Last week I gave my first ever webinar as part of the American Library Association (ALA) Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Mobile Computing Interest Group (MCIG) virtual meeting.* It took place instead of a physical meeting at ALA Midwinter to enable more people to attend and present. There were five presentations in 90 minutes so we each had 10 minutes to present and 5 minutes of Q&A. If you’re interested in the topic, you can watch a recording of the webinar – see the blog post I wrote for our m-library community support project blog.

I thought it would be useful to reflect on my experiences of presenting a webinar – I’m noticing more and more webinars set up to enable more people to attend virtually across different time zones and without the expense of travelling, so I imagine presenting at webinars is something we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future.This is my setup – home office with laptop for webinar software, headset for listening/speaking, iPhone for timing, and iPad and notepad for presentation prompts (and all important glass of Ribena!):

Webinar setup

Webinar setup

Here are some tips for presenting a webinar which I have learnt from this experience:

  1. Invest in a decent microphone/headset and practice using it. I didn’t realise how distorted my microphone can be when it’s too close to my mouth.
  2. Mute your microphone when you’re not talking. Otherwise people can hear you breathing, typing, shuffling papers, etc. and this interferes with the speaker at the time. Also remember to mute your external speakers otherwise this creates an echo in the webinar audio.
  3. Check the functionality of the webinar system before creating your presentation. I created the presentation in Keynote for iPad and exported as PDF but this wouldn’t load into the webinar software so I had to share my screen and present that way instead – not really a problem but not ideal and I’ve noticed on the recording that for other presentations you can skip to a certain slide which is useful. If you’re planning to use the chat window or other features for audience participation, make sure the software has them. 
  4. Try to keep an eye on the chat window if there is one – aim to glance through as you pause between slides. Whilst you’re pausing between slides it’s a good opportunity to take a look at the chat comments in case there are sound/video problems or in case there is a quick question asking for clarification of a point you made.
  5. Time yourself. It’s more difficult for the chair to notify you when you have a few minutes left in a virtual setting, so I found it useful to have my phone next to me monitor with a timer running to make sure I didn’t go over my allotted timeslot. It’s useful to know at all stages how much time you have left so you don’t end up rushing the later sections.
  6. Don’t be afraid to use a script or prompts. This is something I don’t tend to use often as I usually prefer to speak ad hoc – I have an idea of what I’m going to say but prefer to keep it natural. Whenever I have written a script for physical presentations, I find that I get to the end of the presentation and I haven’t even looked at it. Virtual is different as you have no audience to make eye contact with, and you might find it useful to use prompts or a script to make sure you cover everything you want to.
  7. Remember to pause to take a drink if you need one. I found this easier to do in a webinar than in person as no one can see you (I’m often too self conscious to do this when presenting). It’s good practice to pause after each slide to let the audience take in the information you’re sharing and for you to compose yourself.
  8. Give your details at beginning and end so people can continue discussion or ask you private questions. This is particularly useful now many people tweet during your presentation – if you share your username at the beginning, they can mention your username in tweets and virtual followers will gain more context and can contact you with questions.
  9. Find out if the session is being recorded or not. This is useful to know to pass on to people who might be interested but cannot make the webinar live, though is of course also useful for you as a presenter to know. You might want to plan what you say a little more carefully if people will be able to access it after the event.
  10. Check, double check, and triple check your technology set up. This is a really important one! This webinar was actually the second time I should have given a webinar – the first time a couple of years ago I couldn’t get the technology working on the day so had to type it all out instead of speak! Take advantage of practice sessions if you have the opportunity, and join the webinar early to familiarise yourself with all the controls and do your final checks.
 I found it a little unusual to be talking to no one at first, but I didn’t find it as strange as I thought I might have and would certainly do it again. If you are presenting at a webinar, you might also be interested in reading about Bethan’s experience.

*I think that sentence may win the award for most consecutive acronyms!

  • Jo, thank you – this is an excellent list. I’d also encourage the meeting organiser to create and share a running order that includes handovers to and from speakers, and reminders of shortcuts to mute telephone lines, share screens and so on. The combination of teleconference and software provider is often different each time so a reminder does help to calm the nerves. I’ve written a series of posts on webinars from the organisers’ point of view; post 2 covers the webinar itself:
    http://libclare.blogspot.com/2010/10/learning-from-experience-setting-up.html

    • Thanks very much for sharing Clare – good to hear from an organiser’s perspective 🙂

  • This is a great list! Using the iPad for your prompts is a great idea; I’ve tried to juggle laptop & external monitor (while sharing one) and having a totally separate device is much less worry-inducing. When I presented at Handheld Librarian last year, I got the fantastic advice to gesture and look around the room as if my audience was there. It helped me feel more like I was talking to people instead of into a microphone, and I think my presentation sounded more natural because of it.

    • Great advice, Donna – you certainly sounded very natural at Handheld Librarian. I’ll try this next time, hopefully when I’m on my own so no one will think I’m completely crazy looking at a virtual audience!

  • Rachel Bickley

    Jo, thanks for this post! I am going to be presenting in a webinar in July and am very nervous, but now feel like I know a bit about what to expect!

    • Good luck Rachel – hope it goes well! 🙂