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Webinars that don’t drive people nuts

I’ve had the experience in the past several months of being both a regular presenter and regular attendee of webinars.  I’ve learned quite a bit, being on both ends, and I would like to share what I’ve learned here for those who may want to present webinars of their own.  Add your own guidelines in the comments!

Aside from technological considerations, presenting via the web can be more challenging than face-to-face, from a presenter’s perspective.  To help you, I’ve provided some guidelines that will aid you in knowing what to expect and how to prepare for this type of presentation.

  • Webinars require you to be more engaging.  Webinars have been compared to radio; the more exciting you are, the more likely your listeners are to pay attention.  Maintain a high energy level.  Remember, it’s very, very simple for your attendees to jump ship if they’re bored…and they will.
  • Slides have to be even simpler. If you’re accustomed to using lots of bulletpoints and/or charts with small print, you will need to significantly change your approach.  Keep visuals clear and as simple as possible.
  • Webinars move faster. The rule is that a presenter should plan to talk no more than 45-60 seconds on any given slide.  Otherwise, you are likely to lose listeners.
  • Don’t use clip art. Find photos or create your own infographic, but beware of the standard Microsoft clip art, which will likely brand your work as unprofessional and uncreative.
  • If you’re on video (not just audio): Don’t fidget.  Think about how people on TV look.  They’re not playing with their hair or twirling the mic.
  • Turn off your phones, IM, whatever.  (This includes locking your howling cat out of the room.  Yes, I have to do this.)
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Just like in a face-to-face session, expect to have a Q&A period of 5-10 minutes at the end.
  • Understand that you will need to multitask, somewhat. In many cases, waiting until the very end to answer ALL questions just isn’t practical.  It can be more useful (and more engaging for your attendees) to answer the question in context.  So keep one eye on the ongoing text chat.  If you don’t think you can monitor and speak, have someone else with you to monitor the chat and signal when there are comments or questions.
  • When you answer questions or respond to comments, REPEAT it first! Not everyone is watching the chat like you are or knows who said what.  More importantly, if the session is being recorded, the chat log will not likely be a part of the archive.  So say something like “Susan asks:  what will this cost a small library?”  Then answer the question.
  • Include your contact information on the last slide. You can’t have a stack of business cards or handouts, so be sure people can contact you via email and/or social networks and that information is posted here so people can find it.
  • Tell people where to find the slides after the presentation. No handouts in a webinar!  If you don’t have a place to host your slides, I heartily recommend getting a Slideshare account and posting them there.

There are 3 comments

  1. Depending on the topic, length of the webinar, and the tools involved, it’s also a good idea to invite interaction from your distant audience. As webinars increasingly replace f2f workshops and conference sessions, we lose valuable discussions among peers. Q&A helps, but I think it’s valuable to encourage a lively exchange in chat, or (in those cases where locally attendees may be together in a room watching/listening to the presentation) propose short discussion topics for sharing amongst themselves.

  2. I agree with Don — one thing that is most definitely lost in a webinar format is that interactions with peers are lost. One of the most important things that I often get out of attending a real-life seminar is the opportunity to actually meet colleagues who don’t work at my institution and make valuable professional contacts.

    Sure, you can post the names of all of the participants via the software that you are using and allow participants to interact via IM or even VOIP, but these sound bytes (pun most definitely intended) are not really enough to create a sense of professional or even interpersonal connection. People’s voices can sound similar and there is not necessarily anything distinctive enough about any one voice that can prompt a conversation. They can simulate actually having a conversation, but there is no way that the connection can be made that allows for making true professional connections.

    One of the best ways to “invite interaction” from your distant audience is to create the feeling that they are actually interacting with people instead of a computer. Therefore, it’s a pretty good idea if at least the presenter is on video and VOIP. And if you want to actually interact with other participants — put them on video & VOIP as well! If you can actually see something that approximates real-time presentations of the participants, it gives something fairly real-life for participants to interact with! Imagine also if there were links to their profile pages on ALA from the software. If you “see” someone at the “webinar” who offers an intriguing comment, you can “visit” their profile, and start a conversation with them.

    I know that this is very “Library 2.0” and the photophobic among us would likely detest. Just some food for thought!

  3. Main thing I learnt when presenting my first webinar was to be thoroughly familiar with the webinar software, so that I would instinctively know where to click when I wanted to do something. I was so busy speaking, monitoring the chat etc that I had no mental space for figuring out where to click. So multiple run-throughs within the webinar software were really useful.

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