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5 Steps On Putting Together A Great Webinar

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By Diksha Singh

There is little doubt that 2020 is turning out to be the year that COVID-19—and webinars—took the world by storm. Leading video conferencing platforms saw a three-to four-fold increase in the number of video conferences and meetings in the early days of the pandemic.

The utility of virtual events for outreach is self-evident—webinars and other virtual meeting formats are relatively cheaper than in-person events and enable a wider reach that cuts across geographies and time zones. In the age of on-demand content, they also offer greater flexibility for audiences to tune into conversations based on their convenience. On the flip side, with a plethora of events to choose from (and a stream of virtual meetings and catch-up calls), engaging and retaining audiences till the end of an event requires a well-planned and executed effort.

The current scenario offers the development and research community an opportunity to rethink how it engages with audiences. In the past few months, the LEAD at Krea University team has experimented with various learning and dissemination formats, from fireside talks to Twitter chats and run-of-the-mill panel discussions. Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Representational image.

1. Set Your Goal

Organisations need to be pragmatic while setting their goals for virtual events. It is important to think about how to embed webinars within a broader learning and outreach strategy. Before you invest valuable time and resources on planning an event, it is crucial to determine your objectives at all levels—what would ‘success’ for the event look like and how does it tie into your organisation’s goals?

“What would ‘success’ for the event look like and how does it tie into your organisation’s goals?”

For instance, at an event level, your objective can be to encourage uptake of evidence or insights, showcase innovation, identify areas of synergy between stakeholders, and more. On the other hand, at an organisational level, the goal could be strengthening your brand in the sector, raising funding, or creating new partnerships.

When thinking about the goal of your event, it might be useful to develop a learning agenda—identify questions that address critical knowledge gaps and activities that answer them—so that you understand how best to integrate your event with your outreach strategy and organisational goals.

Another vital aspect of this initial brainstorming phase is to ‘think like a participant’. What can audiences expect to walk away with at the end of the session? Having this clarity upfront will strengthen your outreach campaign and help in drawing the right mix of audiences.

2. Choose The Right Format

Choosing the right format is often as important (if not more) than the content of the event itself. Typically, virtual events are hosted live as a webinar or a webcast.

Webinars are designed to facilitate two-way interactions between the host and the audience. Depending on the goals of the event, the following are some webinar and event formats you can consider:

  • Panels are moderated discussions bringing experts and practitioners with diverse experiences and viewpoints. They are useful in advancing the understanding of complex issues and identifying gaps in research and practice.
  • Fireside chats are informal (but structured) conversations between a host and guests. They are best-suited to get deeper insights on a topic from thought leaders and experts and are typically restricted to a conversation between two or three people. Having a knowledgeable host can be the key to draw out relevant insights, ask the right follow-up questions, and facilitate an engaging discussion.
  • Tweet chats are virtual discussions around a specific topic (and hashtag) on Twitter, typically anchored by a set of prompts or questions. They are useful to showcase thematic expertise, engage followers, and bring audiences together for a conversation related to campaigns and global event (#NTLTwitterchat).
  • Workshops, hackathons, and roundtables work best to build skills, work collaboratively on a specific problem, and present evidence. If your goal is to share findings that may be relevant to policymakers, a closed-door round table may work better than an open event.

Webcasts, on the other hand, are a one-way flow of information. They are useful in reaching larger audiences and typically work best to convey information. Plenary speeches, keynote addresses, and press conferences are popular webcast formats.

While the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to shift interactions online, increase in care burdens, pressures of coping with remote work, and digital fatigue are a reality. | Picture courtesy: Rawpixel

3. Look Beyond The ‘Usual Suspects’

COVID-19 has reiterated the need for greater diversity and inclusion of all voices at the table. There is a strong case to re-examine the status quo through an intersectional lens—whether it is through the data that we collect, the voices that we represent, or the way we make decisions that affect the communities we work with.

“Strike the right balance of perspectives and bringing in new voices, while avoiding tokenism.”

Striking the right balance of perspectives and bringing in new voices, while avoiding tokenism, can hold the key to an engaging and honest dialogue. One way to look beyond your network is to consult donors, ecosystem enablers, and intermediary organisations (people who typically work with diverse organisations), and ask for introductions. It’s also a good idea to look at the people you have on your list and see how many are from grassroots nonprofits, how many are academics, how many are policymakers, and so on. In a similar vein, social media channels can provide useful leads on emerging experts and practitioners in a field.

4. Pay Attention To Housekeeping

It’s important to set your people and systems up for success before, during, and after the event.

The duration of the event and the day and time are important points to consider while finalising the event programme—it’s best to avoid Mondays and Fridays. The choice of timing, on the other hand, may depend on what works for participants across time zones.

For formats such as fireside chats and panel discussions, it is advisable to share a session plan with speakers in advance—this includes the flow, key questions and discussion points, the time allotted to speakers, and their login links. If time permits, organising a catch-up call with all speakers before the event can be a good way to break the ice and understand group dynamics.

The following points are worth considering while choosing between an existing web conferencing tool or purchasing a new application: The size of the audience, the length of the event, and the interactive features that you want to use. Organising a practice run with everyone involved can help ensure smooth delivery on the day of the event.

5. Encourage Engagement

As a general rule of thumb, attendance rates are 40-50%of registrations. Since a majority of registrations happen less than a week before the webinar, a proactive social media campaign leading up the event can boost registrations—think speaker showcases, teasers of what to expect, and creative hashtags.

While using visual aids such as presentations and multimedia, it is important to pay attention to both content and design and optimise these aids for the virtual viewing. For example, compressing the images in presentations makes them more readable.

Once the event begins, share the event format and engagement guidelines with the participants at the beginning. For example, will participants have an opportunity to speak? Will a recording of the session be available? Most video conferencing platforms also include tools to facilitate interaction with participants during the webinar. Offering micro-engagement opportunities through tools such as Q&A, polls, and calls-to-action can hook audiences and prevent drop-offs. The chatbox is useful to rehash key messages, send reminders, and keep tabs on the schedule. If you are planning a Q&A segment, it is important to support the moderator in identifying relevant questions that will add value to the discussion.

To keep the conversation flowing after the event, organisers can share a webinar recording and key highlights with participants in easily digestible formats such as blogs and infographics.

Despite the widespread use of virtual meeting and conferencing tools, there is little evidence on what works to make an event successful. While the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to shift interactions online, increase in care burdens, pressures of coping with remote work, and digital fatigue are a reality. As a result, the opportunity costs of attending an event in the middle of a workday or after hours are high. As a result, conventional benchmarks to evaluate success such as the number of registrations, participant turnout, and engagement may need to be revisited, as people continue to adjust to the new normal.

This article was originally published on India Development Review (IDR)
About the author: Diksha Singh is a senior learning manager with LEAD at Krea University. Her works focuses on identifying creative and effective ways to document and share knowledge, engage stakeholders, and facilitate collaboration. She has more than a decade of experience in research and outreach. Prior to LEAD, Diksha worked as a project officer with Praja Foundation, anchoring their housing and education portfolios, and as an analyst with CMIE. Diksha has a master’s in economics from the University of Mumbai.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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