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Tips for Running Successful Webinars

Converting Classroom-Based Training to Distance Learning

While we would all like the COVID-19 pandemic to subside faster than expected, we will likely need to maintain social distancing practices in the months to come.

In the meantime, many of our clients have asked for advice about running effective webinars. Here are some tips for planning and delivering successful webinars during this crisis.

1. Know Your Audience: As is true of all learning events, knowing your audience is one of the keys to delivering a successful webinar. With a good understanding of what your audience needs, what they already know, and what they expect, your webinar can be focused and productive. You may even find that what you know about your audience contradicts later tips. No two audiences are exactly alike, and what works best for most audiences isn’t necessarily best for yours.

  • Conduct an Audience Needs Assessment: As learning professionals, we know the importance of a needs assessment before designing any learning intervention. You can send out a short survey to get to know your audience. Using the response data will not only improve the design of your webinar but will also help you make connections with your audience.

2. Know Your Tools: Whether this is your first webinar or your 50th, you need to be familiar with the platforms and hardware that you will be using. Understanding the features and settings of both and getting them prepared for your event is important for delivering a professional offering and avoiding awkward and embarrassing moments of technical problems.

  • Be Prepared for Technical Problems: Although preparation goes a long way toward avoiding technical problems, not all are avoidable. You should test out the tools you plan on using and prepare contingency plans for likely problems, such as an instructor losing connection or students having difficulty logging in.
  • Limit Strain: During this unprecedented rush to move meetings and training online, many platforms have experienced failures and quality issues. Depending on the platform, webinars can typically support many users interacting at the same time. Some platforms, such as Adobe Connect, can even support hundreds of users at once. However, during this crisis, platforms and internet infrastructure alike have been burdened with much higher than usual traffic. If you are having difficulty with your platforms, consider reducing the strain by limiting the use of participant video and audio, pre-recording segments, and picking an off-peak time for your webinar.
  • Let Your Audience Try: If your audience is new to the webinar format, it may help to create a session for users to try out the platform ahead of the webinar. This way, you can troubleshoot hardware and software issues in advance.

3. Plan Your Presentation: Delivering training online is not as simple as merely lecturing into a camera. Webinars, even more than classroom sessions, need careful consideration. You must have clear objectives and map out the agenda to ensure that the content can fit into the time allotted. During classroom training, instructors may be able to assess learning on-the-go based on audience body language and questions. During a webinar, many of these soft assessment measures do not work. How will you ensure that people are learning?

  • Present in Shorter Segments: The best practice guideline for webinars is to aim for 30–45 minutes and allow time for questions and answers to follow, if appropriate. If you have more significant amounts of content to be covered, consider breaking the content up into smaller portions and spreading them out.
  • Consider Alternate Formats: When converting a multi-day classroom event into distance learning, you may discover that some sections are well suited to be recorded as a short video or presented as a pre-reading assignment. Removing content from the webinar itself allows for more focused delivery of content and more chances for interaction. This content is less likely to be disrupted by technical difficulties and reduces fatigue in your instructors and learners.
  • Take Advantage of Software Features: Interactive features, such as polling, whiteboards, chatrooms, and breakout groups, are common to many webinar platforms. These moments of interaction can help improve learning outcomes and keep learners engaged. Many people decline to use the ability to share their video during webinars, and video is a significant strain on network bandwidth. Still, instructors should be on camera when possible. If nothing else, beginning and ending the session on-camera will help learners to stay engaged and connected to your presentation.
  • Scheduling: Research shows that webinars get more registration and attendance if they are scheduled Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and have start times of 11 AM, 1 PM, or 2 PM. If you are planning a marketing or informational webinar, these times may be your best bet. Because of a high volume of users on platforms, you may wish to consider alternative days and times for your meetings and educational events. You should anticipate users requiring additional time to log in and settle down compared to your classroom events. Because multiple, long webinars result in frustration and boredom, we recommend spreading out sessions where possible.

4. Prepare Yourself: Practice with your material and your tools to deliver the best presentation. The best presentations are usually those delivered extemporaneously. That means that the presenter provides their content with in-the-moment confidence and a natural flow. An excellent presentation is neither read from a note sheet nor wholly memorized. That sort of delivery requires familiarity and practice.

  • Maintain Focus: It can be challenging to maintain focus, especially with multiple windows open, people interacting in the chatbox, and other things going on in the background. Wherever possible, eliminate distractions in your environment. If you are hosting a large audience, you should have a moderator assist you in facilitating questions and managing interactive features.
  • Location: An ideal place for appearing on video is a room with a direct line to your modem or router, a phone line, and minimal interruptions, including avoiding busy backgrounds and ambient noise. Some platforms even allow for the addition of backdrops to your video, but be sure not to select a distracting or unprofessional scene.

5. Add Extra Value: When participating in a learning session via a webinar, participants can miss out on the personal interaction they would have had with instructors and peers in the classroom. So, consider building in opportunities to ask detailed questions of instructors and connect with other learners, before, during, and after the webinar. This might include creating an email list, utilizing discussion board features, assigning group activities, and setting office hours for follow-up questions.

Contact ODLS Director Dana Henry below to discuss how we can help you with virtual learning.

Authors:

Dana Henry: Director, Organizational Development & Learning Solutions (ODLS), dhenry@donahue.umassp.edu, (413) 896-6140.
Dana Remian: e-Learning Specialist, ODLS

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