10 tech tips for webinars and online meetings

Eye on Flat Panel Monitor --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis(Short of time? Get to the tips.)

As a presenter, it’s increasingly likely that you use webinar tools (like Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx or Citrix GoToWebinar) – or that you soon will. And you might well hold virtual meetings or training workshops using those same or similar tools (like Citrix GoToMeeting, GoToTraining, or Microsoft Live Meeting).

Whatever type of webinars or online meetings you run, you’ll find some useful tips in this post.

Still, you’ll want to choose which tips to use according to factors like the size of your audience and your comfort with running the online event in the 1st place, because some of the tips (notably 6 to 10) require more effort than others.

You can click any of these links to scroll to a specific tip:

  1. Shrink your screen
  2. Use the “Rule of 3 (screens)”
  3. Stop pop-ups
  4. Hide icons
  5. Hide toolbars
    1. In your browser
    2. In Office
  6. Share your slides
    1. Live on screen – without font fails
    2. Later “on paper” – in a handout
  7. Do dynamic demos
  8. Turn on change-tracking
  9. Trim your recording
  10. Invest, test and (if all else fails) jest!

1: Shrink your screenScroll to Contents ↑

Because webinar and online meeting tools usually have multiple panels or pods to show things like the chat feed, an attendee list, and your slides or other shared content, space can get tight. So your audience mightn’t have much room on their screens for the content you’re trying to share.

Your attendees won’t enjoy squinting or scrolling…

What’s more, if your screen is at a higher resolution than your attendees’ screens, further display problems can come up. (Let’s face it, although you might love your high-resolution screen, your attendees won’t enjoy squinting or scrolling to see what you’re trying to show them!)

For that reason, I recommend reducing your screen resolution to something quite small, like 1024×768. That should give your attendees room to show your content without needing to scroll. And depending on the platform you’re using, they might even be able to zoom in to see your content better and still not need to scroll around.

So, to reduce your screen resolution in Windows (or to put it back afterwards), right-click an empty part of your desktop and choose Screen Resolution.

2: Use the “Rule of 3 (screens)”Scroll to Contents ↑

When you can,
it’s great to
use 3 screens

Having helped your audience in tip #1, it’s time to give yourself a better view of your online event – and to make up for having shrunk your own screen! That’s why, when you can, it’s great to use 3 screens:

  • Connect a 2nd monitor to the computer you’re presenting from. Then, extend your desktop to it, and drag some windows (such as your speaking notes) onto it. That’ll give you lots more screen space, even having reduced your screen resolution. (In Windows, to see the option for extending your desktop to your 2nd monitor, press Windows+P.)
  • Have a 2nd computer (or a handheld device) at your desk, and use it to log into the webinar as an attendee. If it’s a computer, it can also be helpful to make its screen resolution different from the computer you’re presenting from. Those steps give you 2 benefits:
    • You can keep glancing at this 3rd screen while presenting, to check that your content’s legible without squinting or scrolling.
    • You’ll get a clue about how quickly your content’s showing up for your audience.

I also highly recommend asking a colleague to help

With 3 screens to watch, it’s easy to miss vital cues. For instance, in a recent virtual classroom session, I forgot to resume screen-sharing after running a poll, and didn’t notice the problem on my 2nd computer either. That’s why I also highly recommend asking a colleague to help you run your online events.

3: Stop pop-upsScroll to Contents ↑

Have you ever seen a webinar where messages kept popping up on the host’s screen? When you present, your audience would find that quite distracting – and if the messages were private, you could find it embarrassing!

You’ll have more internet bandwidth

The quickest and surest way to prevent pop-ups from your email or instant messages is to close those programs. That means you’ll have more internet bandwidth too, which gives you a smoother webinar experience.

In cases when you’re presenting from a Windows 7 laptop (not a desktop PC), here’s how to also stop pop-ups generated by Windows itself: Press Windows+X to open the Windows Mobility Center, then click Turn On to start presentation mode. (If you have a photo of your kids or similar as your Windows wallpaper, you can also click the projector icon and choose a different photo for presentation mode.)

Windows Mobility Center - Turn on

4: Hide iconsScroll to Contents ↑

…you’ll look more professional

If your desktop’s like mine, you’ve got plenty of programs, folders and documents on it. Hiding them shortly before a webinar or other online meeting (or indeed any presentation) means they won’t distract people if your audience sees your desktop, and you’ll look more professional.

In Windows, to hide your desktop icons, right-click an empty area, click View and then click Show Desktop Icons to remove the neighbouring tick (checkmark). To show the icons again afterwards, repeat those steps to put the tick back.

