Ace the webinar

Updated: 09 June, 2020 10:32 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

While lectures, meetings and discussions have moved to the digital space, we talk to experts about handy ways to craft the perfect webinar

A webinar by The Art X Company
A webinar by The Art X Company

It was last week when Anand Mahindra, chairman, Mahindra Group, posted a meme that went viral on social media. It displayed a scene from the 1960s film Mughal-E-Azam with a speech bubble where Salim seems to say, "Utho Anarkali...webinar khatam hua." With the number of discussions, classes and lecture demonstrations that have taken the virtual route in these times, all clubbed under the term 'webinar', it struck a chord. In the new world, chances are, you aren't too far away from your next webinar either. And if you are looking to get started, here's what those who have taken the plunge have to say.

Accessibility
Among the merits of the format, accessibility tops the list as virtual programmes or webinars have diminished distances and made them available to people in different parts of the world. "A girl sitting in Pondicherry can now sign up for a course that was earlier restricted to Mumbai applicants. A homemaker can now do this too, from the comfort of his/her home," says Dr Omkar Bhatkar, co-founder and head, St Andrews Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts (SAPP), Bandra.

A webinar by SAPP
A webinar by SAPP

Selecting a platform
While there are several platforms now available to conduct online meetings and webinars, Dipti Rao, director-projects, The Art X Company, believes that this decision must be based on the nature of the session. "You need to do a little research about the platform that suits you best. Zoom worked for us. But, even there, you could pick the meeting or webinar options based on whether you want questions from the audience through video or using a chat box. Zoom also allows you to 'spotlight' someone as they speak. This ensures you aren't looking at all the speakers when one is speaking, as they might tend to appear bored or disengaged," she explains. Asad Lalljee, CEO, Avid Learning (that has been conducting master classes and talks online), finds both Zoom and Transcipt by BookMyShow, useful. Zoom is also a boon, Rao says, for lower bandwidths and prevents people from dropping out mid-session.

A different medium
As Lalljee observes, it is not uncommon for as much as 65 to 70 per cent of the audience to drop out within the first five minutes of a webinar. "It does not involve physically walking out of the space and hence, is much easier to do," he says. This comes with the added burden of restricting verbosity and keeping the session both engaging and interactive, without losing crucial time in introductions. This is also why webinars tend to rely on several aids like slides, images, reference material, and on occasion, polls too. "People tend to switch off in virtual sessions, and polls are a good way to re-ignite their interest and highlight what's going on," says Rao, adding that slides should also be employed, but judiciously, using a combination of faces and text. You have to adapt your presentation style. "You can't talk the way you did in a regular class. You need to use more imagery and more technology," says Bhatkar revealing that he uses an acoustic guitar for poetry readings online, unlike in their offline avatars, to keep it interesting.

Tarini Sethi on a webinar
Tarini Sethi on a webinar

As in Mahindra's meme, a common topic of discussion with webinars, has been that of on-screen fatigue. "We need to keep things less theoretical, more relevant and offer solid takeaways in a short span of time," Rao suggests.

Duration
In a physical setting, often an interesting lecture spills over from its one-hour slot to the next one and you'd hardly complain. However, in the virtual space, duration is a key factor in building and retaining audiences. Rao feels one hour is ideal, no session should extend beyond a two-hour limit. "That's too much for virtual sessions," she asserts. Lalljee finds an hour too restrictive and has decided to now add half-an-hour for questions at the end of every session, but wouldn't exceed the time limit.

Dipti Rao and Omkar Bhatkar
Dipti Rao and Omkar Bhatkar

Tech troubles
If all those bookshelves in the background are keeping you hooked and curious, Rao tells us, it might be the test run that got them there in the first place. "We attempt to curate the frame a bit for the speakers, though there isn't too much you can do," she says. Test runs, all the experts believe are crucial, and yet there's only so much one can do in the face of dropping Internet connections, varying data bandwidths and power cuts.

Asad Lalljee
Asad Lalljee

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First Published: 09 June, 2020 09:10 IST

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