Host a Webinar to Drive Value to Membership
Are you currently prepared to host a webinar session or other online learning opportunities to your members?
If not, what’s holding you back?
Online learning options (e.g., webinar sessions) are improving every year. What was once a costly, complicated undertaking can now be effective and very affordable. I have been working with online learning since approximately 2008, both as a learner and as an education provider, and I have learned a few lessons along the way.
Here are some of my tips for hosting successful webinars.
There s Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!
Sure, technically, there can be a lot to fear: low registrations; technical difficulties; the sound of your voice on a recording. However, none of these outweigh the potential benefits of offering compelling learning options to far-flung members with limited time and opportunity to travel. Put your fears aside and focus on the added value you will be able to provide when you host a webinar.
"How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice."
Technical rehearsals are essential. They will make your speaker(s) more comfortable, allow you to test any necessary media, and determine where polls or other interactive elements might be helpful. They will also help you identify problematic elements that might compromise the quality of your webinar sessions (like construction going on in your speaker’s building or a glitchy headset).
"Moderation in All Things ... Especially Moderation."
Emmerson was not talking about how to host a webinar, but his wisdom applies nonetheless. Moderators (even silent ones) play a critical role during webinar sessions. They can facilitate audience interaction, provide general support to the speaker(s), smooth over technical issues, prompt discussions, launch polls, and more. Be sure to have an assigned moderator and clearly establish that individual’s role in advance to avoid any confusion. This can be covered during your technical rehearsal(s).
"Hello. Can You Hear Me?"
VOIP technology is cheap and can be an excellent solution for many business needs, but it does not come without challenges. When planning your webinar solution, err on the side of caution and provide both VOIP and dial-in options for participants. I cannot count the number of times I have responded "Could you try dialing in on the landline?" in response to "Where is the sound?" during a webinar session. When possible, ask your speaker to dial in from a landline. You will have a better audio quality and fewer potential technical mishaps. VOIP technology improves constantly but the reliability of a landline cannot be beaten.
"Video Killed the Radio Star"
It is not necessary for your participants to be able to see video of your speaker or speakers. In fact, it can prove distracting in a few ways. If you have ever spent a good portion of a Skype call watching yourself, you will understand why the video option can be less than ideal for the speaker. Moreover, where bandwidth is not great, a video feed can result in an image that is out of sync with the audio. If you really want that human connection, use video for the introduction portion of your session and then drop it off for the rest of the session. The content should be the audience’s focus and not the speaker’s cluttered desk or controversial artwork.
"Is There Anybody Out There? Just Nod if You Can Hear Me."
Not seeing your audience when you host a webinar can make it hard to gauge if learning is happening and if your audience is engaged. Use the tools you have got to check in with your audience. Ask questions and have participants respond using the question or chat function. Insert polls periodically throughout the session. These are simple ways to keep your audience focused on the webinar instead of checking their email or surfing the web. You can also experiment with muting or unmuting your audience depending on your comfort level and the size of your audience.
Now Turn to the Person on Your Left
If you have a chat function that allows participants to engage with each other, use it. Live event attendees love engaging with their peers, and virtual audiences do too. Not all webinar tools will provide this option, but if they do not, the speaker and/or moderator can speak on behalf of attendees so that some peer-to-peer sharing occurs. Using a Twitter backchannel is an alternate option, but it can also provide a distraction during the event.
"Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication"
Just because your webinar software has 1,000 features, don’t feel obligated to use all of them. A compelling topic, presented simply is always a better bet than a flashy session riddled with technical difficulties. Break-out rooms, whiteboards, polls, and countless other tools are great if you use them effectively but they are not necessary to present good content. Make sure you are 100% comfortable with the tools you plan to use and add additional complexity as your knowledge and comfort levels grow.
I See What You Did There
You can learn a lot about what you like or don’t like by attending webinar sessions. You can observe distracting or ineffective behaviours that you can avoid, and you will discover some excellent strategies that you can implement when you host a webinar of your own.
"You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying"
Webinar technology provides associations with the tools to serve our members and stakeholders affordably and creatively. You know your members and checking in with them to understand their learning priorities is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Webinar sessions can provide member education solutions offered in a format unhampered by snow storms, cancelled flights, food and beverage costs, or venue fees. The possibilities are endless. Just start trying.
Questions about How to Host a Webinar? Advice?
Do you have any tips that I have not covered here? What else works for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Do you want to know more about offering education online? Join us on Thursday, February 23rd for a session with Louise Roberge, CAE and Shabnam Weber of the Tea Association of Canada as they discuss the very successful transition of their certification program from face-to-face learning to the online space.