In a previous post, I shared some lessons learned in planning for the virtual career fair we piloted in the spring with several Pennsylvania counties. Today I'm going to share some lessons we learned during implementation.
- Make presentations more interactive and visually interesting--While a few of our presenters had some experience in presenting online, most did not. We ran practice sessions ahead of the actual events, but these were primarily to get presenters comfortable with the technology and the process. While the presenters did a great job with their webinars, they were not always as engaging and interesting as we had hoped. The reality is, presenting for an online audience is very different than presenting in person. Next year, we're going to work more closely with presenters on the actual content of their presentations so that they are more visually engaging and interesting. We will also work with them to include more interactive components, like polling, for a change of pace.
- Have more people in a presentation who use a more conversational approach--Ironically, one of our highest-rated webinars was the one where the presenters were the least prepared. Five minutes before the webinar began, they were still discussing who would handle which slides and I could feel my stomach start to churn. Apparently someone else had created the slides and the two guys doing the presentation had never actually looked at them. I was afraid we were going to have a harrowing 45 minutes ahead of us. But when the recording started, these guys proceeded to just talk, reacting to the slides, rather than elaborating on them. I'm always preaching "prepare, prepare, prepare," but on the other hand, if you have smart people who have interesting things to say and there's no step-by-step process they need to review, lack of preparation can work.
- Personality is critical!--I hate to say it, but a webinar can make even an interesting presenter sound boring, so if you're going to do an online event, you REALLY need people who can relax and let their personality shine through. We had a couple of great webinars in terms of the content and information that was shared that received somewhat lower ratings because the presenters sounded like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
- Test EVERYTHING beforehand--Because we'd used Go-to-Webinar for other events, we were pretty confident and comfortable that it would work. However, we didn't count on its bugginess with Macs, so the presentation we thought we'd recorded was not captured. Next time we'll be sure to test before we assume, even when it's a platform we've used before. (I should add that Go-to-Webinar provided me with some great 140-character customer service through Twitter, so I was really pleased with their response, even though we had some issues with the recordings).
- Free can work--This project was grant-funded and money was tight. We made the decision to see if it was possible to use primarily free or very low-cost tools to put on the virtual event because we also wanted to demonstrate to the cash-strapped agencies and schools we were working with that it's possible to do some pretty cool things without laying out a lot of money for technology. No doubt we could have spent a boatload of money to have more integrated tools and a better "look," but we wanted to see what could happen on a shoe-string budget. As it turns out, quite a lot can be done.
I was actually really pleased with how smoothly things went overall. We'll make some scheduling and content changes for next time, but the virtual concept worked well and demonstrated to a number of naysayers how this kind of thing can work to supplement or replace face-to-face events. This was a big step.
Next time we're looking at incorporating live streaming video and some other elements. I'll keep you posted on how that goes.