Tip #96: Conducting a Webinar

The key difference between conducting a webinar and conducting a classroom session is the lack of face-to-face interaction. A webinar presenter seems more like a meeting facilitator than an instructor, based on my admittedly minimal experience. It requires patience and good humor to tolerate and manage the time delays around telephone and online discussion. The synergy of group interaction is difficult to develop, because of the need for the participants to take turns speaking. Because this is still a new technology to many people, they tend to be understanding and willing to wait their turn.

You need to be very proactive and directive in asking for what you need from the participants and giving them the opportunity and time to respond. Make sure you articulate each transition from topic to slide to activity. You also need to be very clear in giving directions so that the participants know what is expected of them. Remember, they can’t watch other participants or you to figure out what to do next, as they could in a classroom setting.

It helps to acknowledge participants by name and to call on those who are not speaking up or chatting on line to make sure they have an opportunity for input.

It may be necessary at various times throughout the session to remind participants to mute their phones or follow some of the other guidelines established at the beginning of the session.

The design and conduct of the webinar need to incorporate interactive content and exercises that will bridge these delays and maintain participant interest.

In my research about webinars, I happened upon www.communiqueconferencing.com, which had a lot of very useful information and pointers. The writer suggests that we should start and end the event on time:

“Unlike a live face-to-face audience, where you physically scan the room for familiar faces, search for a seat and greet your neighbor, Web audience members are generally sitting quietly in their offices reading e-mail and checking the clock for the event to begin. A slight delay in a face-to-face event generally goes unnoticed, but at a Web event, a few minutes can seem like a lifetime.”

It sounds like excellent advice. Yet, as we discussed in previous Tips, time management is very tricky with webinars. You can certainly begin on time with those who are already logged on, and then just pace yourself so late comers can join in without a lot of catch up. Remember, the late comer can’t simply ask the person sitting nearby the way someone late to a classroom can. As the presenter or moderator, it is your job to welcome the person and make it easy for the person to join in.

Another distraction more likely with a webinar is interruptions on the job which pull the participant away from the event. We know how difficult it can be to hold a classroom session onsite because it is so easy to lose participants at breaks when they go back to their offices. During a webinar, the participant is either in his or her office or traveling. In both situations, the participant’s attention and participation can be easily breached.

So, you probably cannot cover as much content as you might in a classroom environment and you need to anticipate time delays in participation and the loss of some participants over the course of the session. You need to be very directive and clear in your instructions, and you have to make sure that all participants feel welcome to participate.

The good side? You are able to conduct the entire webinar from the comfort of your own home or office, at your convenience, without having to travel or tote supplies or set up a room or worry about the logistics of the location. You can have fun with the annotation tools. You can even record and archive the event for playback. Just relax and play with it. If classroom training is out of the question, a webinar has a lot to offer.

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