Ten Guidelines for Hosting a Successful Webinar
After hosting over 120 webinars and online meetings, we at the SIGnetwork have learned through trial and error how to best execute elegant, engaging online presentations. Below are ten guidelines we recommend you follow so that you can host a first-rate webinar. [Download Print Version]
1. Develop a Process Agenda/Script
Prior to hosting a webinar, it’s essential to pencil out a script or process agenda, which details the roles and responsibilities of all presenter(s), facilitator(s), and moderator(s). Things to include in the script are outlining: who will introduce each presenter, who will facilitate the chat and/or audio Q&A, how and when the Q&A will occur, who will record the session, and who will advance slides for a PowerPoint. Also, add a timeline in minutes so moderators can verbally queue presenters when they are approaching the end of their allotted time.
2. Takes 1-2-3: Practice, Practice, Practice
If you are new to hosting a webinar, the best way to get comfortable in the virtual environment is to find a couple of buddies to practice using the features. Schedule a mock session with your practice partners, sending them a personal invitation and designating one as a presenter and one as a participant. Then test out the features you may use, like:
• giving the floor to one another
• posting public and private chat messages
• sharing desktop applications
• launching a feedback poll
• advancing slides in a PowerPoint
• recording the session
You may need to practice several times before you know what settings are appropriate, such as how you’ll set up the audio muting and the alert sounds, as well as, what controls participants will have in manipulating their desktop.
Once you’re familiar with arranging the meeting room space, the next step is to schedule a Trial Run with the facilitators and presenter(s) about one week prior to going live. The purpose of the trial session is to give presenters an opportunity to practice using the features and address questions regarding their content, and to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities outlined in the process agenda.
3. Upload Presenter Photos
Participants like to see who’s talking. Encourage your presenters to upload their photos to be displayed during the live presentation. If presenters don’t have a professional photo readily available, ask them to get a colleague to take their snapshot using a cell phone photo that they can email to the moderator to upload to the room.
Alternatively, you can use the webcam feature to display real-time video feeds of presenters, facilitators, and moderators. Be aware that video is a bandwidth drain and can result in delays in visual feeds. To prevent lag time, it’s best to turn the video feature off once the main presentation begins.
4. Arrive Early
Ask presenters and facilitators to join the session at least 10 minutes early to make sure everyone can log in, to check that the audio and recording features are functioning, and to run through a checklist of role and responsibility reminders. This includes ensuring everyone has backup printouts or displays of the presentation materials, that they have fluid to combat dry mouth, and all noise distractions are eliminated.
5. The Role of the Moderator
The moderator plays a key role in the success of a webinar. A moderator acts as the host by welcoming everyone, introducing individuals, instructing the audience in using the online features, and closing the session. A moderator must also provide technical assistance to the presenter(s) and to the audience before and during a live session.
It’s essential for a moderator to exude an upbeat confident attitude at all times, especially when technical issues arise, in order to calm the nerves of presenters and participants alike. Moderators must be comfortable in prompting folks either by chat or audio to put their phones on mute when there are distracting noises. Please note that when new participants join the Webinar, they will not be able to see any chat messages posted before their arrival; therefore, you may need to enter the directions to mute multiple times. Moderators should be ready to advance slides or display presentation materials in the event a presenter’s computer or network is failing. Additionally, they must be able to make quick decisions when tech issues arise with no workable solutions. For example, let’s say the power goes out and everyone is booted out of the online meeting room. A good moderator will quickly shift gears and provide instructions to presenters and participants on how folks will engage in an audio-only mode of communication.
6. Make Presentation Documents Available Prior to Going Live
Unexpected things happen when using webinar technologies. Sometimes presenters are unable to log in to the meeting space and/or participants may be dialing in from cell phones only. To ensure participants who are only connected via the audio teleconference can fully engage in the session, it’s important to send presentation materials ahead of time so these attendees can follow along. This includes inserting page numbers on presentation slides and requesting that presenters indicate periodically what slide number they are on throughout their presentation.
7. Establish Webinar Ground Rules
To set the tone of the meeting it’s important to provide guidelines for how people are to interact with one another. Instruct the audience in how they are to mute their phones and when to do so, and provide the contact information of the person they need to contact in case of technical difficulties. You can display the ground rules on a slide presentation. Alternatively, you can use looping slides to communicate small pieces of key information.
8. Instruct Participants
After establishing the ground rules, share screen shots of the online meeting features and instruct the audience on how they are to use the chat and polling options, and how they can enlarge their screen view. Below is a screenshot of the Ilinc Chat Pod feature and brief descriptions of its components.
9. Be Aware of Lag Time
When conducting real-time desktop sharing, you must be aware of visual feed displays. If there are over 50 participants in a session, the Internet connection may slow, which can lead to visual images lagging behind the audio. It’s helpful to determine the delay time. This can be done with the help of the moderator or the participants. The presenter can ask if participants are experiencing visual delays, and if they are to post a chat message with the number of seconds the images are delayed. When there is a defined lag time, such as three seconds, the next time the presenter goes to another page, (s)he can simply pause three seconds before speaking about the new page of information.
10. Engage Your Audience Frequently
Pull your participants out of the passive mode by inviting them to think, participate, and mentally apply the ideas being shared. Presenters should plan to ask the audience questions every 6-10 minutes. One effective way to do this is to develop multiple-choice, yes/no, or true/false questions that are integrated within a slide presentation. Below is an example of participant engagement multi-choice question that was used on a recent Signetwork Evaluators’ Webinar focused on using Goal Attainment Scales. Participants used the Ilinc polling features to submit their responses.
A friend recently told me that preparing for a webinar is much like producing a TV show. I would have to agree. There are a lot of behind the scenes things to take into consideration. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and practice, remember to keep a positive attitude, and as they say in the theatre biz ‘break a leg’!
Other Sources on Webinar Hosting:
Tips for Delivering a Successful Online Experience. By Richard Watson, Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer. Elearn Magazine
15 Tips for Webinars: How to Add Impact When You Present Online. By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE. Elearn Magazine
Tips for Effective Webinars. By Maria H. Andersen. January 21, 2010