Webconferencing can be an affordable alternative to an off-site meeting, but preparing for this type of event requires a different way of thinking. Follow these 15 tips to ensure that your webconference goes off without a hitch.

Checklist

  1. Get off to a fast start

    Spend two minutes or less introducing your event and covering the features of your webconference. Then let the main presenter start to give your event a fast-paced feel that will keep participants tuned in.

  2. Keep it short

    Web events of 60 to 90 minutes are most effective. If your program requires more time, consider breaking it into segments that you can deliver over a period of days or weeks.

  3. Know your audience

    Do your homework on the attendees who will be participating. What are their priorities, and what do they hope to get out of the conference? Then tailor the content and tone of the presentation to fit the group.

  4. Don't Over Do It

    Avoid the temptation to try all the bells and whistles if you're just starting out. Master the basic controls: slide control, polling, and messaging. Once you are comfortable with these elements, you can gradually introduce more sophisticated features, such as streaming audio, whiteboarding, and application sharing.

  5. Pre-flight everyone

    Encourage participants to complete a pre-flight check before attending your event. Pre-flight checks are Web pages offered by the service provider that check the participant's computer to ensure it is capable of participating in the program.

  6. Start with the phone

    To ease people into the technology, use webconferencing in conjunction with a familiar medium first, such as teleconferencing. Let the teleconference deliver the audio of your program and let the webconference offer participants a way to see material and ask questions without interrupting the program.

  7. Consider the event time

    Schedule the webinar for a date and time that is agreeable to all participants. Eleven o'clock (11 a.m.) Pacific Time is a good time to schedule webinars that will target a national audience; an earlier time may be necessary if the group includes international guests.

  8. Keep slides simple

    Webconferencing works best when slides are formatted with simple designs and a few consistent colors. Don't use full-screen photos in your slides — these images will take too long to display for participants. A good rule of thumb: one key point per slide.

  9. HIRE an emcee

    For important events, hire a professional online moderator to facilitate your event, or use an expert in your field. The moderator can make the question-and-answer process go smoothly, keep the event moving when glitches occur, and allow speakers to focus on their message.

  10. Test, test, and retest

    Once your event is ready, test the Web links that will be sent to participants and double-check the phone number for your teleconference. If possible, hold a dry run with the presenters a week before the actual event.

  11. Have tech support handy

    Appoint a colleague (preferably one with some webconference experience) to act as “tech support” during the conference. This person will attend to technical issues so that the presenter is free to focus on delivering the content.

  12. Use both views for your presentation

    On the day of the program, set up two computers: one with your presenter's view and another logged on as an audience member. This will allow you to check the formatting and appearances of your visuals from the participants' perspective.

  13. Factor in Time for Audience Participation

    Remember to include time for a Q&A session or other audience interactions, such as polling, as these can add considerably to the total presentation time.

  14. Determine how questions will be taken

    Should your attendees ask questions at any time, or save them until the end? You can also have participants e-mail questions to you during the webinar, and answer them at appropriate times.

  15. Finally, don't go looking for trouble

    Glitches can happen during any presentation, whether in person or over the Web. In Web-based events, glitches are often an issue only if they are acknowledged by the presenter. For example, if you click a button to advance to the next slide and it is slow to change, you gain nothing by telling the audience. Just make a mental note to advance slides a little sooner and no one will be the wiser.

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Keyword: virtual meetings

SOURCES: Vcall Inc., Richmond, Va., www.vcall.com; The Resource Center, Scotts Valley, Calif., http://nationalservice.gov/resources