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Meiss Education Institute

Webinar Best Practices
By Will Meiss

When we began the process of implementing virtual meetings at Meiss Education Institute, we did so very much organically. We researched all possible platforms that would effectively communicate our messages, signed up for multiple free trials, and began the process of conducting pilot webinars with family and friends to refine our online presentation process. This article reflects our learnings as a result of that process. 
            The purpose of this article is to focus in on best practices for webinars. What follows are the three most impactful practices we’ve found that a webinar facilitator might utilize to help ensure a successful online meeting.
Create and Utilize Participation-Focused Content
            When a webinar is designed to go longer than the average adult’s attention span (now thought to be about 10 minutes), we recommend the content be revised into a participant-focused interaction. 
            In face-to-face training seminars, we try to move into different interactive processes with the participants every 10 minutes or so. We do this because we realize the limitations of attention spans (yes, even in adult professionals!), and understand the importance of the interactive process on retention. If we hold these time periods to 10 minutes in a physical environment that is specifically designed to keep the participants involved, what should the recommended time limit be on different interactions in a webinar?
             Because of the near guarantee of participant multitasking and the lack of nonverbal communication cues during webinars, we submit that there should be some form of interactive engagement about every 5 minutes. It may be worth mentioning that the average YouTube video is 4 minutes and 12 seconds long. Today’s learners are conditioned to this length of interaction. 
            It may seem asinine to try and incorporate some kind of participation every 5 minutes, but this can be something as simple as a one-question poll, a quick video, or a “raise your hand if…” question. We understand this creates a lot of upfront work in revising your efficient seminar into a powerful webinar, but believe it to be absolutely necessary in keeping your learners engaged. An effective webinar is staunchly participant-centered. 
            If your content does not require participation (or you choose not to make the effort to make it interactive), consider recording the lecture until you get the perfect take and sending it out via email. This may be a win for everyone involved. Nearly all webinar software has this option. 
Give a Brief Upfront Tour of Software Capabilities
Following the webinar opening and facilitator introduction, it is crucial that you spend a few minutes giving a tour of the webinar software and the interaction process. This is essentially the freedom and restrictions the participants will have during the meeting. We’ve found it most helpful to begin by having all participants on mute, and informing them of the way in which you want them to ask questions at the proper time, and how you want them to respond/interact with the questions/activities you offer. This should be the first thing covered, as after your software tour, there are likely to be questions. 
            Have participants interact with the specific tools as you introduce them on the software tour. For instance, if you are showing them how to use the text chat function of the software, have the participants actually enter a text to ensure everyone is following along and capable of doing what you are asking. Likewise, so the same with whiteboards, hand raising, video streaming, polling, and the like. 
            Following this process of taking a short tour, go into the promised Q & A period to offer clarity to anyone concerning the expectations and interactive process. Depending on the amount of experience the participants have, summarize this portion respectively. The worst thing you can do in a participant-centered meeting is take the voice of the participants away. This step should eliminate that possibility.
Utilize an Administrator and Have Back-up Plans
            It’s better to be excellent at a few things than mediocre at many. The most convincing webinar presenters have enough on their plates with content delivery, and should do everything they can to avoid the added responsibilities of webinar administrator/host. 
            The webinar administrator can organize and implement all polling and questions, answer scrolling text conversations, and so forth, all while the webinar is in session. This way the presenter can focus primarily on presenting. 
            Even still, if (or when) things start to break down technologically, it’s important to have a strong back-up plan. This can mean anything from dropping down to a simple VOIP (conference call via computer) platform, or having the administrator run the slide show from their desktop. The administrator and presenter should collaborate on these protocols and practices before launching the webinar. 
Our experience indicates that these are three specific webinar best practices: 
Create and Utilize Participation-Focused Content
Give a Brief Upfront Tour of Software Capabilities
Utilize an Administrator and Have Back-up Plans
By following these best practices both before and while launching a webinar, you will ensure a much higher degree of client satisfaction and a higher probability of glitch-free interaction. Best wishes for great success!

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