What is a Webinar?
Think about a webinar as a way to attend a conference without leaving home. Using your computer and telephone, you can hear a presentation (like a conference call) and also see the presenter's slides (watching over an internet connection). You won't be able to see the presenter or the moderator, or others attending the program -- and they won't be able to see you. (A plus if you want to attend in your pajamas!)
For most webinars you need to register ahead of time in order to reserve your space and obtain instructions for how to join the program on the scheduled day and time. Keep the email confirmation handy because you'll need the information it provides at the time of the program. The registration form might request some basic information about you, and give you the opportunity to answer some questions to help the presenters prepare for the needs and expectations of the audience.
Just before the scheduled time of the presentation, sign on to the URL specified for the webinar in the confirmation email you receive. You'll have to download some software to your computer, so make sure your security firewall settings allow for this (especially if you have Vista). This software gives you the ability to see the presenters' slides on your computer, plus any highlighting or drawing he/she might do during the presentation. In most cases, before the program begins you'll also dial in to a conference call line using the telephone and passcode number provided for that particular program. You'll probably hear music or silence until the program begins. Some people have told me that it is easier to hear the audio using headphones.
Different types of webinar software offer different features, but on most you can type questions for the presenter and sometimes ask questions or make comments by telephone. You might be asked to respond (during the program) to polling questions; if so, you'll see the responses of other participants, too.
If your internet access is not very fast (dial-up), you can still listen (like a conference call) to the audio presentation by calling the telephone number. In most cases, you'll be charged regular rates for the time you're on the phone. If you have a cell phone with an ample (or unlimited) usage plan, consider using it so that you don't incur expense for the telephone call.
Some people now have the option of VoIP (voice over internet protocol), which allows you to hear the audio program over your computer's internet connection, without dialing in by phone at the same time. This is more likely available on newer computers or in corporate settings than it is with older home computers. If you don't know for sure that you have VoIP, it's probably best to plan to use both your computer and the telephone to access the webinar.
Trying out new forms of technology like webinars can feel somewhat intimidating. We think so too! But the cost of providing programming like this is quite inexpensive compared to planning a "live" seminar with a meeting facility, travel costs, etc., as well as the energy expenditure required for participants to attend. We'd encourage you to give a webinar a try!