Fakeinars, Pitchfests and Webinars

What’s your gut reaction when you see an e-mail from a marketer, inviting you to a webinar? If you haven’t done much screening and unsubscribing from lists for your “guru inbox”, I’m guessing your gut reaction is a negative one. Many people’s history with webinars is that they “have been burnt” and now know better than to attend them, or attend them very cautiously, with their anti-advertisement shields up.

I personally love doing webinars and it’s my favourite way of keeping in touch with my subscribers and customers. There’s nothing wrong with webinars. What I don’t like are Fakeinars and blatant pitchfests… (warning, ranty post ahead)

Live Online Training Session?

It’s been suggested to me that I don’t call webinars webinars, because of the bad rap they tend to get. It was a well-meant suggestion and one that makes a lot of sense. I could say “live online training” or something like that, to avoid the negative connotations that “webinar” has for many people. But it’s still a webinar, in the end.

My suggestion is that we re-name those things that turn people off of webinars in the first place, namely pitchfests (Pitchinar?) and, even worse, Fakeinars.

Pitchfest: The Common Crime

Most commonly, when a marketer invites you to a webinar, it’s because they want you to buy something. While the invitation will invariably speak of “valuable content” and probably also some “secrets revealed”, just for good measure, the actual event will be nothing but one big, long sales-pitch.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a sales-pitch. We all like to buy stuff and a webinar is as good a way as any to learn about a new product (if the product is interesting/relevant to us, all the better). What I can’t stand is when the webinar content is a classic newbie trap sales-letter, simply converted into a different format. In case you don’t know what I mean, it goes like this:

  • Marketer started out broke and desperate
  • Tried everything, nothing worked
  • Got even more broke and desperate and was about to give up
  • Drags on sob-story for way too long
  • Stumbled upon a simple secret/loophole/glitch
  • Is now incredibly rich and successful
  • Emphasises how incredibly rich and successful he is
  • Emphasises the above some more
  • Is willing to make an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime offer, just for you

A webinar is such a cool, interactive platform, just jamming a long-form sales-letter into the format is a total waste. What’s even worse: when they don’t make any use of interaction features. They don’t do polls, they don’t open the mic for anyone and they ignore questions. This puts them close to the league of an even greater sin than just a standard pitch-orgy…

The Fakeinar: Disrespect, Streamed Straight to Your Browser

The following actually happened to me. I got on a “reputable” marketer’s list…

You know what? This isn’t the Warrior Forum, so I might as well be explicit: I got on Rich Shefren’s list, because I’d heard good things about him. He calls himself the “guru to the gurus” as apparently, he coached many of the big IM gurus, at some point.

So, sometime after signing up, I get a webinar invitation. The premise was that is was going to be about mindset and about being strategic in your online business. Sounded interesting enough.

I could rant about the “event” for pages on end, but let me just keep it to the main annoyances: Once the webinar comes around, you go to a page and “sign up”. A clearly fake loading bar appears and then a pretty bare-bone HTML-page appears, with a streaming video in the middle. Right from the outset, it’s clear that this is everything but a live event. Even though everything’s clearly scripted and edited, they sloppily tried to make it seem like a live event, starting with an announcer saying something like “people are still pouring in and we’re about to get started…”

The announcer then goes on to talk about how great Rich Shefren is, followed by recordings of several other people talking about how great Rich Shefren is, followed by Rich Shefren talking about how great Rich Shefren is. This went on for a good quarter of an hour…

And then followed the typical rags-to-riches story as outlined above.

So, they really got everything wrong. What’s worse, they had a silly “on air” text flashing in red and a questions box below the video. So people who thought it was actually live could submit their questions and be ignored! What a glorious idea!

My point is: it’s incredibly disrespectful to stage  fake webinar like this. Just call it a “video” or, if you insist on being at least somewhat dishonest, a “webinar recording”. It’s not that hard.

Something Relevant

This rant does actually have a relevant purpose. If you, as a marketer, do any kind of personal branding, I highly encourage you do a few webinars. But if you do, use the features that make webinars unique, namely those that let you interact with the attendees. Do Q&A sessions, put up some polls, etc. That’s where the true value of webinars lies – for both parties involved.

And whatever you do, don’t insult your subscriber’s intelligence by sending them to a streaming video that pretends to be a webinar.

What are your thoughts on webinars? Do you attend them, or avoid them? Have you been burnt with fakeinars and pitch-orgies? Let me know in the comments!


