No Web conference will run smoothly without adequate planning. Planning a Web conference doesn't have to be complicated. Think of your Web conference planning as like that for any live presentation -- but with some technological considerations thrown in.
Probably the first step is recognizing that you can't wait until the last minute to plan a Web conference. You'll need to start early. For instance, you'll need to line up a hosting company, if you don't already use one for your Web conferences or handle them in house.
While every Web conference varies, here are some steps to help you in planning yours.
- Define what you plan to accomplish and limit yourself to what can be covered in the Web conference time allotted.
- Contact the hosting company, if you're using one, to arrange a date and time for the Web conference, to cover basic details (like system requirements for the computer you will be using), and to get links and access codes to send to participants. Consider scheduling an extra half hour in case the conference runs long.
- Decide who should attend, and use the conferencing software to invite them. Include the link and access code they'll need to participate.
- Create a one-page, timed agenda. Based on that, gather content for the meeting, including spreadsheets, presentations and documents. Create or assign someone to prepare the material for use by the conferencing software. Pretest these materials.
- Recognize that simply watching someone talk isn't going to keep participants' interest. Keep it lively! Use the technology available to vary activity with video or slides, interactive polling, application sharing or whiteboard.
- Create at least one slide that will appear when participants log in so that they know they're at the right Web conference. This could include the agenda or resources cited during the conference.
- Determine participants' expectations, let them know how they should prepare, and send them any needed materials in advance. Include a reminder of the link and access code.
- Prepare an online survey that you can have participants complete (or that you can e-mail to them) after the conference to get feedback.
- Practice enough so that you know how to use the moderator tools to respond to questions or let participants show their material to the group.
- If possible, run a dress rehearsal of the Web conference -- or at least any presentations -- a week in advance and make changes as needed.
- Have someone else in your company act as on-site tech support during the Web conference so that you can focus on hosting it.
- Arrive at least half an hour early to open the conferencing software before the meeting starts. Make sure connections and content are working properly.
- Record the conference for those who can't attend.
- After the conference, send a thank-you e-mail to participants asking them to complete the survey. Tally and use results of the survey to improve future Web conferences.
Security is a vital consideration in planning a Web conference. You want to make sure only invitees attend -- and you want to know that system security is tight. Next, we'll look more closely at security issues related to Web conferences.