In general, a web conference requires the same kind of content planning as a face-to-face conference, and some differences in logistical planning. As with a face-to-face conference, it is important to provide a website where attendees can access all the information they need to register and stay informed about the conference. In addition, if possible, provide a way for attendees to link into sessions from the online schedule, as well as speaker pictures and session descriptions, putting a “face” to the event. There are a number of different web conferencing tools available, each of which provides different capabilities and approaches. The following tips are applicable to most.

Ahead of Time

  • Provide a registration process to ensure participation and planning for session logistics.
  • Web conference products may not be free, or there may be connection charges. Investigate your options.
  • Do you need a registration fee? Consider your costs.
  • ELUNA and Ex Libris financial support is available in just the same way as it is for a face to face meeting.
  • Arrange with Ex Libris and ELUNA to have someone give a company update and a User Group update.
  • Be clear in your PR and registration information as to who can participate especially if you are not charging a fee. If your program is attractive you may find 500 people from all over the world signing up. Could you manage such a response?
  • Find out what your capacity is then you can accept registration from potential attendees in your region. If you still have room you could then consider opening up attendance to others outside of your region.
  • Consider whether all conference events should happen on one day (sense of event), or on multiple days (may encourage more participation and follow up)
  • Consider whether to offer multiple simultaneous sessions (offer variety) or just a single track (keep it simple). Be aware of any issues related to how the technology is set up in order to minimize needing to log out and back in to different sessions.
  • If using a product with multiple “rooms,” consider having a room designated for the Keynote—this can help limit audience tools for larger groups.
  • Consider how to promote engagement and interactivity of participants by having special events or activities in addition to presentations. Door prize drawings, contests, social hours, discussion forums, and focus groups can enhance the overall enjoyment of the participants. Be creative!
  • Consider how to include vendors/vendor sponsors. Provide sponsors with drop-in sessions for participants to touch base with them, plan a vendor track, or have a vendor-sponsored reception with special activities and door prizes.
  • Schedule one-on-one training / practice sessions for speakers ahead of time.
  • Encourage presenters to create interaction by using the tools available in the web-conferencing system, such as polling questions, asking for yes/ no answers, using emoticons, and hand raising.
  • Help presenters to be aware that participants may only be giving part of their attention and they may need to be extra expressive and creative with their slides to keep them engaged.
  • Live demonstrations can be more interesting than slides, but it is good to prepare for both in case the application/screen sharing technology fails.
  • Get presenters’ final presentations and load them into the conferencing software prior to the actual event.
  • Know your audience’s technology limitations. Video can be nice for participants, but may not be worth the technical problems some participants may encounter.
  • Decide ahead of time whether questions will be addressed as they come in or at certain designated times.
  • Decide in advance whether the audience will have access to the ability to speak or only listen. The bigger the expected attendance, the more likely it is that you do not want to provide speaking tools to the audience.
  • Arrange ahead of time to have a direct contact for support during the designated conference time with your conference software vendor. It is not unusual for problems to come up that need a fast response.
  • Send pre-event email to participants with links to any handouts, materials, or slides that would be helpful.

During the Conference

  • Provide a “Green room” to check audio/video, run-through presentations, and get hands-on practice for both presenters and participants. Consider whether this could be on a drop-in basis or as scheduled times, with both roles together, or separate.
  • Post a “session will be starting at” message for incoming audience to see. If possible, provide “on hold” music to allow audience to check their audio levels while waiting, with instructions on the screen.
  • Each session should have both a facilitator/moderator (do audio/video check for participants, do introductions, watch for and channel questions to speakers as agreed) and technical support (help with technical problems, coordination with web conferencing vendor).
  • Post pictures of presenters in the web conferencing tool to help engage the audience.
  • Encourage participants to answer questions in the chat area or via open-ended polls. Consider providing an incentive for them to do so. By planning ahead how to provide interactivity, you will improve the participants’ experience.
  • Post pictures of presenters in the web conferencing tool to help engage the audience.
  • Record sessions and distribute for those who can’t attend. Make sure you have the presenters permission.

After the Conference

  • Send follow-up emails to participants that include links to any handouts, materials, slides, and links to archives.
  • Send a follow-up survey to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
  • Review data available from the web-conferencing system about entries, exits, comments, and other measures of participation.
  • Consider how to incorporate what you have learned into the next online conference.

6th May 2011