Maximixing Participation during a Webinar/Online Session

There are many things that a moderator (who can be anyone who takes a turn at leading a session) can do to ensure that the remote participants are not only included in the meeting, but are contributing members of the meeting. 

Some of these techniques will be determined by the nature of your online session, but there are also some general tips:

1.      Identify a confident Moderator. This designated person will address and guide the remote participants, including things like welcoming them and introducing them to the meeting group. The enthusiasm that the moderator brings can make or break a session. They set the tone and feel and can make the difference between creating a collaborative environment or an intimidating one. During the session, the moderator would also ensure that the remote participants can contribute to the discussion by establishing a method by which the remote participant can indicate that they’d like to say something. This could be a chat or some software has a “raise hand” function/indicator. The person performing moderator duties should be familiar with the tool's interface and functionality, but it is not expected that they act as technical support.

2.       Use the application’s engagement toolset. Many webinar/remote meeting applications allow for polls, questions, file sharing, screen sharing, etc. Maximize the remote user’s experience by leveraging those options. When using tools, however, it is critical to manage expectations and be very clear about when and how to use these tools. This can help build buy in when asking questions like, “Does everyone agree?” which is a question that is otherwise difficult to contribute to as a remote participant. The proviso with this is to engage, but to not over complicate. Many sessions are very well served using a traditional presentation process, with a few check ins with the participants. If you are interested in leading a more in depth session, it is recommended that you scaffold participants with an introductory session and supplemental sessions as necessary. This is especially important if you are hosting a meeting across institutions (which might all use different Webinar tools) or with new students, who might be using a tool like this for the first time.

3.       Create and stick to an agenda. Remote participants won’t see the same subtle body language shifts that indicate how the meeting is progressing. Keep in mind that remote participants can’t see people nodding their heads. An agenda can help orient them within the fuller context of the meeting. The meeting leaders should refer back to the agenda often. It is also useful to verbally provide touchstones for meeting progression in a consistent and predictable way. As you shift from topic to topic, repeat where you are at on the agenda and what the next topic is. If you've allowed participants to "break out" for an indpendent activity, issue time warnings as that session draws to a close. 

4.       Introduce yourself when speaking. It make it much easier for remote participants to follow along, especially in a group where there’s new people, if people just quickly say their name before speaking. This won’t work all the time, but, it is something to encourage. Remind all attendees to speak clearly and into the microphones. This touches on online etiquette, especially in a group that does not know each other in real life. 

5.       Use “round the tables” to ensure equal contribution. If making a decision, it can be helpful to go around the table and let everyone contribute individually rather than speaking over each other/at the same time. During this round the table, the remote participants would have equal opportunity to contribute. Participants can contribute using a microphone but also using the chat function. Some people are more comfortable typing than speaki

As always, to ensure a smooth and issue free session, technical testing is suggested well ahead of the session to work out any kinks. While this is not always possible, it is easily the best way to avoid day of headaches.

Article Category: Best Practices