conferencing is a new communications medium, and it's not
quite like any other. It may share characteristics with other
media, such as teleconferencing and live multimedia presentations,
but ultimately it requires specific techniques for maximum
effectiveness. Here are 13 ideas for creating more successful
1. Keep It Simple
It's easy to become enamored with all the features that today's
Web conferencing systems offer. Avoid the temptation to try
all the bells and whistles if you're just starting out or
if you're trying a new system. Master the basics: slide control,
polling and messaging. Once you and your audience are comfortable
with these elements, you can gradually introduce more sophisticated
features, such as streaming audio, whiteboarding and application
2. Keep It Short
Live events of 60 to 90 minutes are most effective. If your
program requires more time, consider breaking it into segments
delivered over days or weeks. Build the presentation around
three or four key messages to leave with your audience. Ninety
minutes is enough time to interact with the audience
asking them questions for polls and answering their questions.
3. Get Off to a Fast Start
Spend no more than two minutes introducing the event and covering
the features of the Web conferencing system. Then let the
main presenter begin. This will give the event a fast-paced
feel that will keep participants tuned in.
4. Ask Good Questions
Don't use a live event to ask pointless demographic questions
such as "From where are you attending?" That kind
of information can be determined in pre-event registration.
Use the time in front of the audience to ask questions that
collect critical feedback and measure the effectiveness of
5. Use a Specialist
For live events of more than 20 participants, use one or more
specialists in addition to the presenter to answer audience
questions. The barriers to participation are low in an online
event, so expect to receive more questions via the instant-messaging
feature common to most Web conferences than in a typical face-to-face
presentation. Using a specialist means that everyone who asks
a question will get a personal response while the presenter
stays focused on delivering his key points.
6. "Pre-Flight" Everyone
Pre-flight checks are usually Web pages provided by the event
service provider that check the participant's computer to
ensure it is capable of participating in the program. All
participants should complete one.
7. Start with the Phone
To ease people into the technology, first use Web conferencing
in conjunction with a familiar medium, such as teleconferencing.
Let the teleconference deliver the audio, and let the Web
conference offer participants a way to see visual material
and ask questions without interrupting the program. Use the
interactive features of the teleconference bridge, such as
live Q & A sessions, to simulate a radio "talk show"
format. As the participants become comfortable, you can migrate
some of them to Internet-based audio to reduce the teleconference
8. Keep Slides Simple
Web conferencing works best when slides are formatted with
simple designs and a few consistent colors. Don't use full-screen
photos in slides. These images will take too long to display
for participants. When made "Web ready" for the
event, flat colors and simple graphics will display quickly
on the screen.
9. Plan Ahead for Software Demos
If a computer application is going to be demonstrated to the
audience, select a Web conferencing system that supports application
broadcasting. This allows the application to be shown directly
from a computer. Practice with this a lot before the event
to get comfortable with how it works and how it looks from
the perspective of the presenters and the audience. Most systems
require a plug-in to be downloaded and installed to capture
and display what's on the computer screen.
10. Rent an Emcee
For important events, hiring a professional online moderator,
who can conduct interactive polls and talk with a presenter
while waiting for results to come from the audience, eliminates
awkward dead air. A moderator also can smooth the Q &
A process by asking prepared questions and gleaning the best
ones from the online audience. Perhaps most importantly, these
professionals know how to keep an online event moving when
glitches occur and this allows the speakers to focus on their
message, rather than worry about which button to click.
11. Test, Test and Retest
Once the event is staged and ready to go, make sure to test
the links that will be sent to your registered participants.
If the correct link isn't sent, the audience won't be able
to find the event!
Also, double-check the phone number for the teleconference
for participants and presenters. Problems like these are completely
preventable with a minimal amount of due diligence.
12. Use Both Views for the Presentation
On program day, set up two computers, one with the presenter's
view and another logged on as an audience member, to give
a sense of what the participants are experiencing. Slides
that are slow to advance for you may display quickly for the
audience. This also will let you check the formatting and
appearance of the visuals from the participants' perspective.
13. Don't Go Looking for Trouble
Glitches can happen during any type of presentation, 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 the presenter clicks a button to advance to the
next slide and it is slow to change, he gains nothing by telling
the audience, "Gosh this sure is taking a long time to
come up." Perhaps there is a slower-than-average Internet
connection. Just make a mental note to advance slides a little
sooner, and no one will be the wiser.
Dale Coyner is operations manager at Communicast.com,
a Web events production company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article reprinted with permission from Meeting Planners'
Guide to Using the Web, a supplement to Meeting News
and Successful Meetings, September 2001.