“Please answer the poll.’ Which to you consider most urgent: ASAP, Hurry, or Right Away?’ If you chose ASAP as most urgent, in the chat, tell me how soon you expect someone to complete something you requested ASAP. Now those of you who would prioritize ASAP last, if an ASAP can wait more than a day, click to raise your hand. Unmute yourself if you are willing to role play this out with me…”
An activity that is usually fun and simple gets quickly convoluted when transformed for a webinar. Generally any activity is worth the effort because online meetings and seminars can make the presenter feel like they are playing to an empty house.
Converting to a webinar requires more than a webcam, microphone and backdrop. The content, materials, presentation methods, and timing all need to be altered to achieve success. When you pull it off, though, the audiences are exceedingly complimentary and appreciative.
If you find yourself meeting through a shared screen, take advantage of some of these ideas.
Timing: Attention is harder to maintain in the webinar format, so breaks (they can be short) should happen at least every 50 to 55 minutes. Stories should be shortened, concepts simplified, and processes broken down into steps. The fact that participants are consuming the content from multiple separate locations – handouts, shared screen, audio, and chat with a potential time lag and abundant distractions makes delivering the same content at the same pace you would in person sound like the teachers speaking on Charlie Brown.
Equipment: Besides the obvious computer and webcam, you will want a better-quality external microphone that you can place directly in front of you. The biggest technical difficulties are sound problems because participants will always be fine as long as they can hear you. If the sound stops working, which you will know because attendees will start to madly leave you messages that they can’t hear, the best thing to do is switch to your computer’s internal microphone and back again. You can also call in via telephone. The mic source seems to switch at random sometimes.
Looking at you all day allows viewers to explore what they see in the background. Unless you have a nicely staged environment, you will want to provide a solid backdrop. It can be a bedsheet you hang from the ceiling, but it should eliminate distracting wall hangings that behind your head make you look like Medusa. If you use a green screen, some webinar platforms allow you to project an image as the backdrop. Be careful with this for the same reasons we chose to have a backdrop in the first place and because green screen technology sometimes creates a pulsating glow that outlines you against the background. You will also need good lighting from the front preferably with a second source from the side to keep you from casting a distracting shadow.
The task of keeping track of all the elements happening simultaneously on the control panel can be daunting. If you can recruit a moderator to conduct the broadcast with you, have them field questions, handle technical issues, and send you reminders of timing and content oversights. Even with an assistant, consider having a second laptop. You can display different event elements on each monitor. Concentrate on what you are sharing on-screen from your main laptop. Put the questions or webcam view on the second one. Having a second computer will also save the day in case you do something that locks you up on the first computer.
Materials: If you don’t ordinarily provide written handouts, create some for your virtual meeting. Participants are multitasking just like you are, and a handout that captures the bulk of the notes will allow the broadcasted content to leave tangible collateral material they can refer to after the webinar. This can increase the impact of your efforts for the participants and your perceived value as a presenter. Showing the handout while you share your screen or duplicating handout content on presentation slides (which is not recommended in live presentations) is a best practice for online courses. Most webinar platforms allow you to share handouts through the interface, so you can provide workbooks, outlines, or copies of the slides without having to email them in advance. Additional handouts generated during the event can be shared as well. An example of this is discussions where you capture responses. You may also want to encourage attendees to screen capture particular shared-screen content.
Content: Don’t assume your current content in its present format will translate directly to cyberspace. Consumers of webinars surveyed overwhelmingly chose well-organized as the most important requirement for a positive experience. Presenters who have a high-energy, organic style may need to reign the spontaneity in or limit it to pocket segments of the day. The audience may check out entirely if they feel lost. Cover your material in the order it appears in the handouts. Provide an overview of what you are about to discuss, why it is important, how you will present it, and the timing. Review frequently with summary slides you flash to intermittently that give attendees a road map. If you resist this linear style of instruction in the live, in-person world – give it a chance in the virtual world. Audience engagement will make or break you. Participants need to feel smart, capable, and in control. A confused mind checks email.
Presentation: Audio is the most important part of your presentation. Speak clearly and articulately with adequate pausing to allow people to catch up with their thoughts. Like radio, however, dead air is to be avoided. Narrate what is happening when taking care of technical issues, switching gears, and taking time to read through chat questions. Consider playing music during breaks and activities you give them time to complete. Participants worry they have been cut off when they don’t hear anything. Also be mindful of things you don’t want them to hear. Put the dog out, close the door, and invest in sound proofing if needed. You may want to mute when you swallow, clear your throat, or shuffle papers.
