A webinar is essentially an online seminar, conducted using web conferencing technology. Web conferencing systems vary to some extent, but most have the following capabilities:
- Two-way audio either through an accompanying teleconference, or online using Voice Over internet Protocol (VOIP). The latter is much less expensive, but does require the user’s PC to have audio capability and for reasonable bandwidth to be available.
- The ability to present slides, typically imported from PowerPoint.
- A ‘virtual whiteboard’ facility, allowing presenters and users to type or draw on a common visual space.
- The ability to share any user’s desktop and any applications running on the user’s computer.
- A text chat facility, allowing users to ask or respond to questions, and to send messages to each other.
- The ability to jointly view material on a website.
- The ability to make a recording of a session for use by those who were unable to attend or who need a recap.
- A polling/survey facility.
- The ability to see the presenter and, perhaps, selected participants, using an online video feed. This feature will undoubtedly become more common as bandwidth increases.
A webinar suffers in comparison with a face-to-face event because of its limited capability to allow participants to see each other, particularly where online video is not available. However, there are other ways in which a webinar might be the preferred option:
- When it is impractical for participants to travel to a central location.
- When it would be too costly or time-consuming to bring a specialist presenter to a face-to-face event.
- When it is important that the event is recorded and made available for viewing subsequently.
A typical webinar lasts between 45 and 90 minutes. Longer programmes are possible, but should be broken up into a series of shorter sessions.
- at their best when the sessions are relatively short, are well supported by visuals and highly interactive;
- best avoided when endless PowerPoint, monotone speakers, no participation.