Web conferencing offers a host of opportunities for users in online learning, from virtual office hours or virtual tours, to including expert guest speakers in lectures. Best of all, getting started isn’t all that complex.
But it does take some preparation.
Follow these guidelines to ensure your web conferencing forays go off as smoothly as possible.
Test your equipment
Once again for those in the back: Test. Your. Equipment.
The necessities for a successful web conference are a webcam, microphone, and reliable internet connection.
“Good audio is one of the key elements of a web meeting, and the one that will make or break your experience,” says Senior Instructional Designer Carey Hamburg. “If your audience cannot hear what is said, or if there are disruptions or interference, you will lose them quickly.”
If your laptop or computer came with a camera and mic, chances are the quality is sufficient to host a web conference. However, it’s crucial to test them ahead of time. If they are not working well, then get an alternative, says Hamburg.
External webcams or microphones can be purchased without a huge investment.
That leaves your internet connection.
One of your top priorities as a host is to minimize disruptions and distractions. A connection that cuts out or causes lag will disorient both you and your audience.
Software adjustment wizards can compensate for slow speeds if you run the tests EduTools like Zoom provide, Hamburg says.
Once you have your equipment in working order, it’s time to consider your environment.
Choose your location
Hamburg advises hosting your meeting in a quiet place, without background noise (think airplanes or ringing phones). That means silencing your phone and pop-up desktop notifications for email or social media.
As you test your equipment, you’ll also be testing your location. Some small “boxy” rooms will create an echo, which could mean choosing another space.
The right space and equipment, however, will only take you so far.
“Your voice quality is even more important than the mic,” says Hamburg. “Speak clearly, slowly, and with inflection and enunciation.”
Next, consider what your audience will see.
Design your 'set' and 'costume'
This is not only about minimizing distractions (still rule No. 1), but also remembering your audience will form opinions based on what they see, whether it’s your clothing or something hanging behind you.
Think of this as your “stage presence,” Hamburg says, as you will need to attend to some of the key points of good staging.
- Lighting sets the tone. Ideally, you want bright, but indirect, lighting. Harsh light will make you look scary; backlight will leave you in a shadow as a silhouette.
- Camera angles should feel natural, from at or slightly above your sightline. Odd or extreme angles (too low, too high) are distracting or disturbing.
- Your clothing says what role you are playing; choose with intention.
Make sure your background “fits” with your message and intentions.
Now that you’re on your way to being a web conferencing master, remember to pace yourself to keep your audience attentive and engaged.
“The key to engagement is to be engaging,” Hamburg says. “Be aware of your participants’ level of participation and adjust your meeting to bring them back in.”
He suggests asking questions, pausing for a moment of meaningful silence, prompting for reflection and discussion, or planning for a break.
“Remember,” says Hamburg, “your audience may experience a delay of a few seconds for your audio, so pause an extra moment as you switch slides or when you are expecting a response from them.”
“All the tips and techniques that serve you well in a face-to-face meeting will be even more important when you are not actually physically ‘present’ with your participants,” he says.
As always, the members of the Instructional Support Team are available to assist in the planning, preparation, troubleshooting, and rehearsal.
Whether you’re planning your first web conference or you’re a pro, practice is still vital.
“This helps you get comfortable with the technology so that you can focus on your teaching,” Hamburg says. “The more you practice with the tool, the better you are at identifying and dealing with any technical difficulties that arise (and, yes, they will arise!).”
Schedule a consultation, or dress rehearsal, today by submitting a request form.