Webinar: The need of the hour

Dr Dipak Nath *

The word 'webinar' is a blend of 'web' and 'seminar'. A webinar is an event held on the internet which is attended exclusively by an online audience. This distinguishes it from a webcast, which also includes the presence of a physical audience. Other terms used as alternatives for webinar are web event, online seminar, webcast, web lecture and virtual event.

Participants follow webinars via a PC, Laptop, Tablet or Smartphone, and can see and hear the speaker(s) thanks to audio and video feeds. A webinar is a form of one-to-many communication. A presenter can reach a large and specific group of online viewers from a single location. Providing it is used effectively, interaction during a webinar can be very powerful.

The purpose of a webinar is up to the host, but the options to choose from are on a wide spectrum. This means that the tools used to launch a webinar have to be flexible enough to provide with features that will keep the audience engaged, no matter the topic.

The benefits of hosting a webinar are plentiful, but they don't come without their own challenges, either. From attracting people to the event and keeping engaged, some of the most common challenges that webinar hosts face and how to resolve them before they even arise are-

A) Technical issues: Webinars have a unique set of challenges, but technical issues are universal across industries, activities and people around the world. Solution: Preparing ahead of time by running through a few checks. First, checking of internet stability, camera positioning, lighting and sound check. Second, checking of webinar tool's ease of use, chat options, screen sharing should all be looked over at least one day before the event and again an hour before the broadcast. Finally, checking audience. Participants should understand how to use each function that will be required of them beforehand.

B) Promotion: Preparing a webinar means nothing if nobody sees or hears what one have to say. A majority of webinar's success will come from promotions, just like any event's success would. Solution: Making for promotion of webinar and sending of registrants (link details) a reminder the day or even an hour before broadcast.

C) Keeping audience engaged: Holding someone's attention in a traditional meeting or presentation is one thing, but doing it virtually is another hurdle to jump over. Solution: The format of webinar will determine the difficulty of this first step, but one of the things that keep people engaged is including them in conversation.

Webinars are convenient for both presenters and attendees. Webinars make holding conferences and meetings possible at any time and place. Anyone can participate in a webinar without leaving work or just while staying at home, on a trip or vacation. No more headache concerning venue rental, coffee breaks and transfers.

Steps to find out how to organize a webinar are:

Step 1. Decide on a webinar topic: The nature of business will dictate the subject matter of the webinar. So, if you are a supplier of franking machines, your topic will be related to office management, or if you sell wine box subscriptions, your topic will be related to wine.

Step 2. Choose your webinar format: There are various format options to organize a webinar that can be tailored according to the aims and aspirations for the event and confidence as a presenter. If you think you might get stage fright giving a solo presentation, you could consider an interview style format, where a colleague quizzes you, or you could compile a small panel of experts to discuss the topic and answer participant questions.

Step 3. Create your content: This could be as simple as writing down a list of items you will discuss, but for a webinar to be really successful some time should be dedicated to creating supporting visuals. It's easy for participants' attention to slip when they are just watching a talking head. Design some slides to bring your talk to life include pictures, graphics, graphs, charts and stats. You might want to incorporate time to answer participants' questions after each agenda item or alternatively, schedule a Q&A session at the end.

Step 4. Pick a webinar platform: There are many different webinar platforms (Zoom, Webex, Google Hnagouts, Bigmaker etc) on the market, including free options. When choosing, factors to look at include number of participants it can accommodate, the ability to change between speakers easily, Ability for participants to ask questions, Screen sharing functionality, Slide sharing functionality, Recording functionality and Cost.

Step 5. Select a date and time: The optimum date and time for webinar will depend on whether your business is B2C or B2B. If you are targeting other businesses, then something during the working day might be appropriate, but for consumers, an evening or weekend will likely be best. Be sure to steer clear of any public holidays or other events, which your target audience might be attending.

Step 7. Promote your webinar: Setting up a dedicated event page and processing registrations online will help both to promote and manage the webinar. If you have a database of customer email addresses, you can upload it and send them all invitations with a click or can upload in facebook. When you write your event description, include the agenda of items to be discussed to make it clear what your participants will learn. It's important they don't just think it's an opportunity for you to sell to them. Don't forget to mention the chance for them to have their burning questions answered.

Step 8. Run your webinar: To make sure all goes well on the day, schedule a practice session where you can familiarize yourself with the technology and run through your talk and presentation. Does a sound test with your computer's microphone it might be necessary to wear an external one so everyone can hear you clearly. Make sure you understand where the participant questions will come in and whether they will be visible to the other participants.

Step 9. Analyze your data: Review the list of participants (visible in the webinar software) and cross reference these against the attendee list. This will enable you to make a personalized follow-up.

Step 10. Follow up: Depending on the numbers that attended your webinar, try to follow up personally with each participant. If they asked a question during the webinar, you can thank them for doing so and check they received an adequate answer. Ask them if there's anything else they'd like to know.

There are some real benefits to turning to webinars rather than traditional seminars. Let's break down some of them:

1. Cost-Effective- When a webinar is used, an enormous expense is saved against travel and material costs. So, a webinar is the most cost-effective method of conducting meetings.

2. Diverse Audience- Distance is not a big deal with webinars. No matter where your workforce is, you can offer webinar training without having to be physically together. This means there will be a diverse range of attendees from all over the world.

3. Reduced Commute- Commuting can be a major source of stress. However, when attending a webinar, you won't have to worry about that. One can attend an event no matter where in the world he is without having to travel, which saves a lot of money and time.

4. Flexibility- Webinars tend to be far flexible. Attendees can log on at any time, from any computer. There is no need to set aside extra training space, and you don't have to ask your employees to devote time or resources to training during the workday.

5. Frees up Training Staff- Traditionally, enterprises would invest in training resources. However, webinar series can free them up. There will be more time and resources to dedicate to providing one-on-one training and consultations for employees who need extra help.

While webinars can bring a group of people from different geography together, there are some significant disadvantages to this type of technology as well. Some of them are

1. Limited Interaction- One of the main downsides of webinars is the lack of interaction between the participators and the presenter. Since everything is conducted online, there is just audio-visual interaction lacking physical interaction.

2. Technical Difficulties- There is a risk that the presenter's time in the podium is interfered with due to technical difficulties. Since in which the audience views an audiovisual presentation on their individual computers with different operating systems and internet connections, opportunities for technical problems are virtually limitless.

3. Lack of Teamwork- Teamwork is an essential part of the training. Working as a team adds value to the task everybody is involved in. Sadly, webinars almost completely eliminate this aspect since everything is virtual.

4. Lack of Body Language- Body language is missing from virtually any web-based seminars. There is no clapping, standing ovations, or handshakes which lead to lack of enthusiasm.

5. Lack of Environmental Control- The presenter has no control over the environment, contrary to a live setting where they have full control of everything. They cannot ensure that there will be no interruptions or distractions of sorts which leads to a lack of focus.

Webinars can be successfully used in place of traditional events in all spheres ranging from education to business and corporate training. While there are debates that webinars could potentially kill live events, they are deemed convenient for both presenters and attendees. However, there are different types of online webinar software to choose from, so it's important to find one that works best for your needs.

* Dr Dipak Nath wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Dy Director of Extension Education, Central Agricultural University, Imphal, Manipur
This article was webcasted on July 12 2020 .

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