Webinars come in all shapes and sizes. Just like a seminar, it is a meeting with experts on a certain subject. But whether it is a collection of short lectures or presentations, a panel discussion or question-and-answer session, a lot of work goes into organising them. For example, what platform do you choose? And how do you keep your audience involved?
Fifty thousand views for the explanation of an ECG
They would have been happy to see twenty people turn up. But when Ali Talib, a trainee radiologist, and Bashar Razoki, a trainee dermatologist, actually started their webinar about how to interpret an ECG back in January, there were suddenly five thousand people watching. “The video can be re-watched, by now we have almost 50 thousand views,” says Razoki.
It was his idea to use Facebook. “We have an extra tutoring company – VGT course – with which we help medical students to prepare for their progress test,” says Talib, who just like Razoki is a UM alumnus and who is doing a specialisation at the Jeroen Bosch hospital. “Because of COVID-19, we were doing more and more online and we wondered: what else we could try?” Talib thought about a Zoom session, where people register beforehand. “But Bashar said: people can share the announcement via Facebook and in that way encourage others to join in.”
An ECG is a cheap and widely used medical examination. Interpreting it properly can be of vital importance: the difference between noticing and not noticing a heart attack. “That doesn’t only make the subject interesting to medical students but also to nurses, GPs and ambulance staff,” says Talib.
The men divided the roles, Talib taking on the content part, Razoki the technical part. “We wanted to keep it interactive. We had prepared a few questions for the audience beforehand. You can pose them via a poll on Facebook. That was so easy that I gradually did it more and more as the webinar progressed. It can also be something basic like ‘can you hear it properly?’”
Razoki managed the replies as they came in. “If a funny reaction appeared, he would freeze that for a moment, so that everyone could read it,” says Talib. “Facebook is very playful; people can also send smileys and hearts. That makes you feel connected with the audience, even if you can’t see them.” Talib thinks that lecturers should maybe also use the chat function more often in Zoom. “It is very accessible. Typing a question is a lot quicker than switching on the microphone and asking it in person.”
Speeches in front of the camera: it takes some getting used to
When Loes van Bokhoven, GP and researcher, was asked to give the keynote speech for the annual Science Day by the Dutch GP Society (Nederlandse Huisartsen Genootschap, NHG), she did not know at the time that it was to be online. “Universities take turns to organise this day. In 2020, it was Maastricht University’s turn. Initially, the day was postponed but eventually it was set up online.”
The NHG, which took the practical part of the organisation upon themselves, chose to record part of the speech prior to the event. “The introduction and the questions afterwards were live.” But for the rest she made her way to fellow speaker Henk Schers’ office. “Until then, preparations were no different: you both look at what you want to say and who will say what.”
In the office they recorded a dialogue. “I was glad about that. Some people filmed a presentation, standing there speaking to no-one in particular, which is much tougher. You don’t get any idea of what the atmosphere is like. We switched between looking at each other and looking at the camera. It takes some getting used to. Afterwards, I noticed that I didn’t look into the camera properly, which had a bit of a weird effect. Someone on the spot should say something about that, because you can’t change it later on.”
About two hundred people watched the speech. “More than usual, which is the advantage of not having to travel.” Van Bokhoven noticed that the questions from the ‘audience’ were of a higher level. “Normally, you have to walk to the microphone, which often gives it a bigwig tendency. Now there was a moderator who bundled the most frequently asked questions from the chat. Later on, too, during the panel discussion there were not only more questions, but we also went into details more quickly.”
As far as Van Bokhoven is concerned, there are certainly elements that can be retained after COVID-19. “On condition that the technical side of things works well. In one group, there was a malfunction, then you just suddenly can’t do anything. Although I did miss the personal interaction. You could have a chat afterwards, but then you had to send someone a request via a private chat. Hanging around during the closing drinks is much easier.”
“It’s a shame to wait until we are allowed to meet in person”
Students from Maastricht for Climate recently drew up eight demands for a more sustainable Maastricht. In order to explain each demand, they organised a series of webinars on the various demands. “Obviously, we would have preferred to organise events on location, but because the elections are coming up, we felt it was a waste to wait until that was possible,” says Bianca Ercole, FASoS student and one of the organisers. “You have to strike while the iron is hot.”
The students used Zoom Webinar as a platform. “One of the greatest advantages of that is that you can add live subtitles,” says organiser and European Studies student Nikita Leten. “Normally, our events are in English. This time, we had Dutch speakers and that yielded more interest from people from Maastricht.” “Because of the English subtitles, created by students from the Maastricht School of Translation, everyone was able to understand,” Ercole adds. “They have to work really fast, very clever.”
Ercole and Leten have also noticed that asking questions is easier via a chat. “Very accessible if you are shy,” says Ercole. “People can also vote on a question. That then comes out at the top of the list for the moderators. In that way, you use your time efficiently, by answering the more pressing questions first.”
The speakers can only see each other and the moderator, not the audience. “In that way, you are not alone talking to your screen, but it is easy for us to record,” says Ercole. “We want to put this on YouTube and by doing it in this way we don’t need to ask viewers permission.”
Despite the advantages, the students are looking forward to real-life events. “But I think that this was a good preparation for us,” says Leten. “We had never done a series of lectures before.”