After the webinar experience I liveblogged a few months ago, the one thing I KNEW couldn't happen with this thing was death by Powerpoint. You might be able to get away with a bad PPT presentation if you're an engaging speaker in a face-to-face situation, but not when the PowerPoint is all they see. There's a level of pressure here to make the visuals engaging that really forces you to step up your game.
Compounding my problem is that the audience I was presenting to is not, shall we say, the most technologically savvy crew, so I was also worried about the challenges of getting people online and participating.
Since this was my first time, I wanted to capture what I learned from the experience. I figured I should share, especially since others were so generous with their advice back when I asked for it in October.
1. The time you usually take to prepare for a training session? Take that and quadruple it--at least. Part of my issue here may have been that I was doing a webinar on a topic that isn't second nature to me, so a larger than usual amount of prep time was devoted to figuring out content issues. But beyond that, the killer was thinking through how to make the presentation engaging when all people are doing is listening to my voice on the phone and watching me advance through slides. I cannot begin to communicate the agonizing over photos and slide transitions, etc. that I went through. Unbelievably time-consuming. Anyone who tells you that preparing for a webinar takes less time is either lying or isn't doing a very good job.
2. Err on the side of more slides. One thing I figured out relatively early on (thank God) was that I needed to be OK with having close to 100 slides. I've been moving in that direction anyway, thanks to Beyond Bullet Points, but I found this to be particularly important in this case because it gave a sense of movement and progress through the presentation that's necessary when there are no humans in front of you.
3. Write a script. My training style is generally facilitative and interactive--I've never been comfortable with the whole "sage on the stage" thing. One big downside of a webinar for 75 people, though, is that facilitation just isn't possible. You're forced into the position of "presenting"--the sort of digital equivalent of standing behind the podium and giving a speech. Because there was little interaction and no graceful way for me to jump around if I had to the way you can in face-to-face, I ended up writing a script for each slide--more like doing a screencast, really.
4. Practice, practice, practice. We used GotoWebinar, which for us worked pretty well, although we had a couple of glitches along the way. I wanted to be sure that I knew how to do everything, so I did a few practice sessions with some colleagues, including running through the two polls I included, so I could get comfortable with how everything worked. This wasn't just about flipping through slides. There was audience participation to monitor, questions to respond to (we used chat) and polls to conduct and review. It was a lot of stuff and I needed a lot of practice.
5. Be prepared for lots of technology confusion. When we sent out the invitations, we thought that we'd been clear about how to sign up for the webinar and made things pretty easy. We even had some less tech savvy people follow the instructions to make sure that we weren't being too complicated. Even so, we still had calls and emails from people who couldn't figure it out, so tech support was definitely an issue.
The Big Day
6. See Number 5. Yes, we had additional technology confusion on the day of the webinar--most notably, people not realizing that they needed to call for the audio and be online for the visual stuff, even though we emailed about this several times. But I had my own issues that I need to confess as well. Like forgetting to hit *1 to start the conference call. And forgetting to hide the poll results so that the audience could see the next slides. And advancing past the last slide so that people could be greeted with "end of slide show" and a black screen. You know. Stuff like that.
7. You need at least 2 people to answer the tech questions, neither of them being you, especially at the beginning. We thought that with the excellent (in our opinion) instructions we sent out about the call, we'd have minimal technology questions during the call. We had a couple of people standing by to answer them, but they were on the phone and had people on hold for 20 minutes into the webinar, so that wasn't enough. The biggest question was "Why can't I hear audio"? so we decided that for the next time, we're going to do a quick video demonstrating how you have to log into the webinar AND call the conference call number. Hopefully that will help alleviate some of the confusion. We'll also have a few more people to help out in the beginning.
8. Deviate from the script--and don't be afraid to make a few jokes. I had my script that I'd rehearsed with several times, but in the end, I used it as more of a guide, rather than as a strict script. I got more conversational and even made a few jokes, which is frankly kind of weird since it's like you're talking to yourself. But apparently they liked it, so I'm thinking that it worked.
9. Answering chat questions through audio is kind of strange. I broke a few times for questions that we encouraged people to submit though chat. I had to scroll through the questions to see what I had, while also not leaving a lot of dead air. So I'm scrolling, reading, chatting and trying to figure out the answers to the questions all at the same time. Not terribly difficult, but somehow I felt like a radio announcer on a call-in show. Strange.
Overall, the webinar went well. I got a lot of excellent feedback about the quality and the pace, so that was good. I think it helped that expectations were minimal--most hadn't done a webinar before and those who had had experienced government-run versions, which I don't need to tell you are the deadliest. I have to do another one on February 6, so I'm hoping it runs as smoothly. Of course, I haven't even started putting it together yet, so I guess I know what I'll be obsessing about for the next few weeks.