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In the previous decades, distance learning in (medical) education, has taken flight worldwide. Many medical educational institutions have successfully embraced online distance learning (ODL), with online courses now being delivered by a great number of organisations, ranging from community colleges to renowned universities all around the globe.1–4 The current era of physical distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need for online learning programmes for healthcare professionals. Although some medical educators with a degree in teaching may have abundant experience in developing and hosting online training programmes (eg, ODL postgraduate programmes), many clinical teachers, for example, physicians, nurses and other allied healthcare professionals, may feel quite hesitant and out of their depth when faced with the request to provide their lectures or trainings online instead of face to face. Without previous training and/or specific expertise, developing and presenting an engaging e-learning can be quite a challenge. To help overcome this practical dilemma, we have developed a robust standard operating procedure (SOP) for clinical teachers with limited experience in online teaching on how to develop and host an engaging webinar.
A webinar, an aggregation of the words ‘web-based’ and ‘seminar’ can be defined as a presentation, lecture or workshop which is transmitted real time through the internet with the option to interact with the presenter and/or other participants.5 Alternatively, a recording of the webinar can often be viewed at a later moment but does not offer the option of live interaction. Webinar history parallels that of the internet with the appearance of predecessors like real-time text messaging apps emerging at the end of 1980s, followed by web chats and instant messaging apps in the mid 1990s, to the registration of the trademark ‘webinar’ in 1998.6
With today’s available software, it is no longer deemed necessary to have a professional recording studio available. Anyone with access to internet and a computer with a build-in or external camera can use video conferencing software platforms to host a webinar. Therefore, webinars pose an interesting and cost-attractive means to not only share knowledge but also interact with potentially a very large and global audience. Notably, literature from around the turn of the millennium has already shown that online training can be at least as effective as in-person/classroom-based instruction for cognitive and procedural learning.7
Although numerous websites and publications provide information on how to prepare and host a webinar, a comprehensive protocol or SOP for presenting a webinar focused on clinical teachers new to online teaching seemed to be lacking from extant literature. Based on the available literature, information from various websites and our own personal experience, we developed the SOP ‘How to develop and host a webinar for healthcare professionals new to online teaching’ (figure 1).
Standard operating procedure how to develop and host a webinar
Choose a topic
First, if given the option, choose a topic you have affinity with and many topics will be suitable for online teaching.8 9 Not only will your enthusiasm draw the audience into the webinar but it will also allow you to add a personal touch to the presentation. Notably, it is a common misgiving that you already need to be an expert in the field of your topic to be able to teach others.10 Teaching can be an excellent way to enhance your own knowledge on the subject, a phenomenon known as the Protégé effect11 which is based on philosopher Seneca’s ‘Men learn while they teach’.12
Define learning goals
Learning goals should define the intended outcomes on finishing the webinar: what should the audience have learnt after the webinar. They set expectations for both the presenter(s) and the audience and provide a roadmap to create learning content, activities and evaluations. For the audience, learning goals will provide a clear direction on what to expect from the webinar. This SOP ‘How to develop and host a webinar for healthcare professionals new to online teaching’ explicitly does not focusing on adult learning theories and how to engage learners as this exceeds the scope of this article. Abundant literature on learning theories and objectives, however, can be easily found online.13–15
Make a schedule
This may sound obvious, but having a schedule can make life a lot easier. Fadlelmola et al propose using a ‘webinar planning checklist’ in their ‘Ten simple rules for organising a webinar series’.16 Identifying tasks and a timeline early on namely, will provide more space and time for preparing a webinar. Anderson from TED, a non-profit organisation devoted to spreading ideas on almost all topics usually in the form of short, powerful talk advises his speakers to start preparing their ‘TED talk’ at least 6 months in advance.17 18 Although some professionals prefer to make use of a ‘webinar planning checklist’ or other roadmap towards the webinar, this may not be of value to all. Nevertheless, using a timeframe for the webinar itself is strongly recommended.9 On average, for a 45 min to 1 hour webinar, the following general framework may be helpful: (1) use the first 5 min for the introduction, stating who you are and what the topic will be; (2) the following 25 min are for the body of the presentation and (3) reserve 10 min for Q&A. This will leave a 5 min time stretch. Without a script it can be difficult to touch on all the topics you want to get across and finish on time in a coherent way. Remember, the length of the webinar does not automatically equal your speaking time. Allocated times can of course be adjusted to meet personal tendencies and/or the preferred level of interaction.
