How to lead an engaging web conference in four easy steps

How to lead an engaging web conference in four easy steps

Leading virtual meetings and web conferences can be a burden – or the perfect way to connect with colleagues without having to worry about locational logistics. If you’ve ever been a participant on a web conference, you know how easy it is for your attention to slip away from the presentation. You can quickly respond to an email, browse your favorite news sites, or put yourself on mute and chat about your weekend with a coworker, all while the online meeting or web conference happens in real time on your screen.

If this sounds like a familiar situation, then you’ve been subject to “Connection Without Intention.”

Without intention, even the most well-planned meetings and web conferences can go awry. When people are disengaged, distracted, or see a web conference as a waste of time, it can be difficult to know how to grab their attention and keep it for the length of the online meeting. Running a web conference requires more than solid planning. It also requires a set of core instructional principles for teaching online.

Connection and intention go hand-in-hand when it comes to leading a successful web conference. So keep these four simple rules in mind when leading an engaging virtual meeting:

  1. Don’t rush the material when leading the web conference

    Having limited time can be stressful, but you don’t need to make your participants feel anxious because you’re running out of time. By staying organized before the conference call, you will stay stress-free while getting to any essential agenda items.

    • Before the online meeting begins, make sure to rehearse your presentation and set allocated time for each agenda item on your list. Rehearsing your presentation with a coworker a few days in advance is a great way to make sure you have an accurate time estimation.
    • Make sure that on your agenda, you have marked a few items as “time optional.” That way, if you run out of time during your call, there’s no need to panic. Simply note that your “time optional” agenda items will not be reached during the web conference and have to be saved for another day.
    • Set alarms labeled with your agenda items on your phone or computer, either on silent or vibrate, to time yourself during the conference so you don’t have to constantly be checking your clock.
  2. Set the learning space before the online meeting

    By asking participants to remove any distractions and ground themselves in the call, you set the tone for a web conference that requires full attention with clear standards for participation.

    • Articulate your expectations clearly in advance: in an email, outline the agenda, list any materials people will need, and lay the groundwork for participation. For example: “This webinar will involve interactive activities in small groups. We ask that you remain attentive and present with your small groups.”
    • Start the meeting by asking participants to close any tabs on their computers and ensure they have the necessary materials (pens, paper, agenda, post-its, etc). Demonstrate that you are also taking care of these tasks in real time, giving you and your participants the chance to “set the learning space” together.
    • Make sure to go over the basic features of whatever web conferencing software you are using, pointing out “chat,” “mute,” “raise hand,” and other functions. This ensures that all participants have the same level of knowledge.
  3. Expect the unexpected before the webinar

    Abrupt interruptions, off-topic questions, or unanticipated updates to the agenda might throw you off when leading a web conference. However, knowing how to adapt to unforeseen changes will keep you grounded for the length of the meeting.

    • Set purposeful time: when designing your agenda, make sure to leave five minutes of excess time at the end for questions and comments. At the start of the meeting, explain when time has been allocated for participant queries, and ask people to save their burning questions until then.
    • Provide options for feedback: make clear that as the leader or convener of the web conference, you are open to feedback, but ask that it be conveyed privately, via email or a phone call.
    • Be flexible: even a perfectly-organized agenda may have to be readjusted to include updated information or additional talking points. Remind yourself that you’ll adapt to the best of your abilities and no one will be able to tell the difference between your original plan and a swiftly constructed one.
  4. Have a sense of humor leading the virtual meeting

    Sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, and technology can be fickle. Keeping a smile on your face will keep you feeling confident and increase participant confidence in your leadership abilities.

    • Whether someone forgets to mute themselves, accidentally hits a pop-up advertisement, or gets confused about how to turn on their video, remind yourself that everyone perfects their use of technology at their own pace. You are part of a working community, and everyone is learning together.
    • Keep your charisma: making a light joke about a technological blunder or pointing out a funny gaffe will let your participants know that as a leader, you are relatable and well-adjusted to deal with the silliest of circumstances.
    • At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world; even if your web conference went off the deep end. Acknowledging mistakes aloud is the first step towards recovery. Whether in a follow-up email, in person, or at the next web conference, admitting errors will build perception of you as a leader with acute self-awareness, who can learn from their mistakes and make changes to address them.

With these simple tips, presenting need-to-know information, sharing insights with colleagues, and learning new skills can be transformed from dull to animating. No matter what your web conference is focused on, this set of versatile leadership skills will help you design a meeting, training, or presentation that is well-designed and keeps people’s attention.