Organizing Your First Webinar: a 14-Point Checklist for Beginners

There are the usual beginner mistakes that happen during webinars that are easily fixed with a little practice. So I decided to just write them down for myself in one place and use that as a checklist and a reminder.

Last updated: August 17th 2020

(This article has been originally published on LinkedIn by Visnja Zeljeznjak.)

Because I plan to do more webinars and video calls in the future, the scribbly nerd in me could not resist making notes for my own education while attending other people's webinars. However, the content marketer in me could not resist publishing this for everyone else to see and benefit from, so without further ado: HERE'S MY CHECKLIST FOR DOING YOUR FIRST WEBINAR.

Table of Contents

  1. Wear Headphones! This Is a Must!
  2. Mute All Attendees at the Beginning of the Webinar
  3. Don't Say Aha or Hmm - Don't Make Any Sound - While Others Are Speaking
  4. One Person Speaks at a Time - Never Interrupt the Speaker
  5. When Bad Audio Happens, Mute It Immediately
  6. Get to the Point, ASAP
  7. Don't Hate the Silence: Ask Your Question and Shut Up
  8. Interaction Is Possible And Desired, Here's How to Enable It
  9. Optimize Your Presentation for On-Screen Viewing
  10. Don't Switch Between Presenters Too Often
  11. Don't Put Your Laptop in Your Lap (or Your Mobile in Your Hand)
  12. Have a Co-Host / Moderator
  13. Gather Feedback / Evaluations While Still on the Call
  14. For Private Video Calls: Have Everyone Introduce Themselves

Wear Headphones! This Is a Must!

If you don't optimize anything else, optimize this: if you're one of the speakers, you absolutely must wear a headset.

Do not use your computer's speakers. If you do, other people speaking will hear their voice as a delayed echo coming from your computer's speakers. This is quite annoying to endure while on a live call: speakers can't concentrate on their thoughts, and listeners can't easily process what is being said. What's worst, everyone will have a bad audio experience, except the person who is using computer's speakers to listen to audio. Bad audio is the easiest way to destroy an otherwise great content and make people abandon your recorded webinars.

Any cheap headset will do, as long as the speakers are in your ears / over our ears / on your ears (which ever style of headset you prefer. I always wear Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headset because it's wireless and cancels out any background noises).

Instead of relying on my headset's microphone, I bought a better microphone, Boya BY-M1. The microphone on my Bose wireless headset really - REALLY - sucked; I got telephone quality sound out of it, and it's really not good for presenting. Boya is a wired lavalier / lapel / clip-on style mic that you attach to your clothing, with solid sound quality.

Mute All Attendees at the Beginning of the Webinar

There's an important difference between a (video)/(conference) call functionality and webinar functionality:

  1. A conference call is a two-way conversation where everyone who participates is allowed and expected to speak. Video can be turned on or off, it does not matter: it's the audio that matters.
  2. A webinar is a presentation where one or more people present and speak, while everyone else listens without being expected or even allowed to speak.

Now, people often use video calling functionality for delivering webinars (because it's cheaper). More often than not, attendees who are supposed to just listen are given a possibility to turn on their microphones and speak. This is not always desired, and you should prevent it.

Most webinar software - Zoom included - allows you to mute everyone who is not a speaker. People forget to mute their microphones when they arrive and then everyone else is forced to listen to the radio in their room or a loud construction yard outside their window. You as a moderator of everything that happens on your call should mute their audios on their behalf. This is simply a good default.

Don't Say Aha or Hmm - Don't Make Any Sound - While Others Are Speaking

Every time you utter any sound, your audio feed will cut out the other person's audio feed, and audio quality will suffer greatly.

Instead, train yourself to nod in approval or shake your head in disapproval.

Or, you could use visible hand gestures (waving, clapping, etc.) to say YES or NO or to communicate with your body what you'd otherwise express verbally. Some conferencing software has a way to gesture with icons (you can click a reaction and a clapping / thumbs up emoji will appear inside your video thumbnail feed).

