How Web Seminars Work

Setting up Web Seminars

Participate in a seminar from your personal computer.
Participate in a seminar from your personal computer.

Web seminars are easy to set up. Here's how an organizer sets up a Web seminar or conference:

  1. Using special Web-conferencing software that is integrated with existing e-mail, SMS (short-message systems) and calendar programs, the organizer sends an invitation by e-mail or SMS.
  2. The invitation contains a link and an access code for logging into the meeting or presentation. The calendar program reminds both attendees and organizer that it's time to join the group.
  3. Some invitations also include a toll-free phone number for the audio portion of the meeting or presentation that works like teleconferencing. Web-conferencing software includes VoIP audio to keep costs down and accessibility high. Others include videoconferencing capabilities.
  4. Once all the attendees have logged on, the organizer designates a presenter who controls the shared desktop and any shared documents and applications. We'll talk more about these important features and others in a minute.

The main differences between Web seminars and Web conferences are the group size and the presentation interactivity level. Web conferences resemble virtual meetings with fewer than 25 individuals in attendance. During a Web conference, each attendee is usually given an opportunity to speak, make comments and even take a turn as presenter.

Web seminars, on the other hand, are "one-to-many" or "few-to-many" presentations with attendees numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. Attendees of Web seminars usually don't speak or become a presenter, since it would take too much time.

Using common applications such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Flash, presenters can create dynamic graphic presentations enhanced by audio or even streaming video. E-mail invitations can be created with easy-to-use templates. Event reminders and follow-up e-mails can be sent.­

During the seminar, desktop sharing allows the presenter to display items on his computer. Attendees can see what the presenter sees, and the presenter can hand over his desktop to any other attendee. Or by changing presenters, any of the other attendees can share his desktop with the rest of the group. In smaller Web conferences, a presenter may hand control of an open document to an attendee, who can edit or change the document remotely.

Other features include:

  • File transfer allows documents to be available for download either before, during or after an online presentation.
  • Audio control allows the presenter to mute or un-mute panelists and attendees as needed. For larger Web seminars, it's typical for attendees to all be muted.
  • Whiteboards are shared virtual workspaces where presenters can cut and paste documents, graphs and images. By sharing control of the whiteboard, presenters can draw, annotate and edit just like they were scrawling on a real-world whiteboard.
  • For greater interactivity, presenters can give attendees chat capability or the option of instant messaging questions to the presenters.

Web seminars can be recorded for later use in presentations or training sessions or downloaded for on-demand playback. Most Web seminar software includes built-in video capability to stream directly from a Webcam or digital video camera.

Presenters can take real-time polls to analyze a seminar's success. Some Web seminar software programs include the ability to monitor users' desktop behavior to see if they become distracted from the presentation and begin working on other documents. If so, the program can tell presenters when their attendees' attention drifted, and how long the distraction lasted.

We'll explain more about how these Webcast services work in the next section.