(Get to) Know your topic
Being up to date with your topic is essential. A comprehensive study of the literature alone, however, might not suffice. Next to searching PubMed and Google Scholar, use a plain search engine to look for existing webinars and/or presentations on your chosen topic, for example, on webinars.19 A profound preparation will provide you with a broad view of your topic and the flexibility to adjust the depth and length of your presentation when needed (see the Know your audience section).
Know your audience
This is one of the pivotal factors influencing the development and content of a webinar: who will be your audience? For instance, a webinar on sepsis for first year nurses in training requires a different approach than one for medical specialists. On the other hand, a safety training webinar for all hospital personnel will most likely have to be a ‘one size fits all’ given the likely very diverse audience ranging from the doorman to a professor. Although it may be a challenge to serve all needs, try to find a common ground and make sure that you are able to add extra depth to your webinar when needed. Webinars with professional admission requirements, for example, lectures as part of a regular training programme, will actually make life easier, in a sense that you can expect your audience to have basic knowledge on the topic.
If you do not know the consistence of your audience beforehand, you can try and get an impression of the level of knowledge of your audience by using a poll or an interactive quiz with feedback. Using an audience response system at the start of the webinar, for example, can be helpful as this will allow you to adjust your presentation at an early stage. Furthermore, try to be inclusive by making sure that your webinar is also suitable for persons with a hearing or vision impairment.
Prepare your presentation
One of the critical factors for a successful presentation is using slides not packed with too much information.20–22 It is only human that the audience will then start to read all texts instead of listening to the presenter. Furthermore, boring images, complicated graphs and tables, changing font and ‘look’ of your slides and using (a lot) of animations or sound effects should be avoided. When preparing any presentation, TED for instance advises its’ speakers to avoid the infamous ‘10 ways to ruin a presentation’.23 Although this may sound very easy, a lot of presenters make approximately at least one of these 10 mistakes. Common mistakes include taking a long time to explain what your presentation is about, using a lot of unexplained technical jargon to sound smart and sounding as if you are reciting your talk from memory. This can be avoided, however, by rigorous preparation at forehand.
As is often the case, practice is essential, not only for time management purposes but also to make sure the right information is indeed included. By rule of thumb, you are well prepared if you are able to give the presentation in the required language when inadvertently woken up in the middle of the night. So, get yourself a timer, practice out loud and consider holding a try-out of your webinar for a colleague or family member for that matter. As with all presentations, ‘c’est le ton qui fait la musique’ or in English: it is not what you say, it is how you say it. An enthusiastic and interactive duo-presentation will probably gain more attention than a monotonic read aloud, how interesting the subject may be.
Determine the level of interactivity with your audience
In our opinion, using the possibility to interact with you audience is one of the benefits of a webinar. Otherwise, you could just as well tape a lecture and upload it online. Again, preparation is key and plan ahead how much time you want to reserve within the presentation to interact and answer questions from participants. Interaction could be promoted by using the chat function or breakout rooms available on most video conferencing software platforms. Participants can pose questions or make remarks in the chat or have a discussion in a smaller group during the breakout session.
Nevertheless, depending on the popularity of your topic with the audience, either the absence or the overwhelming amount of questions during a webinar may come as a surprise. In case interaction is slow and you want to get the audience more involved, make sure that you have the opportunity to add polls, questions and quizzes as you go. If you get overwhelmed by an abundance of questions, you can either stick to your schedule as presented to the audience at the beginning of the webinar, or you could decide to fill the whole webinar just with responding to these questions.