Show Desktop Icons in Windows

5: Hide toolbarsScroll to Contents ↑

a: In your browser
Often you might want to show a website, or to demo an online tool in your browser. When you do that, it’s good to:

  • maximise the browser window (to give more room – provided your screen resolution isn’t much more than your audience’s)
  • hide your browser’s toolbars and tabs (to reduce clutter)

In most browsers (like Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer) you can do both those things by opening the View menu and choosing Full Screen (or by pressing F11). To temporarily show the toolbars and tabs again when needed, in many browsers you can move your mouse pointer to the top of your screen. Or to revert to normal more permanently, press F11.

b: In Office
Especially in an online meeting, you might work with other attendees on a document or spreadsheet. In Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel and Outlook, you can hide the toolbar (also called the ribbon), and that gives you 2 benefits:

Everyone can focus more on the file’s content

  • You’ll have more room on your screen – which you might find especially helpful having shrunk it!
  • Everyone can focus more on the file’s content, without visual clutter.

To hide the ribbon, right-click on one of its tabs (like Home or Insert) – or on the bar that contains the tabs – and choose Minimize the Ribbon. Or, press Ctrl+F1. You can do the same thing to show the ribbon again. (To use the ribbon while it’s hidden, just click one of its tabs, or press Alt and then press one of the shortcut keys that appears.)

10 tips for webinars - Minimize the Ribbon

6: Share your slidesScroll to Contents ↑

a: Live on screen – without font fails
Most webinar and online meeting tools let you upload your PowerPoint slides beforehand, so you can quickly and easily share them during the event. But have you noticed that your slides often undergo some changes during the import to the online tool?

For instance, your fonts might be replaced by others, causing various “font fails”, and if you’ve added any subtle animations to your slide deck, those might be lost or altered. (The kind of animation I mean is just simple effects like fading in. Very often, more complex animations won’t be visible to your online attendees anyway because transmission tends to be choppy, in which case there’s no point using those complex effects.)

Avoid problems with your fonts or animations…

To avoid problems with your fonts or animations and the like, I suggest sharing your screen when you run your slideshow, rather than uploading your slides. An added benefit is that you can use Presenter View on your 2nd monitor, which lets you read your slide notes and see thumbnail images of your next few slides, but without your audience seeing them.

b: Later “on paper” – in a handout
To make your handout, do you just convert your slides into a PDF – perhaps with several slides per page? If so, that’s a problem because slides should contain very few words, in which case they probably won’t mean much to people afterwards. And your slide-only handout might even frustrate people because it could have dozens of pages, but with very little on each page.

Make a handout containing more explanation than your slides

That’s why I strongly recommend you make a handout containing more explanation than your slides alone. You can do that in 2 ways:

  • Instead of using your slides to create a PDF file, use your PowerPoint notes pages. Each PDF page then contains a small image of one of your slides, plus the text from the notes pane under the slide.
  • Or, use Save As to save your slides as graphics from PowerPoint, then insert them into a document. (The benefit is that you have complete control over your document’s layout. But – after you edit your slide deck – you can’t produce a new version of your handout in just 1 step, which means it’s more likely to get outdated.)

7: Do dynamic demosScroll to Contents ↑

Have you ever seen a presenter show screenshots instead of doing a demo? I saw that just last week, and the presenter even told us they’d done so to avoid any problems with a live demo.

Sure, screenshots mean you’re far less likely to have technical issues. But the drawback is you show more slides as a result, which can quickly get boring! (And in the case I just cited, it was unwise to mention distrust of the software, because that makes viewers doubt it too.)

When you can, rather than showing screenshots, it’s much more engaging to show a brief demo – either live or recorded. To record and edit your demo, you can use a tool such as Adobe Connect, TechSmith Camtasia, or Articulate Storyline.

Share your whole desktop rather than just one program

Depending on the software you’re using for your demo, you might need to share your whole desktop rather than just one program. For example, recently I used Adobe Connect to demonstrate how to use advanced features of the Find dialog box in Word. During testing before the event, I found that sharing just Word didn’t let viewers even see the Find dialog box! Sharing my desktop fixed the problem.

Skip or greatly shorten any parts that’d be of little help

To give your viewers the most value, do carefully plan your demo. By that I mean set things up in advance, so you can skip or greatly shorten any parts that’d be of little help to your audience.

For instance, imagine you’re demoing a website to expert computer users who’ve never used this site before, and the website gets new users to register with their name, email address and so on. Rather than taking these experts through a routine registration process, you could just tell them they need to register. Then, go straight onto showing the main features of the website, which is what they came to see.

A recorded demo’s a great option

You might be hesitant to use a live demo, and I fully understand. That’s why a recorded demo’s a great option, with 3 benefits:

  • Especially if the tool you’re demoing is online, playing a recorded demo’s much less prone to glitches.
  • You just need to record your demo once (or a few times if you do several takes), yet you can use it dozens of times, saving you time and effort.
  • You can edit it to remove bits that aren’t important to your audience, or to correct any stumbles you make when recording.

8: Turn on change-trackingScroll to Contents ↑

Here’s how to make online meetings more dynamic

Here’s how to make online meetings more dynamic: If you’ll edit a document together in Microsoft Word, try turning on change-tracking. That makes Word highlight your subsequent edits in a different colour, underlining text you type and striking through text you delete, which lets everyone see what changes you’ve made:
10 tips for webinars - tracked changes

The highlights can start to make your document hard to read

After lots of edits, though, the highlights can start to make your document hard to read, so you can choose to show the document without highlighting (as described at the end of this section). You can even switch repeatedly between highlighting and not highlighting the edits to suit the changing needs of your audience.

