Webinar Lessons Learned and Recommendations

At the research center I recently left, I was fortunate to be heavily involved in our webinars for a few years when we first started to conduct them.  After helping develop some of the routines and standard practices, including a checklist and standardized welcome slide, I remained somewhat involved the rest of my time but only on the periphery as we all became comfortable with the software, Adobe Connect.  Although some parts of those routines are common sense (e.g. “Register for an Adobe Connect account if not already registered several weeks in advance”), some were lessons we learned through only through experience and practice.  I don’t think any of them are unique to the research center at which I worked; these are lessons I have applied in my own work outside the center and ones I’ll carry with me to my next job.  The more interesting lessons and recommendations from the checklist we developed:

  1. Have a co-presenter that doesn’t actively present content but monitors text chat. This person can do many useful and important things that the presenter is typically too busy or focused to do, including (a) answer simple questions, (b) perform basic troubleshooting (without hesitating to tell someone, “Sorry, I don’t know what to do but here is a link with some common questions and answers about the presentation software. And we’re recording this webinar so if we can’t fix this then you can always come back later to view the recording.”), (c) pass along particularly interesting questions or questions asked by several attendees to the presenter so he or she can address them, (d) pass along URLs or other pertinent information as the presenter discusses particular topics, and (e) take notes about issues that arise in the webinar, particularly those that require follow-up.  This person can also play an important role in the text chat by modeling behavior: greeting attendees, reminding attendees that they can chat with one another, prompting attendees to ask the presenter questions, etc.  It’s often helpful for this person to physically be in the same room as the presenter as that makes it easier to get his or her attention to pass along important reminders and questions from attendees.
  2. Create a slide that will be displayed 15-20 minutes before the webinar until the webinar begins.  This slide should welcome attendees and give them important information that they may need for the webinar.  We created a standard slide that most of our presenters used in their webinars.  It not only included the title of the webinar and the time at which it would start but it also included technical recommendations and information such as (a) close other programs and applications, (b) visit the webinar vendor’s website to test your connection and web browser (e.g. this website if you’re using Adobe Connect), and (c) go to this webpage for further technical troubleshooting information (e.g. this website if you’re using Adobe Connect).  We regularly updated our standard welcome slide as we learned lessons in each webinar and received (sometimes negative) feedback from attendees.  For example, in response to attendee questions we began adding a link to presentation materials on this slide so attendees could download them before the webinar began.
  3. In the invitation e-mails and announcements, include a link to a registration form that allows registrants to submit questions in advance of the webinar.  This lets you understand some of the expectations of your audience so you can react accordingly.  Sometimes, we would add or tailor content to meet those expectations.  Occasionally we would receive questions that indicated that some registrants misunderstood the topic or the scope of the webinar so we would be sure that (a) we were very clear about the topic and scope at the beginning of the webinar and (b) our invitations, advertisements, and title were all accurate (so we could avoid similar problems in the future, if possible).
  4. Create a post-webinar survey allowing attendees to provide feedback and ask further questions. Have the survey live and available before the webinar starts and place a link to the survey at the end of the webinar so attendees can complete it immediately while they’re still at their computer.

It’s very, very helpful follow the first recommendation – have a co-presenter not focused on content but on attendees and other issues such as text chat – if at all possible.  Like many people, I have tunnel vision when I’m presenting material, especially in this strange context where you I can’t see or hear my audience beyond some abstractions that are very easy to miss or ignore.  So having someone who is not tightly focused on the content is incredibly helpful for me.  In practice, it was not uncommon for this co-presenter to quietly “save the day” in simple ways such as reminding the presenter to begin recording the webinar or swapping headsets with the presenter at the last minute. I had a lot of fun filling this role in many webinars, chatting with attendees in the text chat to answer their questions, help them, and encourage them to participate.

I’m sure that these lessons learned and recommendations aren’t unique to this one research center.  In fact, I know that others such as EDUCAUSE do many of the same things. If you’re involved with an online presentation or training, consider if any of these ideas might be helpful for you and your participants.