If you’ve led a charmed existence and never had to suffer the pain of “participating” in a webinar or a web conference/meeting, you can stop reading now and consider yourself lucky. Go buy a lottery ticket.
For the rest of you, I’m sorry. A well-run and -moderated webinar is a rarity. As participants, we are subjected to legions of peers who have no concept of “mute,” and thus suffer an endless barrage of dogs barking, babies crying, doorbells and phones ringing, food chewing, drink slurping, and open-mouth breathing. Here are my tips (pleas?) for both hosts and participants of webinars to avoid all of that.
Consider using the right tool for the job. If all you need is audio, then a webinar is overkill. There are lots of free conference call services. Sign up with one and just e-mail your participants the access code. Use a webinar tool only if you or your participants need to share non-audio information as part of the conversation, e.g., display a PowerPoint or share your desktop in order to show/demonstrate something.
If you do decide a webinar is the right tool, seriously consider forcing all participants to use webinar/computer audio instead of telephone audio. Why? Because it forces them to actually join the webinar! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it: an invitation is sent out. The invitation specifies in the details of the event that there will be stuff to be seen. A dial-in option is offered. Users inevitably dial in. When the stuff is put on screen, SOMEONE will pipe up, “wait wait…I only dialed in!” The worst for me is joining a webinar, headset/mic at the ready, only to find that the only way to get audio is via phone. Ugh.
If someone has requested your participation in a webinar, then you should have the appropriate tools. This includes a headset with a microphone. Your computer’s built-in speakers and microphone are fine for personal Skype/Facetime, but on a webinar with more than 2 (possibly dozens of) people, it’s not going to cut it. In order to be properly hear and be heard, you must have a headset and microphone.
If you are participating in a conference call, do NOT use a speakerphone! Pick up your handset or use a headset. There is no such thing as a good-sounding speakerphone, at least as far as the people on the other end of it are concerned. This is especially true if you are the presenter.
No matter how you participate, the mute button is your friend! All participants should remain muted unless they are speaking. This prevents feedback, buzz, and everyone participating from being assaulted with every belch, fart, slamming door, and ringing phone in the background. If the moderator/host of your webinar does not inflict muting upon you by default, have the courtesy to check your own control and make certain that it’s active unless you are speaking.
I sense I’ve lost this battle. People seem to be in love with their phones even when a phone is not the most appropriate tool for the job at hand.