We’ve found that running a live webinar either for teaching or promotion/engagement purposes sometimes strikes fear into the most confident face to face presenter. Why is this? I think it’s a combination of feeling as though the audience is ‘out of reach’ and distant (which of course they are) and the fear of the technology failing to work and leaving you stranded.
Life coaching advice encourages us to focus on what we can control and this is no different when running a webinar.
You can reduce the feeling of distance between you and your audience by being prepared. You also need to recognize that the technology can ‘go wrong’ with nothing you can do about it except have a contingency plan and anticipate what you will do other than panic. I suspect most people today understand things can (and at some point will) go wrong but your audience should be sympathetic if you handle it professionally.
Let’s look at what you can control – your preparation. Send out invitations to the webinar well in advance of the date. When you send out invitations you will of course include the time and date but remember to include a world clock if your audience is global.
If you are running a tutorial or formal class it’s a good idea to log onto the webinar 20-30 minutes before the scheduled time if you can and encourage participants to do this as well (this is only appropriate if you are running a tutorial or class with regular students). This extra time allows for testing of equipment and adds an air of informality to the class which can reduce that feeling of distance. As the facilitator, you can casually ask how students are progressing and just generally chit chat. If you haven’t got the time to do this, you can still open the webinar early so that participants can chat with each other – very much like wandering into a face to face classroom.
It’s a good idea to mention duration of the webinar so your audience can plan their time. Any longer than an hour will test the attention span of your audience. If you do have to go longer, then allow time for your audience to take a five minute break to stretch their legs, take a rest from the screen.
Remind participants that the webinar will be recorded (or not – there may be instances where a recording is inappropriate).
State the purpose of the webinar in the invitation or a link to this in your course site if applicable. Share any expectations you have of audience participation:
The purpose of this webinar is to discuss the contemporary arguments against Women’s Suffrage. Please attend the webinar prepared to share and summarise one contemporary resource that argued against women’s enfranchisement. Details about the equipment you will need are in the course overview.
As you plan the structure of the webinar, keep the audience at the forefront of your mind and think about their engagement. Most webinar software has polling tools and a chat [text]facility. Use these tools to check audience engagement and understanding. For example, if you ask your audience to contribute an answer to a poll and only 20% answer, you know you potentially have an attention problem. Then you can pause, put a message in the chat and depending on what response you receive, decide what to do next. If all seems to be fine technically, I would recommend re-sharing the poll and state that you are expecting an answer from everyone.
You can also plan to give the ‘floor’ to each participant in turn if this is practical. Start this sort of activity with a ‘low stakes’ or easy question. Many participants are as anxious as you about contributing in a webinar so this approach will ease them into participation.
There are many activities you can design in a webinar – it doesn’t have to be you or a guest talking for the full time and then taking questions at the end, although this can be effective. I’m planning to work on some suggestions at a later date.
I mentioned at the start that you need to be aware of the things you can control and the things you can’t. If a participant is having problems accessing the webinar you need to consider how you are going to deal with this. If the participant emails you at the start of the webinar saying they are having trouble accessing the webinar, what do you do? Do you devote your attention to this one student or do you go ahead and deal with them later? I find that because I always have a 20-30 minute warm up time, then I also have a cut off point when the webinar is scheduled to start. I promise I’ll deal with individual problems at the end of the webinar or later in the day. It seems a bit hard on the one student, but there is a recording and other students have sorted out access in advance and are waiting.
If a technical issue occurs to a student during the webinar, I ask other students if they are willing to help while we pause for a couple of minutes. This doesn’t always work, but it does foster a caring and responsible approach in the group.
What if the technical issue is not with the student, but with you or the guest speaker? It is always good to think about this and have a plan B. You may have access to other communication channels e.g. email or the course site – if so, use these to say you are having problems and if appropriate, ask for the webinar to continue in your absence while you try to address the problem.
We have had one webinar when the guest speaker couldn’t access the technology when it was her turn to speak. Yes, this was a problem and I won’t deny it was an anxious moment. However, as there were two of us facilitating, one of us kept the audience asking questions and engaged while the other sorted out telephone access (Plan B). We had planned for two facilitators because it was a very large, global audience, not a small tutorial. We were successful in the end and the guest speaker gave a good, informative presentation. Had we not have been successful, then this is the moment where we have to admit we can’t control this, have a plan C, and put it into action (in this instance it would have been to record the guest speaker at a later date and share a recording with the audience via email).