About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Cecil Dee says:

    Shane, I’m a great marketer. Ask Joe Schmoe, I’m an awesome IM. Look at Suzy G. testimonial on my page, she’ll tell you I’m in a league of my own when it comes to Internet Marketing. The whole world will tell you that the word “guru” is beneath me. Now, give me $397 for my new state of the art MIND BLOWING product just go here with your credit card. Honest.

  • All that they have done is take the 3 card monty game off the street and on to websites. They have several ‘it worked for me’ characters, just like the fake guy at the card game that wins right before the sucker puts down his money and gets taken.

    • Shane says:

      That is a brilliant analogy!
      I’ve never thought of it that way, but you’re absolutely right.

  • Samith says:

    Hi Shane,

    Once again thanks for an informative and compelling article. Long time reader and I’ve been super impressed with your rise in the IM community. The problem with your information is that’s it’s so good and so relevant that I find it so hard not to buy from you when you reccomend something or have a product (obviously this is more my problem than yours :P)but nevertheless keep up the great work.

    I do have a love hate relationship with webinars as I live in Australia and often the websinars are during the week when I work and in the early hours of the morning. Very often I’m turned away from webinars because of their ‘pitchfest’ vibe but if it’s done right you do feel very special and priveledged. I feel sad to say I believe most of the webinars I’ve been in haven’t been ‘live webinars’ as I haven’t had the levels of interaction you’ve discussed. Also I too realised that Rich’s webinar wasn’t the real deal but his marketing was slick nevertheless and I can’t begrudge him much because of his wonderful reports.

    I guess a natural follow on to this post would be reviewing the current ‘webinar providers’ and how you would host one? I apologise I haven’t made it to any of yours yet but I would no doubt find them very useful. So yes I would like to be in a good webinar yet also I want it when it’s conveniant for me! Ahh the things we wish for…

    Wishing you much further success


    • Shane says:

      Thanks for your comment!

      The one gripe I have with doing my own webinars is that it’s impossible to find a suitable time for everyone. No matter how I schedule them, there’s alway at least a few people who would like to attend, but can’t because it’s in the middle of the night for them…

  • Alex Newell says:

    The clue is the guys first name, “Rich”.


    And yeah My first memory of I.M. was a teleseminar scam. Nowadays I attend one or two a week but they real webinars by real people like Robert Plank and Jeff Herring.

    I don’t have any of the usual suspects in my inbox.

  • Like Samith, my time zone is usually not conducive to listening to a webinar live.

    On the very rare occasion I’ve been interested in a webinar, I get the the recorded version (if one is available) as I can then skip through all the boring bits, or the whole lot if it is rubbish.

  • Tony says:

    Hi Shane

    In the UK I too often have difficulty persuading myself to stop up for a midnight, or later, webinar in case it is pure pitchanar. No problem with a little selling in the last few minutes. Even better if there is a special attendee bonus of some sort. Just to make it feel like they appreciated me putting myself out. The event has to be paid for somehow and that is really what they are for after all.

    Anyone spotted the ‘cut in’ webinars? The whole thing is a recording. The webinar itself has a replayed middle with a different interviewer cut in to the start and end of the performance. Most annoying of the lot I think.

    If it’s a replay pretending to be real why put it on at the same time as the original? Try to do it for UK or Aus time.

    I’ve never been on a Matt Carter webinar that I’ve not thoroughly enjoyed or learnt from. I like the polls that Tamishiro and Jim Edwards do. Again both great content guys. Jim often puts a replay on for us ‘wrong time of day folks’ but at least he tells you it’s a replay. Dean Hunt is pretty active at the moment. He does them UK evenings too. It’s rare to get a replay out of Dean.

    Like you, I’m not keen any webinar that could so easily be a video. Or even better for me would be an audio. Often the screen is used so little that an accompanying PDF would have covered it.

    I hate having to sit through a lot of video filler, or even a non-interactive webinar, when it could have just as easily been an audio. Doesn’t have the same ‘pull’ though does it?

    I listen to audio content when I walk my dog. Used to do it in the car but found myself concentration on it too much at the wrong times.

    Speaking of sitting through video’s. I’ve made myself a rule whereby if a sales video comes on without any control slider I use the only control available asap. The off button. I suppose that could be a whole new rant though couldn’t it?

    Thanks for the post again Shane


    • Shane says:

      Wow, I’ve been spared the “cut in” fakeinar, but that’s really awful!

      I agree that if the screen isn’t being utilized and there’s no interaction, then it might as well just be an audio recording.

