There's nothing more annoying than attending an online presentation or meeting and not being able to get anything out of it because the presenter or fellow attendees are unprepared or unfamiliar with how to behave in a formal, online environment.
"Good webinar etiquette, like good online etiquette in general, keeps doors open to better communication, greater mutual respect and greater efficiency," said Laura Lowder who coordinates annual online writing conferences via webinar for the Catholic Writers Guild.
Webinar etiquette is not particularly different from the rules of conduct for any meeting or presentation, but they do have a slight twist to accommodate the online media. These are 10 of the most important (yet sometimes forgotten) rules of webinar etiquette. [Read related story: The Best Web Conferencing Services for Business]
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If you are presenting
- Test the software early. It's frustrating for everyone if the presenter needs to pause the webinar to load an app to let them screenshare or update slides, or to mess with their mic because of feedback. Take time before the webinar to test out the tools. "A presentation will go a lot more smoothly if the presenter has a nodding acquaintance, at least, with the software. You won't be as effective if you're fiddling around or interrupting yourself to ask questions about the program," Lowder said.
- Slow down. Watching a webinar is different from conversation, especially if you are using slides and the listeners don't have physical cues to follow your conversations. Slow your speaking speed if you naturally speak fast. If you are doing a demo, pause between steps to allow for lag time your viewers may have.
- Do not read your slides. Slides should be simple, with bullet points and graphics that support your lecture. Slides that are overly wordy distract the viewer from what you are saying; alternately, reading your slides makes your webinar no more effective than simply sending out a report.
- Use graphics to illustrate your points. "The brain stores audio information differently than visual," said Delanda Coleman, senior product marketing manager, Skype for Business at Microsoft. "Therefore, if you can use images such as pie charts, rather than a lot of words, you give your audience visual cues to help them retain information."
- If, in addition to the webinar broadcast, you are in front of a live audience and take questions or comments from the audience, do not assume your online viewers can hear them. Repeat the question or comment before replying.
If you are attending
- Show up on time. You may not disrupt the presentation by logging late, but you may miss important information. "(Arriving on time) prevents you from wasting additional time contacting the presenter after the fact to find out what you missed," Coleman said.
- Turn off your webcam during the presentation. Nothing is more likely to illicit giggles than to have the presenter turn off their PowerPoint presentation and the software defaults to someone watching (or worse – not watching), unaware that his or her webcam running. Even if you are in listening mode, check that your webcam is off or cover the lens with a post-it note.
- Wait your turn. In a live setting, you can see who has a question or when a presenter is ready for an interruption. In webinar, especially when not everyone is on webcam, you may need to rely on cues such as hand-raising icons or questions posted in chats.
- Ask questions concisely. Webinars are focused; be sure your questions are, too. Avoid wasting time in lengthy introductions, and don't self-promote or spend a lot of time sharing your opinion before asking a question. If you have comments, ask yourself if they will help others before commenting.
- Don't use the chat room as your personal water cooler. Just like you would not stand in the back of the room gossiping with someone while a presenter was lecturing, refrain from using the chat room just to socialize." Some of the side chats at our last conference became distractions," said Lowder. "Some comments were useful – a resource that pertained to the conversation, for example – but other times, people jumped in at every opportunity to make comments more appropriate to a conversation, not a presentation," Lowder said.
When the webinar is a smaller, collaborative meeting
- Have a clear agenda. "Meetings give teams a chance to communicate and convey important information," said Coleman, "but people hate them because too often the agenda isn't clear."
- Invite everyone to use their webcams. "Meet face-to-face even when you can't," Coleman said. "Leveraging video collaboration gives you visual cues that you might miss with audio only. It also helps you focus because you can look your coworkers in the eyes."
- If it is a meeting and everyone is on webcam, be engaged and attentive. Unlike live meetings, where you could be in the back of the room or looking at your phone under the table and no one sees because they are focused on the presenter, you will always be in direct sight of everyone.
- Remove distractions, such as going where there's less background noise and turning off your phone. "If you are participating in a meeting, come in with additional insight so you can add value to the conversations," Coleman said.
- Make use of the software's engagement features. If you are meeting to collaborate on a document, use the notes software on the program to edit and comment together. If the program has a whiteboard feature, use it for making notes, charts or brainstorming.
Whether the webinar is a presentation to a group or a small gathering to work on a project, the purpose of webinar etiquette is to make it easier for everyone to engage in the topic and get the most out of it that they can.
"When 15 percent of an organization's time is spent in meetings, we want to be sure that we maximize that time to have an effective transfer of knowledge," Coleman said.