Producing a Large Scale Webinar

Over the last two months I had the opportunity to work with ASTD to produce four large scale webinars that were part of the TechKnowledge 2011 Virtual Conference.  Each webinar featured a presenter who had presented a session at the actual conference, and then delivered a similar session via WebEx to a virtual audience.  Since speakers were selected based on their popularity and appeal to virtual learners, enrollment in the webinars was impressive, ranging from 500-1,000.  The webinars were interactive and used one-way audio: the audience listened through a phone line and typed questions into chat.

The presenter tasks were:

Presenter: Subject matter expert

  • Addressed the audience verbally by presenting his/her topic
  • Advanced slides
  • Gave verbal answers to questions posted in chat (with the help of the webinar moderator)
  • Not active in chat

The technique we used to produce these large scale events was a two-person production team.  The purpose of the production team was to support the presenters and the audience during the live event.  The roles were divided like this:

Technical Producer (Production Team Member #1):  Responsible for managing the webinar technology

  • Opened and closed meeting room
  • Muted and unmuted phone lines
  • Provided guidance via chat to those experiencing technical difficulties
  • Passed ‘control’ of meeting room from speaker to speaker
  • Recorded session for later posting
  • Typed comments in chat to answer logistical questions (ex: “slides will be mailed to you along with the recording”, or “dial xxx for audio”)

Webinar Moderator (Production Team Member #2): Responsible for moderating the event

  •  Monitored questions that participants posted in chat, looking for common themes and interesting questions
  • At designated times, verbalized questions to speaker, serving as the ‘voice’ of the audience
  • Typed comments in chat to supplement speaker’s presentation such as names of books, authors or other resources

My role was the webinar moderator.  I’ve never moderated such a large event, and I have to admit, I didn’t realize it would be such an intense experience.  With such a large audience, the sheer volume of questions was amazing.  I kept a Word document open and pasted interesting questions from the chat box into categories that corresponded to the speaker’s presentation.  As I was doing this, I also listened to see if the speaker answered any of the chat questions in the course of his or her presentation.  Some speakers glanced at the chat area and responded to random questions or comments.  Either way, if the speaker had already addressed the question, I removed it from my list.  Then, when we paused for questions, I checked my Word document and verbalized questions for the speaker to answer.

I also listened carefully to the speaker to see if he or she mentioned any resources.  If the speaker mentioned a good book, research article or website, I typed into chat is case participants didn’t hear clearly.

If you plan to produce a large scale webinar where you plan to interact with your audience, I highly recommend a two-person production team.  Both of us worked at break-neck speed for the duration of each webinar and neither of us could have done it alone.  Finally, if you will be the technical producer or webinar moderator for a large webinar, do as much preparation as you can to prepare for the event (testing equipment, creating back up plans, and reviewing speaker materials) and get ready for an exhilarating experience.