Several years ago, I wrote a blog post where I mentioned that I no longer hold webinar rehearsals. Now I schedule "prep sessions" for the presentation team. The term "rehearsal" was dismissed by too many speakers as an unnecessary time sink. They would inevitably tell me "Oh, don't worry. I've talked about this topic at plenty of conferences. I know what I want to say."
But a prep session is harder to brush off. It implies that there is a need for planning and coordination that goes beyond "mere" (ugh!) recitation of the presentation.
I typically schedule two prep sessions. I shoot for the first one being roughly a week and a half before the live date. I tell my speakers that there will be two goals:
- Gaining familiarity with the technology and confirming the ability to login and use audio and video. Even if people say they know the web conferencing platform, I remind them that vendors frequently update interfaces and functionality, so it's worth a quick review to make sure that everything is the same as they have seen in the past.
- Organizing and reviewing content delivery. This part of the prep covers the speaking order, who hands off to whom, the duration of each section, how Q&A will be managed, and ends with a review of draft slides or other materials to see what needs updating and refinement. In the best cases, we do a full run-through (or as close as possible) so the speakers can hear where they are either restating or in conflict with something another presenter says. I can also offer suggestions from the viewpoint of an attendee listening for the first time - where is the flow confusing, where do I start drifting off, how can the speaker improve their delivery technique?
From a practical perspective, I commonly find that presenters treat this too casually. "I'll be on the road, so I'll just call in from my car." Or… "I'm not in the room where I'll be doing the presentation… Does it matter if I use a different computer and webcam on the day?" "I haven't completed any of my slides yet… I'll just listen to what the other people are doing."
As a moderator or coordinator, you need to be prepared to cope with these kinds of sub-optimal situations. I often find myself booking a one-on-one technology introduction session later with someone who couldn't make the team meeting.
I aim for the second prep session to be held 2-3 days before the live date. The idea is that it will be a final run-through with the locked-down slides and presentation materials as refined after the first session. If presenters needed to get a new headset or improve their office lighting for video, we can retest their setup. We want to check session timing, smooth handoffs, integration of polls, and audio/video as it will show to attendees.
From a practical perspective, I have come to expect that the team will find things they still want to change on their slides. That's why we need the 2-3 day buffer… It allows for those final changes to get implemented (and potentially designed/reviewed by corporate) in time. Is there anything more fun than PowerPoint files named "Final2", "Final3", and "Final4"??
On event day, all presenters have a calendar appointment reminding them to log in 30 minutes before the scheduled start time for attendees. That gives us enough time to deal with login problems, difficulties with audio/video, and team chat about breaking news they want to touch on.
Quick summary? Stop scheduling webinar rehearsals… Start inviting your team to prepare for webinar success!