In this brief article Luciano Barrilà and Graziano Maino (Pares) present some practical tips to prepare, propose, conduct and evaluate a webinar in the time of Covid-19: these suggestions are based on their experience with Zoom and Google Drive.
P1 – Prepare the webinar
The first step in order to realize an effective webinar is an adequate preparation, some tips are:
- Focus the subject you are dealing with. A defined matter is more suitable: it is easier to explore the contents of a new topic if the general information on the issue does not exceed the appropriate amount, if framework information is not too much, if we focus on the essential elements.
- Prepare an outline of the topics to discuss. When we work from distance, it is easy to lose attention, we should prepare an outline of the topics which will be treated in order to help the webinar participants to orientate themselves and follow the schedule. In conducting, as we will see later, it is vital to go back repeatedly to the outline of topics, articulating the subject and helping people to focus the issue so as to put it in relation with the other matters at hand.
- Identify specific micro-activities. In order to keep up participants’ attention and foster distance-learning – for each point one wants to discuss – it’s expedient to arrange some micro-activities for the audience. Just some questions prepared in advance for every topic may do the trick, or one could try to ask for participation in some passages on the chat, or to encourage the participants to exchange points of view. What matters is to break the unidirectional flow, in order to catch the attention and to allow an active process of learning.
- Simulate conduction. Once the contents are in focus, it is advisable to make a quick test of the time required to develop and link the operational stresses that are imagined to each step. The simulation allows you to calibrate the proposal and possibly re-organize it.
- Co-conduct. Conducting distance learning is in many ways more complicated than doing it face-to-face. It is more difficult to maintain eye contact, to interpret non-verbal communication, such as a sign of assent, of perplexity, the intention of asking a question that sometimes transpires from a slight tension in the gaze and in the face. It can help, then, to act like rally drivers and conduct the webinar in pairs. One of the two trainers will be able to monitor the flow of the outline of topics, the slides, the screen sharing, the other will be able to pay attention to the chat and the participants’ gestures to grasp what otherwise would remain unexpressed.
- Set date and duration. There are some activities that are essential to move on to the next stage of promoting the webinar. In particular, the choice of the moment is important, whether it is an open proposal or a training session addressed, for example, within an organization. The duration should be limited (one hour?) In consideration of the fact that distance learning (training in general) is a demanding activity. As for the day and the hour, it can be helpful to place the training in moments less overwhelmed by requests or more easily free from commitments. Better not in the middle of the morning or afternoon or Monday morning.
- Set up the registration form. During the preparation phase, it is important to prepare the registration form. If the webinar will be promoted via email and social media and you want to have an idea of how many people will participate, if you want to have an email or a mobile phone to be able to activate a second contact channel, to send updates and if you want to gather expectations or requests, then the form – always short and quick to fill – becomes an essential tool.
- Draw up the satisfaction questionnaire. Arranging a short questionnaire is important to collect feedback and returns from the training session attendees.
P2 – Propose the webinar
The second step in order to set up an effective webinar is the promotion: here there are some guidelines formulated in short bullet points.
- Find a catchy title. A webinar is not judged by the title, but a captivating title favors participation. To capture the attention and the curiosity, the title needs to be short and incisive, clear compared to what will be the contents and effective to activate the desire to learn something new.
- Prepare a promotional leaflet. If there are more than one webinar and the space on the leaflet is scarce, you can decide to turn it into a poster or a web page (or both). The new space gained will also allow you to be (a little) more verbose in telling what will happen during the meeting.
- Share the invitation. To promote the webinar you have all the communication channels available: email, instant messages, newsletter, social media. The advice is to avoid the simple copy-paste of the invitation on all platforms but rather to prepare a text to adapt, even minimally, to the characteristics of each. As for spreading via social media, it is important to identify three or four well-focused hashtags that allow the post to be found by users interested in following specific topics.
- Send a reminder 15 minutes before the webinar starts. Many people find it helpful to have an email or message that reminds them that the webinar starts shortly thereafter. It is an activation service, which draws attention and makes it easier for everyone to hang up on the video call. The platforms generate a direct link to the session that can be pasted into the reminder, allowing everyone to join with a simple click.