Ahas and hmmms are normal parts of speech when we're not on a virtual call. Unfortunately, our mainstream video calling technology is not that advanced yet, we cannot have the so-called full-duplex conversations that we're used to on the phone or IRL (in real life). This means that two people usually cannot speak at the same time without some audio loss (at least not on Zoom or Skype or whichever video conferencing software you use). When two people speak at the same time on a virtual call, everyone else will experience one speaker's audio get slightly silenced or cut while the other speaker's audio takes over.

Using your head and your hands to communicate is a simple matter of some practice. We'll all get used to it so much that I expect people to start nodding and waving with their hands more IRL while they speak.

One Person Speaks at a Time - Never Interrupt the Speaker

Again, we're used to the two-way communication we have on the phone or in real life. Even if you interrupt a person mid-sentence IRL, everyone present will hear both people speaking.

Not so on a virtual call. You cannot and should not interject with your remarks because you will cut the other person's audio feed, and everyone else listening will have a bad listening experience. If you want to add something to the conversation, you absolutely must wait for your turn to speak and let the other person finish their sentence.

This should probably be practiced a lot because we're so used to interjecting all the time. We love to finish other people's sentences, we add our jokes that make the conversation richer. The new normal requires new habits, and habits are acquired with lots of practice.

When Bad Audio Happens, Mute It Immediately

Technical glitches will happen. Sometimes when you allow webinar attendees to speak, their audio will malfunction and everyone else will hear all sorts of strange and disturbing noises.

If this happens on your live webinar, mute that person immediately, take over the audio, apologize to the other person whose audio has malfunctioned, and let them and everyone else know what happened.

It also helps to get to know the most important keyboard shortcuts to perform fast actions such as muting someone. Write them out on a piece of a large Post-It and stick in on your computer screen.

Get to the Point, ASAP

Always imagine that your video call / webinar will be recorded for people to watch later. There's nothing more annoying than waiting for the person talking to get to the point. When I watch Youtube videos, I can't stand waiting for 30 seconds to get to the content I want to hear and see! (That's why I prefer written articles over video. Youtubers sometimes take too much time to get to the point.)

The so-called Zoom fatigue - that feeling of tiredness after attending too many webinars - is a real thing you should be mindful of. It's not just you who experiences it, everyone listening to you does so as well! Don't make people listen to you longer than necessary. I expect webinars and video calls to explode in supply in the coming months and years, so let's not spoil a good thing before it takes off.

If your webinar was delayed in the beginning, you can always post-edit the webinar recording later to cut out the boring parts. Post-editing is boring and time consuming, but it comes with the job.

Don't Hate the Silence: Ask Your Question and Shut Up

Virtual conversations do not actually happen in real time because almost always, there's some delay. Especially in virtual events where conversations happen between two or more people, one person may lead with a question and then there's this awkward silence when everyone waits for the other person to reply. The person asking the question may feel weirded out by that awkward silence, and what do they do? They repeat or paraphrase their question, which makes the conversation even more weird and wastes a lot of time.

Well, get used to that silence. Ask your question, shut up, and respect the silence. After all, the other person may need some time to think about your question before they could reply.

Interaction Is Possible And Desired, Here's How to Enable It

People complain that virtual events lack quality interaction. To some extent, that is true, however:

  • Use the chat feature: you can always ask questions and have attendees type out their answers in the chat. Comparing this to a real-life event, yes the answers are shorter, BUT you get more answers than you would otherwise get if you talked to a room packed with people. So, use the chat, Luke, use the chat!
  • Use real-time feedback / audience interaction software such as if you have a larger audience, say 20+ attendees, you can collect instant feedback from everyone attending your virtual event. I've seen this work on several occasions and I must say that it's usable and even entertaining.

Optimize Your Presentation for On-Screen Viewing

People use small screens, mobile screens, and one-screen computer setups (not everyone has the benefit of 2 or more screens, it's mostly geeks who do).

People will usually dock the thumbnails screen in one part of their computer screen, and watch your presentation on the other part of the screen. What happens is that the screen with people's faces sometimes covers / overlays parts of the content you're presenting. People don't know yet how to properly use various video conferencing software, so they may not be able to see everything you present.

