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Last Thursday (Jan 12th) I gave a webinar for the SLA Leadership & Management Division Professional Development Series, on Alternative Careers. The slides are on slideshare, and (if you have 50 minutes to spare), the recording is up on Vimeo.

This was the first time I’d ever given a webinar, and I was nervous! More so as the bookings mounted up. Anything to do with careers and employability is a hot-topic at the moment, and I was stunned as numbers mounted from 30 to 60 to 90 – finally finishing up at over 300. 300!!!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to actually present to that many people – the webinar limit was set at 100, so I’m doing a repeat on 2nd Feb, and some people agreed to just watch the recording. You may be wondering ‘Why should size matter? It’s not like you can see your audience!’. Well, that’s true – but it’s a number of people taking time out of their busy days to pay attention to you, and whether you can see them or not, that’s pretty daunting…

I expected to find the webinar more nerve-wracking than giving a live presentation. The audience is there, but you can’t feed off them. There’s no-one to make eye contact with, no way of telling if anyone’s laughing at your jokes. You can’t watch them and judge the pace and level, can’t tell if anyone is actually listening! It’s just your voice, ringing loud and strange in your ears, your reflection in the darkened window. It’s like being alone, but without the freedom to stop for 5 minutes and go make a cup of tea. Overall, a most peculiar experience – and I enjoyed it! I still got the buzz from presenting, I just didn’t have anyone to share it with…

So, in no particular order, here are some things I learned about doing webinars.

Hardware: I used a headphone/mic set, which I’ve used before for Skype calls etc, and found fine. On reflection, I’d have preferred just using a mic and my computer speakers. It’s speaking that’s important, not listening, and I found the headphones very restrictive. It was hard to forget that I had them on, and they made my voice sound very odd. For Feb 2nd I think I’ll try to source a standalone mic (it’s at 7pm UK time, so no-one to disturb in the office!)

Software: Hope from LMD was very organised in setting up a practice session so we could make sure that everything worked on my machine, and that they could hear me and see my slides. She made sure that I signed on a good half hour before the webinar was due to start, so we could deal with any last minute problems. Did something go wrong 5 minutes before the start? Of course it did! But Hope managed to sort it out, and we started just a couple of minutes late. Did I start panicking? Maybe just a little…

Presenting: as usual, I wrote and practised a script. Even though I knew I would be able to just read the script (no-one to make eye contact with!), I thought practice was still very important. As well as making sure that I’d got my timings right, it helped to make sure that everything made sense out load, and that the flow and word choice were ok.

I wanted to read the script off my kindle, but didn’t have my cable with me, and sending via email didn’t come through in time, so I went proper old-school, and printed it out. I’d originally thought I’d be able to read it on my second screen (audience view was limited to slides on main screen), but realised I’d have to use that for the webinar software.

Despite not having a physical audience, I found myself gesticulating while I spoke. In many ways this made me feel rather silly (and I really really hoped the cleaners wouldn’t come in half-way through), but it also made me more comfortable, and helped me to settle down and put more feeling into my voice. I think that the more I actually performed it on this end, the better it would be for the attendees. (No-one’s said I sounded mad, so I think it worked).

I have to admit, there were moments when I forgot the audience was there!

Questions: as organiser, Hope had arranged that she’d keep an eye on questions, and would feed them through to me at the end. The trouble was, I hadn’t warned the audience! I should have told them at the start to ask questions as they thought of them, and I’d answer them at then end. As it was, I think people were taken by surprise, and didn’t have time to type anything out (attendees all muted). I’d put my contact details on the first and last slides, and invited people to contact me if they had any questions, which a couple did. I’m really pleased they did! Not only could I help them out, but it means (I think) that I came across as friendly and approachable.

I’d also asked for feedback and got some lovely responses, in chat, through twitter and email. I’d told the audience that it was my first webinar, and they were really supportive.

Content: because a lot of the content was based on what I do, I’d gone through one of those ‘but it’s all so obvious!’ crises. My lovely colleagues soothed me, and reassured me that it would be fine, and they were right! I tried to use as many real-world examples as possible, and had 3 fantastic volunteers (Jo, Soulla, and Wendy) who let me use them as case studies. I knew that my audience would be mainly US-based, so while my case studies were all from the UK, I tried to find examples of jobs from the US to show to the audience, too.

I also tried to use neutral language, without any UK slang or jargon. I realised afterwards that I’d used ‘CV’ instead of ‘resume’, but I think it’s a common enough term that it shouldn’t be an issue. I also (in a moment of unscripted excitement) started the phrase ‘honest-to-god’, realised I had no idea if that was offensive to anyone, and managed to change it to ‘honest-to-bob’. I *think* I got away with it… I have no idea if ‘honest-to-bob’ is offensive either (maybe to people called ‘Bob’?). but I rather like it.

One thing I’d meant to do was follow the Guardian’s style guide and not use relative times – eg say ‘Wednesday’ instead of ‘yesterday’. In practice, I totally forgot! I’ll try again for the 2nd, but I think it was more important in the recorded version, which could be seen by anybody, at any time. As I’m not reporting breaking world events it’s not really that important – just a minor bit of style I’d have liked to have got right.

Overall, it was a really good experience – made so, mainly, by the feedback from people who said that it would help them in their career search. It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that you’ve helped give someone that bit of confidence to expand their search and apply for jobs they might not have thought of before. I don’t think I said anything revolutionary, but sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘You can do it!’! I’m proud that LMD gave me the chance to be that person.

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