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  •  The Art of the Webinar
  •  Continuing Medical Education (CME) activities are indispensable components of any successful healthcare professionals’ busy schedule.  Decreased departmental travel funds, time crunches and simple inconvenience have driven the upward trend in popularity and utilization of the “webinar” with its ability to bring worldwide audiences together with expert lecturers all in the comfort of their home or office.  As with any mode of communication however, there are a few pitfalls that must be avoided in order to achieve smooth delivery and effective idea exchange.

    1)      Remember all the tips and tricks you’ve learned about making PowerPoint slides and maybe even pick up a few more.  Unless your presentation software allows the use of a web cam, the slides you’ve prepared will be the main focus of the audience.  Every bullet point, line of text and animation must be proof read and ideally a practice run can be done with a few colleagues before “going live” on the internet.  Any distractions of misspelled words or annoying flashing text will be magnified well beyond what would occur in a classroom setting.   

    2)      Remind your audience at the beginning of the talk to set their phones or computer microphone to mute as directed by the service providing the presentation platform.  Options exist for your listeners to either use their computer speakers or call into a phone number provided by presentation service in order to receive audio.  Any sound, such as a radio playing in the background or phone conversation on another line, transmitted back from the audience will be heard by all listening causing a major interruption to the lecture.  As a back-up, many programs allow you, as the main presenter, to “mute” specific attendees if necessary 

    3)      Designate an assistant to help you monitor the “room” for questions or points that need more clarification.  Most web-based presentation programs work around the issues with open phone lines by including a chat feature that each audience member can access during the talk.  If you are talking to a group of more than 3 or 4 individuals, its best to simply hide the chat box on your computer screen and focus on the slides and your notes.  You should build in several stopping points throughout the lecture, during which your assistant can direct you to questions that may have come up over chat.  Your assistant can also alert you to any delays that may be occurring during slide transitions.  Sometimes it takes significantly longer for your slide to change on the audience’s computer screens than it does on yours.  Depending on how much time you spend on each slide, this could mean that your audience is several slides behind. 

    4)       Don’t forget to get the audience involved.  Not only can you field questions from the audience through the chat feature mentioned above, but you can also ask questions, and with the help of your assistant, use the chat feature to identify audience members whom can have their voice lines activated to answer for everyone to hear.  You can even allow specific audience members to temporarily take control of your computer cursor to point out something on a slide in order to clarify a point or answer a question.

          Being aware of these issues and addressing them while preparing for you webinar will certainly enhance the experience for all involved.  There are still critics who cite limited opportunities for discussion and networking as major drawbacks to the use of this medium as a primary method of attaining CME credits.  While it is true that there are no substitutes for large scale conferences and society meetings, the convenience and unique ability to bring individuals hundreds to thousands of miles apart together for single focused discussions will keep webinars among the most viable options open to presenters. 

    -Joseph V. Russo, M.S.




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