Invite your future audience for the webinar
Although this may sound very commercial, a swirling title will attract more audience than a numbing one. The accessory abstract and learning goals should inveigle the potential audience. Of course, a webinar is not a product you are selling, but the content of your webinar may be of great importance to your audience. Make sure ‘the world’ knows your webinar is coming: use not only regular announcements and mailing lists, but also, for example, social media.16 In addition, having a low-profile registration form without additional charge will make it easier to attract your future audience. Lastly, as part of ‘customer service’, consider reminding confirmed future participants of the webinar a couple of days before it is planned to help maximise your audience. Obviously, most of these tips are superfluous when your webinar is part of a regular training programme but making sure that your students are familiar with the date and time of your webinar is still essential.
Assuring materials are ‘fit to fly’
You will need a computer with a working camera, microphone and stable connection to the internet to present a webinar. Make sure your equipment functions sufficiently, a malfunction might potentially ruin your webinar. You may want to have a spare laptop and batteries at hand.
Several webinar platforms are available for hosting a webinar. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many people have almost unnoticed become more familiar with available forms of online communication. Many educational institutions have licences to several video conferencing software platforms available. Some platforms have free options but may have functional limitations, for example, a time slot. Check options and financial consequences before choosing one.
Provide your audience in advance with the webinar link and add relevant instructions, such as cameras on/off, mobile phones off, questions during or at end, how to participate in the questions/polling beforehand. Furthermore, try to use/reserve a separate (conference) room when hosting the actual webinar and make sure to leave your (personal) phones outside as to avoid unnecessary interruptions during the webinar.
Practice with computer, camera and software before going live
Practice your presentation in combination with the audiovisual set-up several times from start to finish, including availability and stability of your internet connection as well as using the camera and laptop. Things rarely work out as expected on the first try. Also make sure that you have a backup plan and technical support readily available.
And yes, although it is all about the content, you might still want to look good on camera. That is were fashion designer Tom Ford may offer a helping hand. He recently shared his four-step master class ‘How to Look Good on Camera’ in the New York Times 7 April 2020. In short, make sure the camera of your computer is slightly above your head, put a lamp behind the computer screen to add some light and put a white piece of paper in front of you for some reflection of the light. Finish off with some powder and, according to Tom, we all can actually made to look good on camera.24
Hosting the webinar
Take a deep breath and dive in! Nerves are not always a bad thing, on the contrary, they may help you to perform better. Acknowledging being nervous is even said to create engagement of the audience.18 Furthermore, greet the audience at the start and thank them for taking the time out of their schedules to attend the webinar. Avoid, however, to open with a warm ‘good afternoon’ if the audience may be from around the world, from different time zones or able to watch a recording of the webinar. As with all teaching, make sure you create a safe, respectful and inclusive learning environment from the start. This can be achieved for instance by stating that you are open to questions, try to involve your audience and admit when you do not know an answer to a question. Furthermore, do not expect everything to go as planned and be prepared to improvise. But most of all, have fun!
To round up, share your take home messages with your audience. Thank them for participating and inform them where the webinar will be available if they want to look back or show the webinar to colleagues. Lastly, inform the audience where they can find the publications used for the webinar and make sure you mention copyrights if necessary. If appropriate, provide the audience with your contact details so they can get in touch for further questions, discussions or future collaborations.
Evaluating the webinar
After the webinar ask the participants for their evaluation and feedback, preferably immediately after the webinar to prevent recall bias. If the webinar was a joint venture, also debrief with your co-host. Evaluations typically include questions about what went well and what could you do differently next time to make the experience even more memorable. Similar to simulation-based training, a lot of learning, for the presenter that is, occurs during the debrief/evaluation.25 In the end, the online environment is still an evolving media, especially for most clinical teachers, and you will have to embrace a trial-and-error approach to find what works best. As Marc Twain wrote: the secret of getting ahead is getting started.
This SOP ‘How to develop and host a webinar for healthcare professionals new to online teaching’ will help you develop, host and debrief your webinar. By making good use of these tips and injecting some flexibility, hosting a webinar can be a noteworthy and enjoyable experience for both the audience and presenter(s).
Patient consent for publication
We would like to thank all our webinar participants for their feedback.
Contributors Both authors contributed equally in creating and writing this article.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.