Lessons in hosting webinars

As part of the design for Modern Learning Leader, I’ve been hosting a series of five webinars. The purpose of the webinars on the programme is to provide a baseline of understanding and exploration of topics so that when we get to the two day workshop, people are already primed and full of content which they’re ready to explore and develop their thinking.

Last night was the last of the webinars and I think this is a good opportunity to reflect on how they’ve run, what they’ve helped with, and any other insights. Also, I’m actively sharing my practise as part of the programme facilitation – there’s no reason to have to hold back my thinking and my practise, particularly in the exploration of a topic like this.

In the context of the programme, the webinars are supported by an ongoing Slack group. This has been essential to provide a platform where people can connect with one another, with presenters, and carry out their self-reflection as well as sharing insights with each other. I chose Slack because of the channels that can be created which allow the topics to have their own space for discussion.

What’s been great to see happen, and it was designed to happen this way, is that the presenters engaged with the people on the programme ahead of their webinars, helping to shape the content they presented. They were able to share slide decks ahead of the webinars, direct people to other content and resources, and just be part of the ongoing dialogue happening through the channels. For me, that’s the mark of a good design process right there (not to pay myself too much on the back).

I chose Webex as the platform for hosting the webinars. I went with them mostly because of the cost side. They’re an affordable platform, and provide all the levels of functionality I was after. Primarily these were: chat facility, recording facility, screen sharing facility.

I also made the active choice to only host the webinars and not be the presenter for each. To that end, I thought carefully about who to ask to be the presenters and really sought to make sure the group of presenters were a diverse bunch, and I think I did a good job of that. There were five presenters altogether, one for each topic. Three were white men, and two were women – one was white and the other from BME background. I perhaps could have achieved a bit better, and I’m open to hearing any opinions people have on this. Representations matters, and, for me, diversity and inclusion matter. It’s important people on a programme are invited to experience a different kind of programme without having to rely on the same old tropes because that’s what we’re used to doing.

I also chose to pay each presenter. It wasn’t a lot, and I recognised that I’m asking people to devote and commit to helping me make the programme awesome. It’s only fair that the presenters receive something for that. As I read somewhere recently about paid for programmes, if you can ask people to pay for being there, you can afford to pay for people to present there. That’s pretty fair in my books.

As many others who host webinars will attest, hosting webinars is not the same as facilitating an in-person workshop. You have to pay careful attention to the inclusion of people attending as otherwise it just becomes a broadcast. This means using the chat actively. I’m glad I chose to host because I was able to follow the chat, contribute to people’s comments as they were writing them, and provide links to online content the presenter may have been referencing. Webex allows for all this to happen quite easily. I’m going to make a shout out in particular to Barbara Thompson and how she chose to start the webinar. She shared with people what she had present with her where she was, and invited everyone else to do the same. As a soft way to introduce one another, and create some empathy with people this was an ace way to create connection and inclusion.

Before hosting this series, I was quite inexperienced in being the host, often just being an attendee or sometimes being a presenter. So I’ve often not worried about the technical side of things. There were some interesting lessons for me along the way, and I accepted that I didn’t need to know the ins and outs of the technology. There were people on the programme who were / are very generous with what they know about webinar technology, and they helped answer any tech questions people had as we went through the webinars.

(I’d say I’m still inexperienced even though I’ve done these five.)

I also chose to make the webinars specifically available to be booked separately in case people in the network wanted to be able to attend them without committing to the programme. This was taken up by one person proper who couldn’t commit to the programme and so booked each one. On the first webinar, we also had an additional person who was interested in the topic specifically. I’m glad I did this because it shows that you don’t have to make things exclusively available or not (I mean they were because it was paid for, and that’s how they were intended to be). You can create an appetite for activity even though you’re not making things openly available to all.

Lastly, I have big appreciation for my presenters on the webinars. They carefully thought about what they wanted to present, how the webinars would run, and how they engaged with people on the programme. Phil Willcox, Ross Garner, Barbara Thompson, Stella Collins and Martin Couzins all did top notch jobs for which I’m grateful.

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