Believe it or not, webinars have been around now for more than 25 years. The word WEBinar (with the first three letters capitalised), was actually trademarked in 1998 by businessman Eric Korb.
But even before that, in 1995, the US-based company PictureTel first released what it called webinar software.
Over the past quarter of a century, video conferencing technology and internet speeds have improved exponentially. Not only is the tech a lot easier to use, it has also evolved to include a variety of tools such as electronic whiteboards, polls, surveys and chat rooms, which makes it much more engaging and impactful.
With the impact of COVID-19, the popularity of webinars has exploded, and all of a sudden, we’re all supposed to be webinar experts.
The world shifted almost overnight, and before we knew it we were setting up webinar backgrounds, presenting remotely and buying microphones.
If you’re planning on presenting webinars from your home or office in 2021, we’ve got lots of tips to ensure you’re set up for success. There are some key rules to follow and essential tech tips you need to know to ensure you and your audience have an exceptional online experience.
Choose the right location from which to present
It’s important to set your home office up in a functional space — preferably away from any immediate distractions such as the TV or kids. Lock the door or put up a ‘Do not disturb’ sign if possible — the last thing you want is to be interrupted while you’re presenting.
A defined workspace also helps you establish your working mindset and create a visual boundary that alerts anyone else around that you’re working.
Another important thing you need to get right is the lighting, which can have a major impact when you’re presenting in front of a webcam or camera. Think about the room you are located in and how the light is diffused in it.
Avoid light directly behind you when presenting because it will cause your face to blur and it will be difficult to see you. Face a window with your back to a wall, as opposed to sitting with a window behind you. Facing the light will illuminate your face naturally.
If you don’t have a window near your workspace, place a lamp somewhere in front of you.
Position your laptop and camera correctly
Whether you’re using a stand-alone webcam or the camera in your laptop or other device to capture video of you speaking, position it so it’s level with your face.
If you’re using your laptop camera or a webcam attached to the top of your laptop screen, raise your laptop so your audience isn’t looking up your nostrils — if you don’t have a laptop stand a pile of books or a box will do.
If you generally plug your laptop into a separate monitor, consider unplugging it for video calls so you can look into the camera and maintain eye contact.
Your position also matters. Don’t cram the whole video frame with your face, or, even worse, cut your face in half. Ideally, there should be room in the shot for your shoulders and chest, plus a bit of space above your head.
Stage your background
A webinar background can signify a lot about you and your presentation. When set up properly, it can also help to avoid unnecessary distractions.
An effective webinar background doesn’t require a special room in your house or an entire remodelling, you just need to think about the setup.
Make sure you preview your background before your webinar, so you’re aware of what the camera will actually show in the frame.
When thinking about your background, make sure the area behind you is uncluttered, even if the rest of the room isn’t. The camera only sees a small area.
Place your desk a few feet from a neutral-coloured wall with your webcam facing the wall. A good option is to set up a shelf or have a piece of furniture on which you can place a plant, or a row of books. Another option is to fill the space with an artwork — just remember it should be something to break up the space, rather than be the centre of attention.
While digital backgrounds can be fun for a few minutes, they may distract from your presentation by diverting your audience’s attention.
If you would prefer a branded background, consider setting up signage in your office or use a studio with a green screen to present so you can insert the background of your choice.
Consider built-in cameras vs USB cameras
Good video quality is becoming increasingly important to webinar attendees. While high quality audio is the top consideration, one in three (33%) respondents said that seeing presenters via webcam when attending a webinar was also important.
While today’s laptop computers offer a high quality video experience suitable for many occasions, if you want the best possible viewing experience for your audience, dedicated USB cameras take quality video a whole step further.
The good news is they’re easy to set up, and, with good USB cameras starting at around $100, they don’t have to break the bank.
At the lower end of the price range you’ll find options such as the Logitech C270, the Genius WideCam F100, the Microsoft LifeCam and the Razer Kiyo USB. At the other end of the scale, options like the Owllabs Meeting Owl and PTZOptics 30X-NDI are more expensive but enable you to capture the best quality video images.
Another option is to take advantage of broadcast-quality HD cameras available in professional webinar studios, like those we offer at Redback Connect.
Stand-alone microphones vs built in microphones and headsets
If you’re going to splash out on anything when it comes to setting up a remote webinar space, make it your microphone because good-quality audio is the No.1 priority for webinar audiences.
Participants will tune out of your webinar in a matter of seconds if they’re having trouble hearing what’s going on.
Built-in microphones offer lower quality output, and will also pick up a lot more background noise compared with their stand-alone counterparts.
The easiest, and cheapest, way to get started is to use a USB mic that will plug directly into the USB slot on your computer.
While they’re at the cheaper end of the spectrum, there are a number on the market that will do an excellent job, including the Samson Go Mic, the Rode Podcaster and Blue Microphones Yeti.
If you have multiple presenters, or you want more flexibility, you’ll need one or more microphones with an XLR output, which is a type of electrical connector primarily used in professional audio and video equipment (the connectors are circular and have between three and seven pins). You’ll also have to splash out on an additional mixer to use them. Some microphones include both XLR and USB outputs.
Another option is a USB headset with headphones and a microphone attached, so the microphone sits to the side of your mouth. While headsets offer better audio than built-in microphones, stand-alone mics offer significantly better performance over and above headsets in terms of clarity, range and general quality.
With the microphone set so close to your mouth, headsets are also more likely to pick up the popping noises, known as plosives, that can be sometimes heard when people pronounce consonants like P, B, T and K.’
Movements of your head and slight adjustments to the mic can also get picked up by the microphone and be very annoying for listeners.
If you’re using a stand-alone microphone, your current headphones or buds will very likely do just fine for listening to a webinar. The most important thing to look out for is noise bleed, which is when sound escapes out of the sides and is picked up by your microphone. Noise cancelling headphones can help for unavoidable noises, such as when your neighbour decides to get out the leaf blower.
If you plan on wearing your headphones for extended periods of time, you should also make sure they’re comfortable.
Check your internet connection: Wi-Fi vs LAN
An ethernet cable directly to your modem or router, as opposed to Wi-Fi, is a good way to ensure you get the fastest, most reliable connection on your home broadband — especially when you’re joining a video or web conference.
If you’re on W-iFi, you’ll find a number of options available — such as extenders and powerline adaptors — to boost the signal throughout your home.
A download speed of 2 Mbps is enough for email, social media and audio conference calls on one device at a time.
For webinars an average download speed of around 10 Mbps is usually recommended.
If you have multiple people accessing your home network at the same time — especially if one or more of them is streaming video — a download speed of 25 Mbps or higher should suffice.
Plan B: Ensure the show can still go on
When it comes to any type of technology, you should always have a back-up plan to avoid any glitches.
What if your network goes down? Your video feed freezes? Or everyone in your street suddenly starts live-streaming Netflix?
A teleconference is a great plan B for those occasions when you can’t postpone the event and you don’t want to disappoint your audience.