What Is a Webinar? Learn now. Experience one tomorrow.

If you are one of those people whose head is spinning with all the new Internet terms like blog, podcast, folksonomy, or netiquette, here’s one more: webinar.  In this article, I’ll explain in plain English what a webinar is, how it works, why you should consider participating in one or even hosting one.  Plus I’ll include examples from a previous webinar and provide details on how you can participate in an informative webinar tomorrow on the NE1 Web Page Editor at no cost.

What’s a webinar?
A webinar is a “web seminar”.  It allows people to connect online to view a live presentation, which includes audio and video.  In most cases webinars also allow for interaction between the attendees and the presenter such as a question and answer time or allowing people to request their site be examined as an example of whatever the topic is about.

Why a webinar?
The biggest advantage of the webinar is convenience.  There’s no travel, no hotels, etc.  You can attend a webinar straight from your desk at work or your livingroom at home.  You can even attend in that ratty old t-shirt your spouse is secretly planning to burn.  Because there is no travel, it also means that attendees only have to spare the actual time of the webinar.

Another great advantage of the webinar is cost.  Seminars in the real world can cost thousands of dollars to put on.  For a presenter that means you either have to shoulder the cost or charge the attendees, which can make it more difficult to get people to come.  Depending on the webinar service company you choose, webinars can cost well under $100.  For attendees, that means many webinars are offered for free!!  Also, since attendees can attend a webinar from anywhere with an internet connection and a phone, they do not have to pay travel costs to attend.

One of the potentially negative differences between a webinar and a regular seminar is that you can loose some of the interaction and engagement a presenter has with attendees when they are in the same room and able to make eye contact.  For presenters it is very important, therefore, to make the video portion of a webinar engaging in addition to making the speech interesting.  In a regular seminar you can get away with a few highlighted notes in a PowerPoint presentation or having no visuals at all.  In a webinar it is critical to have something for people to watch to keep their attention.  For attendees, it may mean that it is a little harder to focus, especially if there are other distractions around.  Depending on how seriously you are interested in the topic (and how useful the webinar is on that topic), as an attendee, you may want to choose a location free of distractions to view the webinar.

How does it work for presenters?
Webinars are typically done through webinar service providers for which you can purchase a license to use their services, usually on a monthly basis.  The service will provide webinar software for the actual webinar, setup features, which allow you to invite attendees and have online registration, and follow-up features, which allow you to send thank you emails to attendees and surveys to get feedback.  The webinar service provider will also provide the means for the audio portion of the webinar.  This can be done online where attendees listen through their computer speakers or over the phone where attendees call in to listen to the audio over the phone.  There are a variety of levels of service offered by various webinar service providers at a wide range of prices.  So, you can look around the web and find the service that best meets your needs and your budget.

The first step, after finding a webinar service provider and signing up, is to setup your first webinar.  You do this online, usually at the webinar service provider’s website.  You will need to determine the date and time to schedule the webinar and how long the webinar will be.  In addition you will indicate the subject matter, who will be presenting the webinar, and setup the registration details.  Once the logistics are setup, it’s time to invite people.  This is usually done via email or at your website.  Emails can be sent out, which include the information about the webinar as well as a link to register.  Some webinar service providers include email services, which allow you to send the invitations through them and then have their system automatically send reminder notices.  You usually want to give attendees a minimum of two weeks notice about an upcoming webinar.

webinar screenshot, webinar videoTo present a webinar, the presenter(s) (you can have multiple people involved in the presentation even from different locations) will use the webinar service provider’s software, which allows you to “share your screen” with attendees, keep track of who is there, poll attendees, receive and answer questions, etc.  Sharing your screen means that you allow the attendees to see what is displayed on your computer.  This can mean sharing your entire desktop or just a single window on your desktop.  So, if you only want attendees to see a browser window, and not your notes, you can limit what they see to just the browser window.  You can share browser windows, videos, powerpoint presentations, and pretty much anything you can show on your computer screen.  You will also have features, which allow you switch from window to window, have a highlighter, use “whiteboard” features (like writing on a whiteboard).  Most webinar services also offer a recording feature, so you can record the presentation and allow people who missed the webinar to watch the webinar recording after the fact.  This is a great feature, which I encourage every who puts on a webinar to use so you can make the webinar available after the presentation.  You can see an example of a recorded webinar by viewing the Migration webinar OurChurch.Com presented a couple weeks ago.

Aside from all the technical details above, presenting a webinar is pretty much like doing a live presentation in person, except you don’t have to stand up in front of a thousand people and forget your speech.  Now you can forget your speech from the comfort of an office chair.

Once the webinar presentation is finished, attendees are usually asked to participate in a survey so the presenters of the webinar can get some feedback.  Getting feedback is very important as it provides information to improve future webinars, gets leads for sales, and gives attendees an additional opportunity to ask questions.

