A webinar is just a contraction of the words web and seminar. And yes, you’ve guessed, a webinar is a seminar – it could be a conference, or a training session – that is conducted via the internet.
To take part in a webinar, you have to fill in a registration form. Once your registration is confirmed, the organiser of the webinar will send you an email with instructions for how to take part in the seminar: you’ll be given a link to the “virtual” conference website and a code or password. You can participate in the webinar in real time or later.
At the appointed time, you connect to the webinar website using your password and you can see the slide or video presentations of those taking part. In some cases, you can hear their voices or even see them. It is possible to connect one or more webcams so that the seminar leader and the participants are physically “present”. Participants (there might be tens or even hundreds of them) can even be represented onscreen by their avatars (the virtual characters they’ve created for themselves).
A webinar is supposed to be interactive, so as a participant you can put questions either live (via a chatroom) or by sending them in beforehand by email. The webinar might be recorded so that it can be listened to again by anyone wanting a “refresher”. Live surveys can be taken of participants to make sure they are following the presentation and are finding it interesting, as well as asking what they expect from it.
To set up a webinar, you can go to specialised companies like Webex, one of the leaders in organising online meetings. But if you’re planning to do a lot of them, it’s worth learning how to set up your own webinars. They are becoming more widespread, and it has to be said they have certain advantages: a participant can save time and money getting information or training in his own office on his own computer. What’s more, it’s "green", as it avoids travel. The organiser can deliver methods and tools without having to rent a conference room. She can reach a very wide audience, as the webinar isn’t limited to the number of chairs in the room, and it can be international, as there’s no distance to be covered. Increasing numbers of companies are using webinars for communication. These webinars are free of charge, and can be used to promote a method, tool or publication in the hope of persuading the webinar participants to use the company’s services. Some companies use webinars to promote ongoing studies they are doing or services they provide: what they show is only an extract, in the hope of being able to sell their work. Others offer paid webinars as a form of e-learning, or distance training. Still others use webinars to build up a file of qualified prospects based on the registration forms filled in by the participants. And then there are companies who organise webinars for their employees, to strengthen or expand their skill sets. Such has been the growth in webinars that there are now several websites (like webinarbucket.com) complete with catalogues listing all the different webinars they offer, by subject, date, popularity, and so on. The webinar looks like one of the success stories of web 2.0. That said, it does have its limits. When you take part in a traditional conference, you do so in the hope not only of learning something but also of meeting other professionals and expanding your network. Exchanges between participants in a webinar, though, are still very limited (when the organiser allows them at all). The organisers, too, can quickly lose enthusiasm when they see the comments on their webinar – it’s not unusual for participants to post comments on Twitter or Facebook, and they are not always flattering. It’s the same old 80/20 rule: 80% of those who comment on the internet are critical and only 20% are positive. The webinar is not without its risks for the company’s reputation. It also has to be said that an awful lot of webinars are of limited usefulness, at any rate for the participants – those are the ones consisting of top-down communication, which are not interactive enough, or simply aimed at selling a product, or where no effort has gone into the presentation and the audience rapidly gets bored.