Keeping your webcam broadcasting for the majority of the presentation maintains rapport and adds the human element. A big reason people join webinars is to feel connected to live people and what is going on in the world, so your face provides that. Resist the temptation to monitor yourself on camera. It is distracting, and participants can tell you are looking at yourself. When you want to make an intimate point, move your face close to the camera lens, looking through it imagining you are speaking to an individual.
Turn off your webcam when you give them time to think about something or work on an activity, when the element on the screen is highly important, when someone else has the floor, and when you go on breaks (when you will want to display a timer or slide that indicates you are on a break).
You can choose whether you want to share your live screen or an individual application. When you share your whole desktop, a best practice is to pause sharing on a slide while you switch over to another application or demonstration. You then press “play” to turn live sharing back on. It looks polished and smooth that way.
Videos can be shown during your presentation but may cause a system slowdown. Most platforms give you the option of uploading videos in advance. This is to ensure the audio will play but does not guarantee the video will not bog down or freeze the platform. Often the audio can’t be heard by those listening in by telephone. There are workarounds available, but you will want to weigh the value of the video against the risk of losing your audience.
Vocal interest and variety are even more important on a webinar. Stay hydrated, and take care of your throat because you are talking for more of the day and are trying to combine enthusiasm with enunciation and authenticity. Keep up your energy when giving an online presentation without sounding like a game show announcer. This is difficult because you are not getting immediate, live feedback. In fact, presenters say they are tired after webinars because they are sending energy out without getting it back. Standing up while presenting can help, but again it is more physically exhausting. Stand on a padded mat with a stool available to allow yourself the option of sitting.
Interaction: Engagement is the most important measure of success in your presentation and is not necessarily measured by interaction. Haven’t you given in-person programs where the audience did not interact much but gave you glowing reviews? People appreciate your trying to engage them in any case. The avenues for engagement are polls, raised hands/thumbs up, chat/questions, and oral discussion.
Reaction time is important to consider with interactions. People have to click something to vote, unmute, or type, so allow more time than you think it should take. Warn people of upcoming interaction in advance so that there is not an awkward pause between your request and their response. Polls are a non-threatening way to get and share responses. Keep the poll up for between 45 and 75 seconds, and talk people through it. Most platforms require you to manually input polls every time a new presentation is scheduled. You can duplicate a previous presentation to preserve them, however.
Meetings have chats, webinars have questions. The default setting for chats is that anyone can chat to anyone with the choice of whether to send messages privately to individuals or to be viewed by all. You can change the settings to allow chats to go only to organizers who can post to everyone. This setting makes them similar to questions, which go only to organizers in private but can be shown to all when replied to by organizers. When you ask people to type something in chat, tell them what to write and give them time. If it is just a check-in or yes-or-no answer, you can ask them to vote by raising their hands.
To bring things to life, you may want to unmute a few times to give people a quick opportunity to shout out. It is fun and breaks the monotony. Microphones can be muted by you and by participants, so if you have a small group, you can unmute everyone and ask them to mute themselves. That way they can easily unmute and answer your questions. With big groups, keep them muted, and ask anyone who wants to talk to raise their hand.
Logistics: Familiarize yourself with the difference between the presenter and participant control panels, and be prepared to introduce attendees to the way it all works. Slides that screenshot the participant view with arrows and explanations are helpful.
When participants cannot hear, it is often that they have chosen the wrong source for audio (phone vs computer and a different source within the computer). They often just have the volume on their phone or computer low or muted. If they cannot see, sometimes they just need to click the icon for the presentation to bring it to the front of the other windows they may have open.
You usually have the option of recording the event. Take control of where the recording will be stored, and decide if you want to share it.
Polls and videos often have to be loaded into a scheduled meeting before it starts, so make sure to do that before clicking the link to the event.
Successfully conducting a webinar takes preparation, mindful interaction, and skill combined with energy. It is worth mastering, though, because as the world evolves, the demand for presenters who have put the effort in to being able to conduct webinars optimally will continue to rise. The definition of what it takes to be a leader and influencer is changing to include the qualities it takes to master remote interaction.
So which is most urgent in your mind, ASAP, Hurry, or Right Away?