In the 1960s the physicist Richard Feynman gave a lecture on The Law of Gravitation. One commenter, who claimed to be present for this lecture, said:

“[The lecture] was spellbinding, and I would say that fully half of the people there were not physics majors. They just wanted to hear him.”

Another comment on the effect of Feynman’s lectures came from Robert Jaffe, professor at MIT, who said:

“I came away more impressed… above all with his ability to enlist the listener as a co-conspirator in his attempt to crack the safe where nature’s secrets are stored.”

What makes Feynman’s lectures so captivating? For me, it was the fact that he exudes passion for and understanding of the topic, while making it easy for the audience to follow and grasp the lesson. The lecture contains more stories, examples, and humorous remarks than physics formulas. The subject and its prerequisites are made accessible to anyone with just a sliver of physics knowledge.

“I would like to be understood in an honest way rather than in a vague way.” — Richard Feynman

The name of the lecture is fitting, by chance, because it attracts even non-physicists and converts them into enthusiasts even a half-century later.

Compare this to the modern webinar, whose purported goal is to attract and convert an audience to a product or service. Many of these webinars are mere digital twins of an event booth, which they are now replacing out of necessity: A plastering of the company logo with a product demo looping on the screen, with echoes of a representative delivering their pitch to any soul that passes within earshot on their way to the hors d’oeuvres table.

As it turns out, there is a lesson in Feynman’s lectures even for founders, executives, and marketing teams:

Companies that want to attract and convert an audience with webinars should stop treating them as event-booth substitutes and treat them as lectures.

Everything else will fall in place naturally:

  • The topic will be interesting and applicable to the audience, rather than a sales pitch masqueraded as insightful.
  • The lecturer will strive to capture and hold the audience’s attention, using stories and examples to make their points.
  • You will find someone who deeply understands the subject matter, make a glorious introduction, and get out of their way.
  • Promoting the webinar will feel like a service for the audience—and not like a forced marketing push—because there is real substance and value in it for them.
  • There might be a product plug somewhere in the lecture but it will be natural, minimal, and relevant to the lecture.
  • There will be a prompt for the audience to take some action during or after the webinar to cement what they’ve learned. it may be to sign up for a trial of your software so they can play with the examples they saw, or to download a more in-depth whitepaper on the topic, or to chat with a sales engineer to see if what they just learned can be applied for their projects.

To refine your webinars even further, read the guide to designing and delivering effective lectures from Rick Reis, enigneering professor at Stanford.

Every software company has engineers with a deep understanding of and passion for their subject. Put away the pitch deck and give them a platform to deliver lectures.

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