How to Be a Great Backstage Buddy—10 Tips (And One Bonus Tip)
1. Be reliable. Show up when you say you will. If you can’t make it, give the organizer enough lead enough time to find a replacement. Check in a few days prior to the webinar to confirm that you will be helping backstage. Take the initiative. It gives the organizer one less thing to worry about.
2. Show up early. Log in to the platform before the webinar actually starts. Login is seldom instantaneous, so showing up at the last minute may mean not being able to log in until after the scheduled start time. Showing up early will allow you to test connections and ensure everything is working prior to show time. How early should you show up? Ask the organizer. If in doubt, show up at least 15 minutes beforehand.
3. Check your permissions. Before the webinar begins, make sure you have access to all the functions you need in order to provide backstage support. In general, the webinar organizer assigns the appropriate roles and permissions. In one webinar, I (Cathy) found myself surprised by the lack of questions from the audience. When it came time for Q&A, I had nothing to relay to the presenter. We then realized that I was not seeing the audience questions at all, even though audience members were, in fact, very engaged and asking plenty of questions. It turned out that we had begun the webinar without assigning me to the appropriate role.
4. Be unobtrusive. Mute yourself before the webinar starts. Audience members don’t need to hear you typing, sneezing, or reacting to spilled coffee in the background. As much as possible, opt to communicate with audience members, organizers, and panelists via text or chat. Too many voices on a webinar can be confusing to audience members.
5. Arrange your on-screen control center. As a backstage buddy, you will want to be able to quickly locate and respond to multiple inputs from the webinar platform. Organize your screen windows so you can do just that. Consider using multiple monitors during a webinar. This is not strictly necessary as long as you have an organized desktop, but having plenty of screen real estate is very helpful.
Here is Cathy’s set-up for multiple monitors:
- Monitor 1 displays the audience view of the webinar. I use this display for the backup recording.
- Monitor 2 displays the control panel for the webinar delivery platform. I arrange the panel so I can easily monitor and respond to messages and questions.
- Monitor 3 (or a smartphone) may be used to monitor my email for any webinar-related issues. Two monitors, however, work well enough.
6. Be Prepared to Handle Common Questions and Problems. Be prepared with the answers to the following commonly asked questions:
- Will there be a recording available? When?
- Will there be a copy of the slide deck?
- How do we access handouts, slide decks, webinar recordings, the presenter’s website?
- How do we connect via phone? Is there a toll-free line?
Ensure that you have all the relevant information—dates, times, phone numbers, and URLs—readily accessible. Keep a copy of the answers handy on your computer desktop. Copy and paste the correct information to reduce errors. You should also be prepared to handle any common technical problems audience members may have. Some problems may be easily addressed by having audience members shut down any nonessential programs running in the background, or logging out of the webinar and logging back in again.
Make sure you know how to mute audience members. Most webinars generally start with all attendees muted, but occasionally things go wrong, and you may need to shut down background noise very quickly. No one needs to hear an audience member’s dog barking in the background. Keep a copy of the technical support number for the webinar platform handy, just in case you need it.
7. Mark all answered questions as “done.” Make it easy for your moderator to see which questions can be ignored. If you answer questions from the audience, mark each of them as “done.” If your webinar platform does not include a way to do this easily, then agree upon a method with your organizer before the actual webinar.
8. Check the recipients of chat messages before you hit “send.” Some webinar platforms allow you to specify who will receive any chat messages you send. If you wish to send a message to specific participants, such as organizers or panelists, make sure you are sending them to the correct people.
9. Be prepared to act as the backup. Be ready to act as a backup moderator, if needed. Before the webinar begins, make sure that you have the following readily accessible:
- A copy of the webinar introduction
- A copy of the presenter’s preferred bio
- A copy of the slide deck
You should not have to navigate to these files.
Recommendation: Print out the introduction and presenter’s bio. Use a large font in order to make reading easier. Rehearse, even if you never have to step in.
Ensure you have additional means to contact your moderator and presenters, just in case you lose them completely. Redundancy is good.
10. Use a good-quality microphone. Even if you will not be heard during the webinar, use a good-quality microphone and a robust connection. If you need to step in, you will need to sound good. Poor-quality audio is distracting, and technical hiccups with poor-quality audio even more so. Consider a USB headset microphone or a good-quality desktop USB microphone with a windscreen or pop filter, isolated from desk and room vibrations.
Bonus Tip: Make a Backup Recording (Optional but Helpful). Webinar platforms often have their own methods for recording the broadcast, but sometimes things go wrong. In our experience, they will. If you have access to screen recording software (e.g., Camtasia or Screenflow), consider recording the webinar from your local computer as a backup. Note that if you use a landline to connect to the webinar audio, your local computer may not receive the webinar audio. If this is the case, connect to the webinar audio via computer. You can also make a backup recording using a separate computer, logged in as an additional audience member. Remember that you may need a separate registration ID.
Think of It As Stagecraft
The job of the backstage buddy is like that of a stage manager—the invisible but essential person who makes a theatrical performance seem effortless and compelling. By helping your moderator and presenters focus on delivering great content and making real connections with the audience, you help the technology of webinar production become transparent to both the audience and the presenters.
And that, ultimately, will help you make a good webinar a great webinar.
REWARDS OF WEBINARS
Like any well-executed performance, a great webinar is a significant investment in time for your team. Expect you and your team to spend 5–6 hours in total on promoting, setting up, running, and producing a webinar—hours independent of the time it takes to produce the actual content.
The rewards are well worth it. Communication, connection, and engagement—even just simple awareness—all these are made possible by a medium and a product that will help you reach people around the world in a way that can last well after your original broadcast. Great webinars will help you and your organization shine. They extend your reach well beyond physical and individual limits.
So assemble your team. Set up the stage. Do that webinar.
Your audience awaits.
Webinar Veteran’s Advice
By Marydee Ojala
Webinars are not a new phenomenon for DawnEl Harris. She’s been involved with producing them for more than 20 years, first for CRM Media, LLC, then for Information Today, Inc. after it acquired the customer relationship management portfolio from CRM Media, LLC in 2002 “Prior to the acquisition, CRM magazine was owned by Line56, a global news and analysis company that delivers information on e-business and enterprise technologies to corporate executives from all industry sectors” (destinationcrm.com/webinars, infotoday.com/webinars). Harris’ role as webinar coordinator is to be the backup person during the webinar—and she warns you can’t multitask, you have to concentrate on the webinar. Additionally, she’s in charge of promoting the event, building the landing page, making the logistics work, getting the materials in place, coordinating with the webcast software provider, and controlling costs.
According to Harris, the people aspects of webinar organization haven’t changed much since she started. Getting speakers to turn in their slide decks on time, participate in practice sessions, and remember what they’re supposed to do during the webinar remains challenging. It’s a learned skill for presenters to speak to an invisible audience. Harris thinks that polling is key to getting people involved and engaged. It makes the audience a bit more “real” to the presenter and gives the audience a sense of participation. She recommends choreographing for the least talented.
On the technical side, sound quality is important. Harris insists that speakers and moderators use landlines. With so many people switching to mobile devices, this isn’t as easy as it used to be. The move away from landlines is an irreversible trend, so the technology will have to improve to accommodate this.