Talking to the screen
5 tips for Citavi (and other) webinars
This blog post is especially meant for Citavi instructors, their colleagues, and future Citavi Champions who want to share their knowledge and way of working with Citavi with others. But it’s also useful for anyone who leads webinars on other topics as well. Here are tips I’ve picked up over nine years of holding webinars:
- Just give it a try
The title of this blog post might sound negative, but it’s not meant that way. When I led my first training session on reference management software nine years ago, it was comforting to think that I was just talking to my screen. That’s because I hated public speaking. To be completely honest, just thinking about giving a presentation to students or researchers made me go weak in the knees. Webinars helped me overcome my fears. Even if I knew that 30, 80, or over 100 people were listening to me, I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t be distracted by noticing that some people weren’t listening, and I didn’t need to worry about my face turning red since I was just talking to my screen.
Once you’ve decided you want to hold a webinar, you’ve cleared the first hurdle. I can promise you: it’s worth it. That’s because in the future you’ll find it much easier to stand in front of a “real” group of people. You’ll have already proven to yourself you can do so in your virtual training sessions.
- Check your tech
Not knowing how the technology works can also be a barrier for some people who would otherwise want to hold webinars. Perhaps you have no trouble teaching, but your lack of knowledge about webinar technology prevents you from offering your training sessions digitally. As with all things, practice makes perfect.
First, you’ll want to make sure that you know the ins and outs of the software or app you’ll use to present your webinar. If you don’t know which program or app to choose, take a look at this overview. Test the programs to see which one is the best fit for you. For our Citavi webinars we’ve used a number of programs over the years: Join.me, Demio and Livestorm, the one we currently use. MS Teams can also be used for webinars. When we were selecting our webinar software we considered the following criteria, among others:
Integrated registration management
Participants shouldn’t have to install software
Ease of use
Once you’ve made your choice, run some tests, ideally with your colleagues. This way you can get used to the interface and also view how things look from the perspective of a participant. You’ll also be able to spot potential problems, for example, a pixelated image due to a weak internet connection. You’ll want to run your tests well in advance of the webinar so that you’ll have time to contact the support team for the program or switch to another tool in case there are any issues.
What does your desktop on your screen look like during a webinar? The content that you want to show during a webinar should ideally be presented on a separate monitor. Don’t have a second monitor? Many modern TVs can also be used as a second monitor. Move the chat window, your presenter view in PowerPoint and the materials that you want to show to your other monitor so that the participants aren’t distracted by them. To make sure the participants can hear you clearly without distracting audio feedback, a headset microphone is often the best choice.
You’re not the only one who should check that the tech is working – your participants should as well. Take a look at your webinar software provider’s support webpage to see if you can find a link participants can use to check that they meet the technical requirements. Send this link to participants after they register and possibly also one day before the webinar with tips for solving common issues. Especially if you’re holding a webinar with a company, the IT department may need to change some Firewall settings.
In our webinars we’ve decided that participants can only communicate with us over the chat. This makes it easier to avoid distracting background noise, and you then also have the chance to better integrate questions into the flow of the webinar. It also means that participants don’t need a microphone.
On the day of the webinar, it’s especially important that everything runs smoothly. For that reason, make sure to install any PC updates two days – not two hours – before a webinar. Updates can sometimes last multiple hours and then your PC can’t be used for your webinar. Check the settings on your computer so that Windows updates don’t automatically re-start your PC during the webinar. Also make sure to test your microphone and your camera, if you will be using it.
Shortly before your webinar starts, make sure to eliminate all distractions. Disable your VPN connection if you’re using one, turn off synchronization services that run in the background, such as OneDrive, and close your email program and all other programs that send push notifications.
What expectations does your audience have for your webinar? It can be helpful to participate in webinars yourself and see what and how you want to learn when you take part. Concentrate less on the content but rather on the form of the webinar. What did you like? What didn’t you like? Do you want to add interactive rounds of questions to your own webinars? Or do you find them distracting and want to avoid them? Regardless of which solution you choose, inform your participants. For example, I let participants know at the time of registration that there won’t be any practice exercises during the webinar. Then the participants know that they don’t already need to have Citavi installed to take part. And that it’s also not necessary to follow along and perform the same clicks in the program. And that they don’t need to take notes, since there’s a recording.
