Good Practice for Webinars

December 11, 2009

Last year I started running teletutorials for a Distance Learning Masters course in Occupational Hygiene. The students were spread out across the globe, so it’s not practical to get them together in any other way. I soon found that trying to run them  over the telephone was hard work, so decided to try supporting the discussions with software that allowed me, and the participants, to show Powerpoint presentations and other documents on screen as we talked. Effectively, I’d turned the telephone tutorials into webinars.

This has been a new experience for me, and I’ve very much had to learn as I’ve gone along.  So it was interesting to view a short introductory webinar on:

3 Things Every Presenter Should Know about Webinars | myBrainshark.

presented by Roger Courville, the author of the Virtual Presenter’s Handbook.

The key points for me were

  • Adapt to the medium – i.e. don’t treat the webinar the same as a face to face seminar
  • Engage the participants early and often
  • Break up the presentation – use polls, Q &As and discussion

Actually, I think the 2nd and 3rd points are pretty valid for face to face seminars too. Certianly I try to keep the group involved whenever I run one. So in reality good practice for both types of session is very similar.

I really haven’t got into “Twitter” and the like. Although I’m a fairly avid reader of blogs and make some use of Facebook, I can’t see the point in continually broadcasting what I’m doing or thinking to the ether. I’m not sure that anyone would be interested if I did!  I know, however, that it is used by  as a communication tool by some professionals, particularly those involved in the world of technology. The use of Twitter and how to deal with it has also been a “hot topic” recently on quite a few presentation and public speaking blogs. It seems that some audiences are busy tweeting during presentations – either

  • to make comments relevant to the topic because theyre interested in what is being said,
  • to make non-complimentary comments about the speaker, or
  • because they’re bored!

In such cases speakers need to have appropriate strategies to address this. At the very least they need to stop it disrupting the session. However some people see Twitter as an opportunity – and are coming up with ideas on how it can be used constructively. Olivia Mitchell, whose blog “Speaking about Presenting” is one of my regular reads,  is one of these, and she has released a free e-book on “How to present with Twitter and other backchannels” which raises some interesting points.

I think that some of the ideas set out in Olivia’s book are particularly relevant for conference organisers. At too many conferences I attend there is usually only time for one or two questions (if any) from the audience and it always seems that the same people (confident and pushy enough to raise their hand – often the ones who like the sound of their own voice and who are well known to the chair!) get to ask them. I can see value in trying to adopt the “new technology” as a way of getting more involvement. I think it will only work, however, in groups where the use of Twitter etc. is already well established.