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Holding Online Meetings and Webinars

Your Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation or organization can hold meetings and training sessions over the Internet if it’s hard for you to gather in person. Here’s how.

How Many Presenters and Participants?

Before you can determine what’s needed, you have to decide on the size and format of your meeting:

  • How many people can talk? You might have one presenter (i.e., a lecture), several presenters from the same location (a panel), several presenters from various locations (a dispersed panel), or everyone in the conference able to talk (a meeting)
  • How many people appear on video? Do just the presenters appear on the video, or can everyone fire up their webcam and appear?
  • Who controls the microphone? You can set up the conference so that only specific people can be heard and everyone else is on “mute.” This is usually a good idea, because people frequently have issues with their computers and microphones that create noise or feedback for the whole group.
  • Do you need to display Powerpoints, videos, or someone’s screen? Some services allow the presenter(s) to display presentation or videos or share what’s on their screen.
  • Do you need text chat? Even if everyone can talk, it’s handy to include a chat box so people can make remarks or ask for clarification without interrupting the speaker.
  • Do you want to record? Some systems record the conference so you can play it later as a video.
  • Do you need other features? Some systems allow polls, or people to “raise their hands,” or votes.

10 Steps for Planning a Successful Webinar, from TechSoup.org, talks you through planning the format of your meeting.

Equipment Needed

  • People on camera need a webcam. Tablets (like iPads) include cameras, as do all Mac laptops. USB webcams are available for about $50. They also need a fast Internet connection. Logitech makes an excellent webcam if you need a good one: the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920.
  • People speaking need a microphone and headphones. Webcams include one, and most laptops have a built-in microphone, but the sound will be better, and you’ll avoid feedback and room noise, by using a headset that includes A microphone and headphones. USB microphones are available for about $20. Lifehacker recommends some high quality microphones. Logitech makes good headsets that connect via USB; we use the Logitech H540.
  • Everyone needs a computer, which can be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or even smartphone. They also need an Internet connection (wired or Wi-Fi).

If you hold a lot of online meetings, consider building a videoconference cart.

Online Meeting and Webinar Services

Depending on the size of your meeting, you have lots of options. We have compiled a list of online meeting and webinar services that include audio, video, and text chat. Some provide toll-free numbers for the audio, some provide regular phone numbers, and some use the Internet for audio.

Setting Up an Online Meeting or Webinar

The general steps are:

  1. Plan Your Meeting or Webinar
    Determine who will present, where they will be, and what what the agenda will be. If you are planning a long presentation (over an hour), think about breaking it into sections. If you want interaction with your audience, think about inviting no more than about 20 people at a time.

    Recruit a facilitator (to introduce speakers and keep track of time), speaker(s), and an assistant to help with technical glitches. Create your Powerpoint or other presentations, or create videos to show during the meeting.
  2. Sign Up for a Service
    Choose an online meeting or videoconferencing service. Sign up a few weeks ahead so you have to time to try everything out. Some services provide a free trial.
  3. Test Everything
    Get your computers, webcams, and headsets together and try a dry run. Invite a few friends or colleagues to be your audience. Frequently, you’ll find out that you need to download presenter software, or update the software you downloaded earlier. It’s also important to get your hardware (and the hardware of all presenters) working with the service you are using. Also, get familiar with the controls for muting and unmuting people, sharing and unsharing the screen, and other features you plan to use.
  4. Send Invitations
    Invite your participants. Some services allow you to schedule a meeting and send invitations with links. For others, you’ll need to craft an email with links or instructions. For Google Hangouts, you need to add participants to your Google+ “circles.” Some services require your participants to download an app, so warn them to allow time to do so before the meeting or webinar starts. Be sure to specify the time zone when you indicate the time; people may be hours ahead of or behind you.
  5. Get Ready
    Well before the meeting or webinar starts, do one more sound and video check with your presenters and helpers. Close other programs on your computer so notifications don’t pop up during the meeting to distract you. Make sure you have your presentation or other visuals ready.
    If you’ll be on video, check the lighting. Webcams are completely unforgiving about too much or too little light. Get close enough to the webcam that your face takes up most of the vertical space in the window, and point a light at your face if needed. Put something dark and neutral behind you and put your computer and webcam on a steady surface directly in front of you.
  6. Start the Meeting
    Start recording, if you want to record. (You can always edit smalltalk from the beginning of the video.) Be sure to introduce all speakers and stick to the agenda. Have an assistant monitor the chat box in case people are having trouble hearing or want to ask questions. Stay focused; when you are on camera, it’s obvious if you are checking your email or making tea.
  7. Following Up
    After the meeting or webinar, send out a thank-you email and include minutes, handouts, or copies of presentations. Post a recording on Smallscreen, the UUA’s media server.

More Information

For more information contact web@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

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