Have you ever organized a webinar that only had a few attendees? Are your webinars failing to earn your company new business? We've all been to our fair share of boring, poorly organized, and unhelpful webinars -- but we also know that a great webinar can make for a truly valuable experience

And the demand for webinars seems to be just as great as ever. Only 12 percent of business-to-business buyers today want to meet a sales representative in person, according to a recent whitepaper from GoToWebinar and the Content Marketing Institute. Instead, 71 percent want to do their own research -- meaning that they want to define their own journey down the sales funnel, and it's your job to create the kind of authoritative educational content that will convince them your brand is the best choice.

Webinars are an incredible avenue for providing thought-leadership content to people who are curious about your industry. But lots of webinars fall short of audience expectations. Whether you're hoping to boost attendance or discover new ways to engage attendees, take these five steps to make sure your next webinar is a success. 

1. Incorporate striking, custom-made visual content.

A successful webinar has to be captivating enough to convince people to sit still and stare at a screen for a full hour. That can be a tall order. It's easy for audiences to get distracted by email or other tasks when they're already at a computer, so how can you keep their attention for the long haul?

Well-made and captivating visuals are essential for keeping attendees engaged in your webinar. Stock icons and photos will make your presentation look sloppy, and people aren't likely to dedicate much of their time to something that it seems like you, the presenter, haven't even spent time on.

So opt for custom-made data visualizations, icons, illustrations, video, and motion graphics to bring your presentation to life. Custom visual content will more accurately and precisely communicate the ideas you're sharing and project the high value of your brand. Meanwhile, keep on-screen text to a minimum, since it can be overwhelming to your attendees if they feel they have to both listen to you speak and read your slides.  

2. Make your webinar interactive. 

The more interactive webinars are, the more viewers will feel that they are a part of the conversation. That, in turn, can boost overall retention of what you have to say.

In fact, according to the CMI, 73 percent of marketers say that combining interactive and traditional content improves retention of their brand message.

What kind of interactivity can you incorporate? Try administering a quiz before or during your presentation to learn what challenges your attendees face most, so that you can address those challenges directly. Or host the webinar as an open discussion where attendees can submit questions. You can even run surveys to discover trends or opinions that are most common among your viewers.

3. Determine what role your webinar will play in the customer journey.

Marketers need to plan their webinar-related promotions and outreach based on when potential buyers are most likely to benefit from a webinar -- and at what stage in their journey webinars are most likely to convert. In talking with B2B marketers, the CMI found that webinars are among the top three most effective types of content during the consideration/intent stage -- or middle stage -- of the buyer's journey.

What's more, respondents to an Ascend2 survey rated webinar registration forms as generating the second-highest conversion rates after content downloads. So a webinar is likely to be worth your time -- you'll just want to make sure that it's available at the right time for prospective customers.

4. Share useful, actionable takeaways.

How many webinars have you signed up for only to find that, 10 minutes in, you're just watching a sales pitch for the hosting company? This has happened to me more than a few times, and let me tell you, it can be frustrating. I felt like I had wasted your time, because I wasn't walking away with any new knowledge I could apply right away.

Nine in 10 of the most successful marketers out there know to prioritize providing their audiences with quality, useful information above all else, according to the CMI. That means that your webinar should be genuinely dedicated to sharing useful advice and actionable strategies. Providing quality educational content builds trust, which is the foundation of a long-lasting professional relationship.

5. Offer more ways to engage.

You should have a clear picture of what you want any webinar to achieve. Once that's defined, you'll know where you want to leave your audience when you're done.

Every webinar needs a call-to-action, but a sales pitch isn't always the right CTA. One way to continue to build trust is to let your viewers choose how they want to interact with you. Offer them multiple ways to continue engaging with you. Give them a chance to download a free ebook or whitepaper. Send a follow-up email with a full recording of the webinar, or links to relevant blog posts. Audiences today want to feel empowered to pick their own path, so help them do that.

Incorporate these five elements into your next webinar, and you should begin to see more positive interactions, better leads, and happier customers.