P3 – Promote active participation during the webinar
The third step – the key moment – is the webinar performance. Here there are some indications that retrace the essential steps. An introductory note: if the webinar includes many participants or if it is demanding, it is better to activate a co-conduction. A facilitator leads the related part contents and explanations, a second figure provides support: preparation of questions, direct support for those who encounter difficulties, preparation of materials, collection of queries. Co-conducting can really make a difference: in particular in discussion webinars, it is useful to track what emerges from the interaction between participants.
- Welcome participants. In conducting the webinar, interaction with the people who connect is essential. Certainly large numbers do not allow the same exchange that can be possible with fewer participants. In any case, it is important that the facilitator welcomes the people who connect. For this reason, it is good to open the connection fifteen minutes in advance and greet the people who connect.
- Introduce the main features of the platform. The moment of reception as well as the presentations of the participants when they join, can also be used to illustrate the essential features of the platform hosting the webinar. In fact, not all people are necessarily experts or know how to orient themselves in the video-conferencing app used for distance training. It is about explaining how to mute the microphone, how to use public chat or direct messaging between participants, how to download the chat on your computer
- Agree whether or not to record the training session. To make the training session later available, it you can decide to record the webinar. In this case it is essential to ask the consent of the people who participate, even asking it to be expressed in writing on the chat.
- Start the webinar illustrating the learning program. The webinar proceeds from the illustration of topics to the individual points set out in the session program. Presenting the agenda helps to understand the contents proposed. Distance learning is subject to different distractions: everybody connects from a different environment, not always noiseless, subjected to interruptions and unavoidable distractions. Following a path, recall it, helping to grasp the content and offering a framework to facilitate the learning process.
- Ask participants to interact and experiment. One way to get immediate feedback on the reception and processing of what is happening and to turn attention back on, is to ask participants to take action. You can ask to answer activation questions or to ask queries. Or even to answer a quick poll, or to report a useful link, or an idea. The important thing is to promote active participation.
- Collect questions. It is a simple and immediate way to push for the recovery of contents, their reconsideration and reorganization. In this sense, chat helps, in fact, encourages the expression of different contributions, activates comparison, stimulates the exchange and the sharing of thoughts.
- Recap. When closing, it is worth dedicating a quick moment to pick up the important points covered so as to offer again a general view of the topics examined in the session.
- Remind to download the chat. Before closing the connection, if the chat was particularly rich, and also in order not to lose the exchanges that took place in private between those who took part in the webinar, it is good to remind the possibility of exporting the file with all the messages exchanged; useful file for explanatory reasons and for notes to which you may have to return.
- Propose the questionnaire. The satisfaction questionnaire that you prepared in the preparation step, as we illustrated above, is offered to the participants directly as a chat link. Since it is short, in a couple of minutes it can be completed and provide the indications that will be examined later (we will resume the point a little further on).
- Greet and thank. Last but not least, greeting the participants: afterward it will be possible to stop the recording, and as a result also the webinar will come to an end.
P4 – Post-produce
Once the webinar is over, it is important to keep in touch with the participants to collect opinions, suggestions, questions which were not expressed during the live broadcast or simply happen to be thought after the conclusion.
- If necessary, adjust the chat. If the chat produced during the webinar is full of ideas, it contains links, indications, thoughts and suggestions… then it is worth sharing it and inserting it in the materials to be sent to the participants and to those who planned to be in but for some reason failed to connect.
- Send materials, links, slides, contacts, photos or answers. Sometimes the value of what happens in training cannot be shared over the time of the webinar. Sometimes you promise materials, summaries, reports, pdfs or links that you do not have at your fingertips. For this reason, at the end of a webinar it is often advisable to send an email to all the people who took part in it (or who wanted to do it) to share useful materials. Sending the email is the opportunity, or can be motivated by the need, to send the satisfaction questionnaire or the calendar of following appointments.
- Collect the questionnaire. Even if the questionnaire was proposed at the end of the webinar session, it is worth sending it also via email, making it available to those who couldn’t complete it. The email can also be an opportunity to send the updated program of webinar proposals, a way first to relaunch participation and then, once the answers are received, to deal with any question left.
- Evaluate the webinar session. In order to take into account possible suggestions for improvement, an analysis of the questionnaire and an evaluation of the webinar are essential.
Of course there are many more useful tips, as well as remarks: do not hesitate to share with us your suggestions, so as to make it available for everybody and help us to set up a larger framework.
We will duly take into account any suggestion or criticism, returning our thoughts so to further the discussion.
(Translation of Giacomo Maino)