Depending on which of those 2 options you choose, you get these benefits:

With edits highlighted With highlights hidden
See deleted text and other changes? Yes No
See how the document will look when finished? No Yes

Here are the main how-to steps you’ll need:

  • To turn on change-tracking in Word, on the Review tab click the top half of the Track Changes button. (Clicking the bottom half instead lets you choose options. For instance, I usually turn off tracking of changes to formatting.)
  • To show highlighting, on the Review tab choose Final Showing Markup, or to hide highlighting, choose Final.
  • To turn change-tracking off, click the top half of the Track Changes button again.

9: Trim your recordingScroll to Contents ↑

Recording your online event means you can get more value out of the time you put into it. Logistically, I find it helps if you start recording the session before its official start time, so you don’t forget at the last moment. (In my own case, I also leave myself a prominent reminder!)

There’s really only one downside…

There’s really only one downside to pressing record a few minutes early though: You later need to trim the start of your recording, so the final version begins when you kicked off the live event.

While you’re doing edits, it’s also worth removing anything recorded after the event’s closing, such as the sound of people saying goodbye or hanging up the phone. In fact you might want to do a more thorough edit, if you have time and the size or nature of your recording’s audience warrants it.

For instance, there are often delays around audience interactions, such as while people are typing replies to a question you asked them, or while you wait for responses to a poll. (If you use what I believe is the best polling question ever, somewhat ironically it only has value during the live event, in which case it makes sense to completely remove the poll from the recording.)

Lastly in this section, to get the most from your recordings, I also highly recommend the related tips in Ken Molay’s post: Improving Information Delivery In Webinars.

10: Invest, test and (if all else fails) jest!Scroll to Contents ↑

There are so many “moving parts” involved in a web meeting, virtual classroom session, or other online event. So my last tip comes in 3 parts:

  • Invest time to prepare thoroughly, to set up your PC, and to make a truly useful handout, as described in the tips above.
  • Test your setup by rehearsing as realistically as you can, with the same setup, tools and colleagues you’ll work with for your real event. And, have backup systems in place, like by printing a copy of your PowerPoint note pages in case your computer freezes, and by using both phone and VoIP to connect to the event audio.
  • If all else fails, jest. By that I mean have a couple of witty lines in mind in case of various problems. For instance, if your audio cuts out, you might type a line in the chat, like:

    “Darn! I forgot my virtual throat lozenges!”

    Being able to share some gentle, harmless humour in the face of adversity shows people you’re not fazed by the situation, which gives them added confidence in you and your message.

Over to youScroll to Contents ↑

As I said at the start, those tips require varying amounts of effort. All the same, to me, this quote from Nancy Duarte about reward for effort applies very well to them:

“We work in a first-draft culture. Type an e-mail. Send.
Write a blog entry. Post. Whip up some slides. Speak.
But it’s in crafting and recrafting – in iteration and
rehearsal – that excellence emerges.”

And as Adobe’s Shelby Britton put it in her excellent 50-page Content Marketer’s Guide to Webinars:

“There is no such thing as an instant webinar.”

So put in the required preparation time and thought. You’ll give your audience an awesome event, which they’ll thank you for, and it’ll achieve its goals far better than an everyday affair ever could.

Let me know your favourite tip for an outstanding webinar, virtual meeting or VILT event (Virtual Instructor-Led Training).

Also check outScroll to Contents ↑


4 thoughts on “10 tech tips for webinars and online meetings

  1. Great tips, Craig. I’m curious though about #6b. I agree about not using many words on my slides – I normally use minimum 96pt text, preferably 120pt – but I use my notes pages for a lot more than the actual content. Delivery devices (e.g. voice emphasis), where to CLICK for animations, etc. Stuff I don’t really want to deliver. Is the answer just to not use them or suck it up?

    Now, IF I have a chance to really rehearse the presentation, I don’t really need those hints-to-self… but, maybe I’m hypocritical, but I still do too many presentations with little or no rehearsal. I just don’t have the time to put into a lot of rehearsal, and most of my presentations are one-offs, so I can’t amortize that rehearsal time the way you could for a keynote or even (if you re-use speech material like I do) for Toastmasters speeches.

    • Thanks for your question Gary. One solution would be to keep using your notes pages for “stage directions” to yourself, then save your slides as graphics and insert them into a separate document that you use as your handout, as in the 2nd bullet in 6b. Would that work for your situation?

      • Yeah, I suppose that’s probably the best solution. And since my slides don’t say much (except for the ones with actual graphics or code samples on them), in a lot of cases I don’t even need the slide. I’m curious about the question of not rehearsing. I know how important it is … and for high-stakes presentations I do rehearse a decent amount. But for these one-offs I do… I just don’t have the time to put into it. Presenting is not really in my job description – thus I can’t really dedicate any work time to do it – but I do it because it needs to be done. Do you think that’s unusual?

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