When I looked into possible webinar service providers, we found several possible choices.  Two that I would point out would be WebEx and GoToWebinar.  Both webinar service providers offer good products, but serve different budgets.  The GoToWebinar folks offer a service will all the basic requirements for a webinar, but are quite inexpensive ($99/month for an unlimited number of webinars with up to 1000 attendees).  They only offer phone audio.  WebEx offers a wider variety of services and a lot of customer support.  They will pretty much walk you through the whole process and give tips on how to put on the best webinar you can.  They also offer the option of either phone audio or online audio.  They offer more services and more comprehensive customer support, but you pay for it.  The webinar license can cost up to $1000/month and there are additional audio fees for each webinar.  Basically, these services are like the difference between flying 1st class or coach.  They’ll both get you there, but with the more expensive service you’re less likely to have a baby crying on your right and a guy sleeping on you on the left.

How does it work for attendees?
Attendees, you get the easy part.  Most of the time you will receive an email inviting you to the webinar, which either includes a link to register or provides instructions for how to register.  If you search online for a webinar, then you would just need to follow the instructions for how to register when you find a webinar you want to attend.  After registering, you should receive confirmation and instructions for how to participate.  You will probably also receive a couple of reminder emails so you don’t forget when the webinar is.  To attend a webinar, just follow the instructions in the reminder emails for where to go online to view the webinar and, if you are using phones for audio, what number to call.  You may need to enter a webinar code or password to join.  Once connected you will be able to see and hear what the presenters want you to see.  You may also be able to ask questions and, in some cases, speak to the webinar presenter(s).  After the webinar you will probably be asked to complete a survey.  Completing the survey usually only takes a minute or so and is very helpful for the presenters.  The surveys can also help you get any unanswered questions answered or get additional information on the subject.

Who should do a webinar?
If you have something interesting to offer and can get an audience, then you could probably do a webinar.  Webinars are often done by companies who wish to highlight a product or service.  It’s like getting a bunch of potential customers into a showroom for a presentation.  Webinars are also used by companies as a type of tutorial.  The webinar allows you to discuss and demonstrate how a service works.  For example, OurChurch.Com is currently offering a webinar series on our new NE1 Web Builder.  Two weeks ago we had a presentation on migrating sites from BEACON to NE1 and this Thursday we are presenting a webinar on getting the most out of the NE1 page editor.  These webinars allow us to discuss the features of NE1 and demonstrate how to use those features.  They are a great learning tool and a great opportunity to interact with clients/members and build that relationship

Webinars are not just for companies, churches and ministries can benefit greatly from offering webinars.  Aside from uses similar to the corporate uses I mentioned above (informing members of the congregation about a new mission, etc.) churches and other ministries can offer sermons or teach lessons online.  You can also give classes on various topics like evangelism, service, or finances.  With the features you have available, schools could even offer classes online via webinars.  Even individuals or small groups may be able to benefit from webinars, especially if the group is separated by distance.  Maybe you have a scrap-booking group and would like to do short webinars on different aspects of scrap-booking.

Why should you attend a webinar?
Webinars are a great source of information.  You can learn about a topics in an interesting medium and often times at no cost to you.  Also, webinars are a unique means of learning how to do things.  As opposed to help pages, a webinar gives the opportunity to watch a live demonstration with audio and video.  Also, as opposed to video tutorials, most webinars give the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, which can help you understand and often helps other participants better understand the topic,

Final Thoughts
Webinars are a great way to inform and educate a population with an ever increasing demand on their time.  They are generally cheaper and easier to put together than regular seminars and have the potential to reach many more people.  Keeping your clients/members informed and connected is one of the most important things a company or organization does.  If you have a company or organization, you may want to look into ways you can use webinars to inform, educate, and better server your clients or members.

As an individual, I’d encourage you to look around the web for companies and groups offering webinars.  There are webinars being offered covering a wide range of topics and, often times, these webinars are offered for free.  All it costs you is an hour or so of your time, but the rewards can be great.

If you’ve never participated in a webinar, I invite you (especially if you’re an OCC webmasters) to join us on Thursday at 1pm EST for our webinar on the Getting the Most out of your NE1 Page Editor.  If you are one of the OurChurch.Com webmasters who joined us for the Migration webinar, that webinar got you started by showing you how to move your website from BEACON to NE1.  This webinar (and those which will be following) offer more information about editing your website and using the NE1 web builder.  It’s one of those free webinars that can be a great help.  You can register for the NE1 Page Editor webinar as well as find the video and notes from the Migration webinar on the NE1 webinar page.

Have you presented a webinar?  Have you participated in a webinar?  Do you just not like the word “webinar”?  Please share your thoughts with us below.

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Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .

2 Responses to “What Is a Webinar? Learn now. Experience one tomorrow.”

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt6-B38E4SA

    Being the feast of the conversion of st Paul today, and seeing we are well on our way, on the road to Damascus, let us pray that we too can experience Christ, who will change and define us forever, from persecutors to apostles.

  2. As more businesses look for creative ways to reach new customers as well as cut costs of communicating, the subject of webinars often comes up.It is important to think in terms of what this can do for your business.Once you have logged in you can sit back and listen to the presentation on the phone while watching it on your screen. If you wish to ask a question you can raise your hand by clicking on the hand symbol which will appear on your screen.