Tips for giving webinars

I’ve given presentations at hundreds of workshops and conferences and I’ve delivered training online but none of this quite prepared me for giving my first webinar. It’s unlike other forms of delivery and it taught me a great deal. So I thought I’d share some of what I leanred from the experience and try to sum it up in tip form for any other trainers out there who are running webinars for the first time. And of course if you have your own experiences of webinars already, then please add your own tips and comments.

The background to this is that BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group at www.besig.org) have started running online weekend workshops. Yesterday I gave a workshop on business writing. This along with other workshops by people like Pete Sharma and Andrew Wright will eventually be available to watch. I’ll post details here when they are up on the Besig site. (James Keddie is also doing the next one in June.)

Anyway, the presenter  talks into a webcam at home and people log on and watch/listen. They can interact by typing questions and comments at the bottom of the screen. The presenter shows slides and clicks through them as you would any other kind of powerpopint. So, in many ways, the process is similar to giving a normal presentation or leading a workshop but here are some of the key differences and points which I noticed.

1 Rehearsal

Meet the organisers or hosts of the webinar site earlier in the week to briefly run through things. This way you become familiar with the logging on process and what you’ll need to click. It’s also a chance to check the technology. For example, we discovered that my microphone echoed and the settings on my webcam needed fixing in order for it to work with the system. Leaving all this to the actual day would have been a really bad idea. And even though we had check everything a few days earlier, on the day there was still a problem with my microphone which was fixed at the last minute – you have been warned!

2 Slides

With normal presenting in a  room full of people, the general rule is to use slides with very little text (maximumum of five lines with five words per line). But in a webinar your audience is in front of the screen so suddenly you can put up much more detailed slides with lots of text. So, for example, I could show pages from course books and refer to different exercises. Normally, I’d put these on a handout but it was useful to have them on the screen. Also there’s a small arrow you can use to point and draw attention to certain exercises.

3 Meeting the participants

Normally in a presentation or workshop I like to get to the room early and meet people as they come in. I want to know who’s there, why they’ve come and build rapport. It’s a fast way to gauge the interests/needs of your participants. In a webinar it’s suddenly harder because you can’t see who’s there and you get no body language clues. The only way to get feedback is to ask people to type at the bottom of the screen. So initially I showed some images of my books and asked if anyone had used them. (Cheap publicity I know but at least it generated an audience reaction)

4 Managing the chatter

During a presentation you normally expect people to listen without speaking unless you ask them to. During a webinar there’s an endless chatter. Some people are commenting and agreeing with you, others are raising questions, others are saying they have technical problems and some people arrive 15 minutes after you’d started and everyone starts saying hello. The trick here – from what I can see – is to incorporate certain comments to show you are reacting to your audience. So if someone raises a question or comments on what you’ve just said, I think it’s useful to refer to the comments so nominate individuals with some like… ‘And thanks Mike in Germany, yes I agree with you…’  It seems to be the equivalent of smiling at someone in the room or noticing their agreement/disagreement etc. You also have to pick and choose which comments need a response, not to mention that some people are talking to each other as much as to you – again, not a normal feeling!

5 Turn everything else off.

In my case, because I was speaking from home, it meant making sure everything was off. The phones were off (including unplugging the landline) , the dog was out, the kids went to the neighbours, and I hoped the doorbell wouldn’t ring.

6 Interactive tasks

You might think a webinar as a workshop wouldn’t be quite so interactive. You can’t put everying in pairs/groups, and then ask for their feedback. So I had to really think what tasks I could include. I also wanted to demonstrate classroom activities that teachers could use with their classes the following day. As a result, I spent more time explaining the activity that I might normally but then I set part of the task where I thought everyone – individually – could type their answers and responses. I was fairly clear when I wanted this kind of reponse by saying – “OK. I’m going to stop taking for two minutes and let you type…” I think using silence (your own) during the webinar is useful and you need to be explicit when you are going to do it. Overall, my impression is that the participants (or attendees as they are called) enjoyed the interactive tasks which resembled a whole room brainstorm – though I could only gauge this by the ones who replied! I’m sure others were lurking in their pyjamas.

Since writing these initial thoughts down I’ve found more articles online with tips for presenting in webinars. Click here to read one I liked and which echoed some of my thoughts above. I’d welcome more tips from other experienced ‘webinar presenters’ below…

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