webinar
How to host webinars that work during COVID-19.

Bhekisisa just wrapped up its first online event, which was presented in partnership with the South African Health Technologies Advocacy Coalition. Here are a few things we learned along the way about reaching our readers during the coronavirus lockdown. 

The ‘new normal’ as part of the COVID-19 epidemic means moving events online. Our first webinar was stressful but also extremely rewarding. Missed it? You can watch it here.

Here are five lessons we’ll carry into our next webinars. We’re hoping they’ll work for you too.

1. Tap into the kindness of others

When in doubt, ask, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the kindness of others. 

Let’s face it, organisations are not always willing to share how they do things, but we found that this was not the case when it came to online events. Knowing nothing about organising a webinar, we asked a lot of questions and found organisations eager to share their experiences. 

One was the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington, D.C. They asked our Mia Malan to be a speaker at one of their webinars, so we asked them how it was done. They answered all our questions on security and shared some tips on their journey from newbie to old hand.

Don’t have your own Zoom platform yet? We didn’t, so we borrowed one – from the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) – who very kindly let us use their Zoom and their IT technicians to make sure that our webinar went off without a hitch.

2. Try not to get porn-bombed

Joining the Zoom community meant doing our homework to guard against hijackers porn-bombing our first webinar. 

We sent emails to ICFJ, did countless Google searches, and had conversations with Caprisa’s IT technicians to make sure adequate security was in place.  

Here are some of our top tips: Use the waiting room function and manually add people to the meeting to make sure you know who is coming in. Also, avoid sharing your meeting’s Zoom link, even if it means getting quite a few emails asking for it.

3. Focus on what you have, and make that work

We had initially anticipated a modest response to our first webinar. But a great line-up of speakers and a supportive community of readers meant what we thought would be 300 registrations turned out to be more than 1 400.

We had to make provisions for more people to attend. So we leveraged what we had at our disposal — our YouTube channel

Making use of YouTube’s live streaming function meant more people could take part in the conversation. Pricey tech didn’t have to exclude people from learning and engaging with our speakers. 

So, make sure to look at what you have at your disposal already. How can you make it work for you and your audience? Maybe Facebook, YouTube or Instagram live stream can meet your needs. Perhaps a live chat on Twitter or through Whatsapp is feasible. 

4. Prioritise your audience

The audience and their concerns were the cornerstones of our webinar. We wanted to make sure that the online event answered our readers’ COVID-19 questions.

We turned to a tool we already had available to us — Google Forms. Using this tool as part of our RSVP strategy meant our audience could ask their questions beforehand, and these informed the first half of our webinar. We read through the submissions, categorising them by themes. Malan formed her questions on these themes. The second half of the webinar was dedicated to questions coming in as the webinar was happening live. 

From beginning to end, our webinar prioritised our audience.

5. Be a gracious host and mind your manners

We followed our webinar with thank-you emails to everyone who had RSVPed. 

We included links to the recorded webinar video, presentation slides and a great round-up of the webinar’s key takeaways, timeously penned by our deputy editor, Laura López González.

Going the extra mile for your readers matters. A small gesture, such as this follow-up email with resources, creates value for your readers. 

This is also an excellent time to hear back from your audience: What do they want to see more of? Which questions are they thinking of? How can the format of your webinar be better designed for the audience’s needs? Good manners help you answer these questions and more.