The New World of Webinars

I’ve been on a crash course in webinars in the last week.

I went from never having done one before, to performing a couple in front of hundreds of people, both on the subject of the moment...

So, given these days of the coronavirus crisis, and that we are all likely to be using webinars more often, I thought I would share my learning and experiences.


1. Preparation is key

Just like with any presentation, the more you prepare and practice, the better it's likely to go.

We did a rehearsal a couple of days before the actual webinars, and de-fanged some potential problems before they could bite.

Once I was relatively happy with the technology, I then practised at home half a dozen times until the flow and length, not to mention variety and interactions were all about right.

Get the tech and the content working well together and you're most of the way there already. 


2. Keep it simple

Normally, when I talk about Crisis Communications, I play a couple of videos.

Not this time. We had enough to think about making sure it worked without trying to be overly clever.

Next time maybe, but when you’re getting the hang of things and understanding how it all works it’s best to keep it simple.

It seems appropriate here, when talking about simple, to show how the webinar looked from my end.

Not too worrying, eh? It really is remarkably easy to do.

(And a cup of tea always helps.)


3. Business as usual

You can still do interactions, and I would say they are vital in making sure the points you are making sink in.

You might just have to amend how you do them.

With only 10 or fewer people in the webinar, you can probably get away with them talking to you.

We had up to 100, so we made sure the microphones of all the participants were muted, and they could only interact by sending messages.

To make it work, as the host you have to ensure the questions you ask, and the exercises you set, are short and simple.

This was probably the part I was most worried about, but it went very smoothly and effectively.

Everyone can see the questions and comments, so long as everyone is selected when they're typed.

As the host I'd recommend you read out the ones you're addressing, then answer them. 


4. Technology

I’m not here to promote any company or service, but I am here to be honest and helpful.

In which spirit, I can say we experimented with several potential platforms, before settling on Zoom.

It was absolutely excellent. It worked perfectly, was very powerful in allowing me to do anything I wanted to do, and it’s also intuitive to use.

With the usual caveat that other platforms are available, I can nonetheless recommend Zoom.


5. Be honest and open

I normally hate presentations when they start with the host saying? “Can you hear me alright everyone?“

But on this occasion, I felt it was warranted.

I wanted to make sure people could see and hear, and were able to interact, so we took a few seconds at the start to check that.

I was delighted to say there were no problems, and it certainly boosted my confidence.


6. Get support

Particularly if you’re doing a webinar with a lot of participants, it’s invaluable to have support.

I had three wonderful colleagues from the Cambridge Network with me, and they made the whole event go so much better.

Sara sat beside me with a second screen, calling my attention to any comments or questions which came in, and also helping make sure the PowerPoint played properly.

Sarah and Andrea were in the corner of the room monitoring how the webinar looked from the perspective of a participant, to make sure it was all going well.

As ever in life, good teamwork can be critical.


7. Secure your office

A small but important thought. You will be concentrating on the screen and what you want to say, and don’t need any distractions.

We made sure we were safely locked in, with the phones on silent, and email turned off to protect us from any interruptions.


8. Sound and vision

If David Bowie once sang about it, it has to be important, and it is in webinars.

Remember, you as the presenter are going to be a tiny square in the corner of the screen.

So try to sit relatively still, and also remember the microphone on your computer is unlikely to be of a particularly high standard.

You will probably have to speak a little slower than usual, and project your voice further.

If you're doing a lot of webinars, it might be worth investing in a clip on microphone and using headphones. 


9. Timings

Watch your timings even more carefully than you normally would.

Depending on which package and what provider you are using for your webinars, you are likely to have a set time limit.

If it’s an hour, this will probably not be strictly enforced, but it won’t be far out.

Remember, at the moment, with the dreaded virus running rampant, broadband and webinar services are being heavily used.

If you’ve done a great presentation, you don’t want it spoiled by getting cut off at the end before you have time to round it up nicely and say goodbye.

10. Give it a try

I know something so new, in such unsettling times, can be daunting.

But put into practice the tips I’ve offered here, maybe try it with just a very small group of friends or close colleagues first, and build up from there.

I was surprised and impressed how easy webinars are to do, and I am no technical expert, believe me.

I promise you, if I can make it work, then you certainly can.

Good luck!