At the beginning of the webinar try to address any unasked questions, for example, whether participants can ask questions during the webinar or if the question round will be at the end. Make sure to specify that you won’t be able to answer highly specific or technical questions only of interest to the one participant. Doing so can take a lot of time and bore the other participants. Let the participants know how they can contact you with these types of questions after the webinar so that you can take a look in detail later on. Also let participants know if you plan to run an online test at the end of the webinar.
As you’re likely aware from your own experience, participants generally feel more comfortable in an online training session if the objectives are clear at the beginning and they can orient themselves.
In addition to addressing questions about the structure and format of the webinar, make sure to ask your participants about what they want to learn. I use a special form during the registration to get to know my participants better. I ask closed questions, such as “How often have you already used Citavi?“ with a few different choices participants can select.
This information is helpful because if you have a group of beginners, you will likely need to go into more details about the basics than if you are presenting to those who have already used the software often. Let your participants know the background of the other participants, too. Even just knowing approximately how many other people are taking part can be interesting to participants. Another important number is the length of the webinar. For comprehensive introductory training webinars, we typically present for 90 minutes. At the end, you can then offer a question round.
What content do we share in our Citavi webinars? We try to make sure to cover the questions that participants send us when registering. Otherwise, in our standard training webinars, we begin by showing a completed paper in Word with a bibliography that was created automatically, with a detailed outline, and with properly cited figures and direct quotations. This makes it clear at the beginning what value Citavi has for the participants. After that we show the steps to reach this goal. We demonstrate how to import sources, search for additional sources, plan tasks, create a category system, take notes, excerpt quotations, and use the Word Add-In.
Make sure to have a plan B in case of emergency
Murphy’s law unfortunately never fails to occur when it’s least convenient. Things will go wrong. Suddenly your mouse no longer works, your child runs into the room screaming, your webinar software isn’t starting, etc. It’s fully normal that in such situations you’ll first feel a bit of panic. After you get past the first moment of shock, let your participants know what’s going on (as long as you can still communicate with them over the software). Let the participants know that they should take a few minutes to think of questions. That way you can try to fix the issue without feeling stressed.
To quickly gain control of the situation again, make sure to have a backup solution in place for emergencies. If you’re working with a cordless mouse or keyboard, make sure you have replacement batteries on your desk. If you’re using a mouse with a cable and it no longer works, unplug it and try a different USB port. If a blue screen causes everything to shut down, restart your computer and reenter the webinar. Most participants will have patience and wait for you to return. Letting a colleague know about your webinar is one of the best backup plans. In an emergency they can assist you by writing the participants in the chat or quickly setting up a connection to another webinar program.
The worst that can happen during a webinar is that you might need to reschedule it. So, try to relax.
Even though participants can’t see you (if you’re not using a webcam) they can still tell if you’re enthusiastic or not. If you smile during your webinar, your participants will be able to hear the difference in your voice.
To make sure that your participants also have fun and are able to follow you, make sure to move the mouse slowly and deliberately from click to click. To make it more visible, you can display a circle behind it (check the mouse settings on your PC). Share your thought process with your participants and explain each click. Every now and then, summarize the steps you took and the content you just showed.
Before the webinar it can help to think about why you are giving it: in the case of Citavi, you likely want to help your students with their writing projects. If you keep this goal in mind during your webinar, it will come across to the participants and any small technical issues won’t matter as much. You should see your focus reflected in the feedback of the participants, too. Of course, they’ll likely also have suggestions for you, which you can use to improve future webinars.
I hope these tips will be helpful as you plan for and hold your own online presentations. If you’re anything like me, I think you’ll soon find that the more often you hold webinars, the more you will enjoy them.
Do you have any tips for Citavi software instructors? Have you had other experiences during webinars that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the Citavi instructor network, in the comments on the Facebook post for this blog post or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.