  • Rolf says:

    It seems to me that I have been very lucky then with my choice of webinars. They have to 80 % been real content ones. Although there is a sales pitch at the end, they have often kept their promise to provide enough information to be able to take some action even if they did not tell everything. How could they? We are sometimes talking about hours worth of videos and tutorials etc.

    Of course I have been to some really lousy pitch seminars and also some cut-in variations. Mind you I don’t go for the really big gurus though …I think they must have been trained as door-to-door used vacuum cleaners salesreps. They do anything to close a sale.

    The time zone is an issue for me to. I prefer to be live which usually is 3 am. It it easy to get upset at that time if the quality is low but of course you can tell early on which way it is going and do something else …

    Having been teaching open computer classes myself I can also understand the dilemma. It is difficult to accommodate everybody. The worst course I had was one with two experienced mainframe programmers, a bunch of new PC users and two older guys who could not even find their way on the keyboard.

    Man, it was a nightmare! I don’t think anyone was happy with that course.

    I have been bored sometimes because the presentation started from the very beginning but it was still good as such.

    Perhaps we can call them “Content Only Webinars”?

    Best wishes

    • Shane says:

      Yeah, you must have been lucky!

      I think there’s nothing wrong with adding a pitch or a special offer to the end of a webinar.

      In fact, even I’ve done a webinar which was all about a product (SECockpit), but I never pretended it was going to be about anything else and I didn’t bore anyone with a rags-to-riches story. ;)

      I think what really annoys me is when it’s misleading. I.e. if it’s going to be a pitch-webinar, then just say so. I’ll still attend if I’m interested in the product. I’m always disappointed when a content-webinar is promised and I get a pitchfest instead…

  • Chris says:

    That was awesome Shane! LOL I couldn’t stop laughing when you described that Rich Shefren guy. It sounds typical.
    I never attend the webinars and as time goes on I am unsubscribing from more of these “gurus” lists. I am still on your list as I think you are very trustworthy and don’t come across as one of the many frauds that are out there. I got stung with an inadequate course by Achieve Technologies so I know what it is like to be lied to and cheated and not given what you paid for. I steer clear of pretty much everything now and will only purchase something if I am almost certain that I will get some return for it.

  • tom says:

    I usually attend at least once a week. I’ve got some interesting information from some. If it starts out as a rags to riches that goes on more than five minutes, I just leave. If it turns into a pitch fest, sometimes I leave and sometimes I watch it from a marketing standpoint.

    By the way when I see a webinar and I really want to pull out my credit card I go back and do an analysis of the pitch as I am pretty sales resistant. Sometimes I will watch a replay from a marketing viewpoint. I find this helps me a lot as I suck at marketing.

    • Shane says:

      That’s a very cool approach.
      I’m also a big fan of analyzing sales-content and learning from it. :)

  • Kristen says:

    Totally agree on the pitchinar thing, but I actually have to disagree with you on the “canned” webinar thing. I think it’s important to be upfront about what it is and what it isn’t, but I actually prefer the pre-recorded webinars. As long as they have a person actually responding to questions I may need to ask throughout the presentation (preferably the original presenter,) the information is the information. My ability to consume that information is not even remotely impacted by whether or not it was recorded.

    • Shane says:

      Hi Kristen,

      Thanks for your comment!
      If it’s advertised as a pre-recorded webinar and there’s someone answering questions, then I also have no problem with that. What I dislike is how many pre-recorded webinars are advertised as live events.

  • Alyssa says:

    Shane I must say this is my first time on your blog. I came through a WordPress post on Optimization and started poking around on your blog. I am really enjoying the interaction and the level of honesty you give in your posts & comments. (You’re not being misleading… as you mentioned you disliked, I don’t like it either!)

    Plus, what a better way to build a relationship with a potential customer than by being honest? There’s no harm in that!

    You even warned in this post that it was going to be a bit ranty at the beginning. I respect that, keep up the great work.

  • Sanjeev says:

    Another great post Shane (shame it took me a few years to find it!).

    I do listen to the odd webinar/pitchfest now and again. I suspect that I’m on a crusade to find that one webinar where you get some useful information. I know, I know……silly me! :)

    • Shane says:

      I often feel the same way. Webinars are such a great teaching tool and I often see invitations for webinars that sound really promising. But then I listen in and it’s just a huge pitch-fest…

      But here’s a tip: here’s a company that delivers brilliant, free webinars on a regular basis: Marketing Experiments
      I can recommend looking at their archive and signing up for the next one. :)

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