I was asked to moderate a webinar recently featuring a guest speaker. The speaker was an expert in her field with many decades of experience presenting and leading workshops in her subject. She had never presented on a webinar and was somewhat nervous about the process.
The organizer of the event had apparently assuaged her fears by telling her, "Don't worry. It's just like standing in front of a room and giving a talk. You talk and you show your slides. Easy!"
By the time I got inserted into the process, the presenter had created a workshop-style talk that would have been dynamite in a classroom setting. She had workbooks prepared with long exercises laying out hypothetical study scenarios and lists of discussion questions. She asked me how we were going to distribute the workbooks to the students.
Unfortunately, this particular webinar had been set up as an ad-hoc session. Attendees did not have to preregister. The organizer sent out the join link and effectively said, "Show up online if you want to attend!" So there was no way to know who would be in attendance and no way to send out pre-event communications or materials.
I said that I could make the materials available for download in the session, but that I could not guarantee that attendees would be able to print them out. We often get attendees joining on mobile devices, and I knew of one group that regularly attended together while having drinks and appetizers at a local restaurant.
On the day of the webinar, she started the session by inviting each attendee in turn to open their microphone and tell us about themself. She spent time responding to each person and their experience level. This can be a nice way to start an in-person workshop or class where the attendees share a physical space and can see and relate to the person talking. Online, it quickly gets repetitive and slows down the crucial early portion of the proceedings where attendees are looking for an indication of value. Attendees do not feel the same sense of community and shared experience when they sit alone in front of a computer screen. I find that often a group chat works better as an ice-breaker and community-builder than sequential introductions. Everyone can see and respond at once, without having to wait for their turn in line and without feeling like they are caught in a spotlight.
Later in the session, she invited the audience members to open the document they had downloaded and read through the description. People did not know when to stop reading the 5-page exercise. She could not see them and we just sat in-session with about 6 minutes of silence. When we started the conversation again, it was difficult to get people back into an interactive and contributing frame of mind. They had become passive readers, rather than participating members in a discussion.
My rule of thumb in online sessions is to always minimize "dead air." Don't give attendees long reading assignments (through external materials or on-screen text). Chop reading into small "bite size" pieces. Each snippet should introduce a short, easily understood point that can be discussed before moving on to the next item.
While the mechanics of a webinar CAN be exactly the same as you would use for an in-room class or presentation, it works to your advantage to modify your approach for the online environment. Help your guest speakers to understand the key differences BEFORE they develop their materials, rather than forcing rewrites after everything is completed.