The way to fix this is to design your presentation so that the text area always stays in one place. Don't let the text jump from left to right or up and down too much. Designate one area of your slides for the content you absolutely want your audience to see.

I know, this is not as attractive a design, but at least people will be able to read everything you put on the slide.

Don't Switch Between Presenters Too Often

Many times, there will be several people presenting at a virtual event / webinar. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary: it makes for a dynamic presentation.

However, it would be best if presenters did not switch between themselves too often. For example, design your presentation so that one presenter presents one half of the presentation, and then give the mic to the other speaker who will present the other half of the presentation. Switches are sometimes technically awkward, they cause breaks in the flow, waste time, and put a greater burden on you as the organizer.

Of course, this does not apply if a virtual event is a conversation between people.

Don't Put Your Laptop in Your Lap (or Your Mobile in Your Hand)

What I love about the new normal is the fact that it's now completely OK to attend a virtual webinar as a speaker speaking from your living room, your bedroom, your kitchen, your garden... I love this! I've seen people present from all kinds of places and I did not mind at all.

Before all this, we were all so worried about whether or not we looked professional, what our backgrounds looked like, whether or not there were other people walking behind our backs while we were on a call... Remember that guy whose kids marched into his bedroom during his very professional interview with the BBC? You can see it on his face how embarrassed he felt, even though the entire world absolutely loved his kids! Well, those days are thankfully over for good.

However, if you will be presenting, don't put your laptop in your lap (or your mobile phone in your hand). When you move, the video feed of you will shake, and that's quite annoying to watch for five minutes, let alone for an hour. This contributes greatly to the aforementioned Zoom fatigue because our eyes are fixated on the video. Every time you move, everyone else is forced to track that movement with their eyes. No wonder we feel dizzy or as if we ran a 5K after each video call!

Fix whatever device you use to record your face to a firm surface. Use a cheap mobile stand or a laptop stand. That way you can move and change your position in your bed, your chair, your sofa... You can drink your tea or your wine or your whiskey without giving anyone (but yourself) a headache.

Have a Co-Host / Moderator

In June 2020, I presented my first webinar, which I talked about here. It was an hour-long presentation about using LinkedIn for beginners. It went as smooth as smooth gets, in fact so smooth, that nobody noticed it was my first webinar! In very large part, this was because I had help from my co-host and webinar organizer, Jana Blažević Marčelja. She admitted the participants from the Zoom waiting room to the webinar, she took care of noting all the questions and read them out loud for me to answer them. If anything would have happened during the webinar, I could count on her to take care of it.

Having a moderator/ co-host is a tremendous help because the presenter can focus on their story and the quality of content delivery.

Gather Feedback / Evaluations While Still on the Call

If reviews and evaluations are very important to you, ask people to fill out your evaluation sheet at the end of the webinar, NOT after the webinar is over. If you ask for evaluations later over email, people will simply forget your emails or won't bother with giving you feedback, and you'll miss on important feedback that you can use for all sorts of purposes later.

For Private Video Calls: Have Everyone Introduce Themselves

Private video calls between 5-15 people are a great, scalable alternative to real life networking. I absolutely love this opportunity to meet new people on a video call!

If you're organizing a private webinar or a video call where people don't know each other, it's a great idea to let everyone introduce themselves at the beginning of a video call. Do this:

  1. Have a list of all attendees prepared before the video call starts.
  2. Go down that list, call people out, and give them the opportunity to introduce themselves. You have to call people out because they don't know who should speak next, so it's your job to enable this well.
  3. Announce the rules: a) say your name, b) say your company name, c) say what you do and how you help people, d) don't spend more than thirty seconds doing so.
  4. Make sure you spend as little time as possible on introductions.

If you plan to record the private call and have others download it later, I believe you should skip this 'virtual networking' part because it would probably be very boring to watch after the fact. Just imagine how boring it would be to watch a recording of networking happening in real life! Virtual events are no different. Introductions are only interesting to people attending, and as they happen in real time.

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