Some thoughts about online webinars and how to conduct them effectively
What might good practice look like?
- Introduce regular pauses during proceedings so that participants can ask questions.
- Implement comfort breaks if longer than 45 mins. The webinar format means that sitting still/wearing headphones etc can become uncomfortable for long periods. Bear in mind that research suggests people are only fully engaged for 15 mins.
- Try to avoid participants using built-in computer microphones/loudspeakers. Not only are these less effective than a headset (for example, they can pick up background noise) they can also cause acoustic feedback. Ask participants in large groups to “mute” unless they have something to say. A particularly good PC headset is the Microsoft LifeChat LX6000 as it connects via USB, has a stereo earpiece and in-line mute/volume buttons.
- Diagnose noisy calls by un-muting each participant in turn.
- Ensure that participants know that taking recordings / screen grabs is not permitted without consent. If necessary, have some rules of conduct.
- Make sure your invite is security protected (e.g. needs a participation code). Don’t put this code in the email invite as it may appear in shared calendars.
- Encourage participants to broadcast video and not just sound. However, while this is socially more acceptable sometimes turning off your video broadcast can improve your sound quality . Try having a “hat” competition to get people to turn their video on – but be weary that some people are not comfortable on video.
- Be sure to set an agenda and have a facilitator. Give people materials in advance.
- Lock yourself away to avoid distractions or interruptions during a call. Get a wired connection for maximum stability – if WiFi is the only option then position close to your router, ensure family members are not zapping your bandwidth (e.g. with video streaming), interfering with signal (e.g. Microwave Ovens/Vacuum Cleaner) or set-up “QoS” rules inside your router to prioritise your data packets.
- Do not insist on a “strict” starting time. Let people have 10-15 mins to ‘settle-in’ and ensure that their technology works.
- Have a plan for if the webinar drops-out, such as encouraging participants to join again or at a certain time.
- Keep your webcam lens clean with an alcohol wipe. Invest in a good model with auto-focusing, zoom and tracking – many “built-in” laptop webcams are comparatively poor quality. Logitech C920/930 are good models.
- It is easy for participants to get distracted by backgrounds. Microsoft Teams has the ability to “blur” backgrounds. A “book case” is a good choice as it reflects positively about you and you will often see this scene used.
- Make sure your name is correct in your webinar profile (“name tag”). Put your job title in there too. If the title becomes too long to display on-screen, think about using your first name only.
- Test your system before starting, including the participation link. Send out participation links in good time.
- Take advantage of “breakout rooms” (e.g. in Zoom).
- Tell people about keyboard shortcuts (for example, what buttons mute/unmute your sound).
What are the challenges with this format?
- There are often limitations on seeing everybody –and when people do enter the debate they can have different quality video and sound.
- It’s easy to get distracted by the ‘side-text-chat’. Keep the window closed unless needed but think about how you are going to respond to it.
- It’s hard to speak to an empty room as you don’t get any feedback cues.
- Sometimes not easy to hear participants due to internet blips.
- Sometimes participants drop out (leaving and entering regularly), sometimes tech drops out, sometimes people just forget to un-mute. Having a mobile phone or text system handy can be a useful way of getting help outside the webinar format.
- Webinars typically involve individual participation (i.e. not group)
- Online participation tends to reinforce individual stances (i.e. participants become entrenched)
- Theoretically it is easy to hijack this format.
- Some solutions are not GDPR compliant.
Implications of CV-19
- More people than ever are equipped and familiar with the technology.
- The solution market is expanding, the need to select the ‘right’ platform is important.
- There is a shortage of equipment (e.g. headsets)
- Health and safety implications for homeworking are becoming overlooked.