me to gauge interest in a topic. When I get 50 registrations for notification, I know I’ve got a subject of interest and can then schedule a workshop based upon those requesting notification.

The nice part is, I can use these as mini targeted email lists, getting directly to the people who are interested in specific topics. I keep in touch with them every week or two to let them know what’s going on, pointing them to articles on my site that they might find useful.

How do you determine the size and price of the webinar?

The first time I did one, over 500 users signed up, but that’s just too much. When you are doing hands-on context-based training, 20 is the max. I charge between $89 and $149 to attend a workshop. I price it by gauging the level of the user. I think about the dollar value of the information and consider the time required for me to prepare the content.

Do you have sponsors?

No. It’s important for me to build trust so that attendees know that my perspectives are impartial.

How do you build trust?

I build trust by showing expertise on our website and by building up exposure over time. We have a strong mailing list that we keep we keep in contact with three or four times per month. Visibility gives you credibility, so we stay in constant contact with our subscribers.

How do you get the word out about these workshops, what kind of marketing do you do?

I’m pretty heavy into twitter, which we’ve found effective. Also through our newsletter and our website – we get over 350,000 page views a month. Speaking at conferences is also a great way to promote the workshops. I also use the Eventbrite a day before the workshop to send out a reminder, and then an hour before I send them the login info.

What’s the most challenging aspect of putting on these workshops?

When you are standing in front of people you can look in their eyes and see who’s getting it and who’s not. When you are in an online environment, it’s much more of a challenge to gauge whether someone is participating or not. I take advantage of the features that are built into the online meeting platform like text chat rooms and personal response icons.

To help people communicate if they like something, I created the HS technique, which stands for “holy smokes!” If you see something you really like in the workshop, you type HS. If you put exclamation points after that, I know it’s a home run. It helps to get end user participation and get feedback on whether you are hitting the mark or not.

Interactivity is critical, anyone can do recorded workshops, but you can’t give individual context in real time.

What’s the greatest piece of advice that you could give event holders looking to host an online workshop?

Take a Train the Trainer workshop on how to teach live online. Sure, I’d love for people to take the EndUserSharePoint.com live online “Train the Trainer” workshop from me, but if you can’t, at least get someone you can practice on.

You can’t just get up and start doing this stuff. For example, you can’t use the same slide deck that you would use in person  — the way you interact with the attendees is completely different. A good Train the Trainer workshop will help you take your existing materials and repurpose it for online use.

As an online trainer, you must keep the information flow going while putting concepts into contextual use for the participants. If your participants walk away from a session and don’t have anything to implement immediately afterward, they should ask for their money back.

As an online trainer, if you think in those terms, everyone wins.