The rate of webinars and business travel seem inversely related. As webinars continue to grow in popularity, business travel inevitably declines, says Prasun Dewan, a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


Webinars, web-based seminars or virtual conferences, allow a group of business people who may not be in the same location to assemble for interactive, audio-visual communication.


Knowing how to do a webinar includes deciding whether you want to share pictures, web sites, Power Point presentations, spreadsheets or other computer documents.


Webinars can also be recorded for those who missed the assembly, to be rebroadcast or marketed online.


The primary benefit of this type of conferencing is it reduces the need for and cost of travel and related expenses. Companies previously sent employees money to attend an event, says Dewan, who worked with a few major web conferencing companies. “Now they send a link.” The meeting location: a web URL, he says in a phone interview.


The key to a successful webinar is planning, practice, promotion and creativity, according to various online webinar and Internet marketing sites.


Here are seven basic concepts to master when learning how to do a webinar:


1.  Choose a webinar format. Some webinars merely show what appears on the presenter’s screen. Others capture live video, say of any audience in the room, which can be seen remotely, Dewan explains.


“Video is a hot marketing item among web conferencing providers now,” Ken Molay, a webinar consultant, says in a phone interview. He cautions presenters to be careful, though, when considering this feature.


Video requires more bandwidth and setup, and the audience has to have a higher speed connection, Molay says. Presenters need to prepare differently for appearing on camera. They should plan to maintain continuous eye contact, ensure proper room lighting and avoid visual distractions such as windows to public areas or other workers.


2. Know what equipment you’ll need. Generally that means a computer, Internet access, webcam, speakers or headset, and a microphone.


Have a fail-safe backup plan, Molay advises. By setting up several communication systems such as two computers, multiple audio-conferencing providers, a telephone and good-quality USB-connected computer, you are prepared in case one method crashes, he says.


“Have a hard copy of your slides. If your Internet connection is lost, you can still present and your moderator or assistant can move the slides forward for the audience.”


Never use a speakerphone or cell phone to deliver your presentation, Molay says in a “Best Practices for Webinars” white paper he shared with MNN. “Speakerphones pick up extraneous noises such as rustling papers or squeaking chairs. Cell phones are prone to audio dropouts, fuzzy sound, loss of battery power, and inconsistent volume levels.”


Dewan says he prefers telephone communication to using a microphone. “You have to pay separately for the phone, but companies don’t think twice about the money.”


Otherwise you’re held hostage to your voice-over technology, he says.  “I never rely on the visual. To me, I think faces matter very little.”


3.   Decide on a free or paid provider. Free software typically is limited to a few participants and doesn’t offer advanced features such as recording. “You get what you pay for essentially,” Dewan says.


The most popular paid web service providers are Webex and Microsoft Live Meeting, he contends. Businesses can choose to pay for a monthly or yearly subscription for unlimited use of a virtual web conference “room.” A pay-per-use or fixed per-person per- minute rate are other options if you’re only doing a one-time webinar, according to Molay’s blog,


4.  Attract attention. “A great webinar is wasted if nobody is there to see it,” Molay states in his white paper. With advertisements, announcements or email invitations, the goal is to drive an audience to complete a simple registration form, he writes.


Follow up with a confirmation email that includes instructions for attending and an attached electronic appointment application. You can also solicit questions for the presenter, and later, send out a reminder message.


5.  Prepare an interesting presentation. The majority of webinars depend on Power Point slides and voice, Molay says. “You should make your voice bigger and more energetic because it has to do the work of facial expressions and body language.”


He suggests in his white paper breaking up key points into individual slides with graphics, animations and annotated features that “pull your audience’s focus to the screen” and maintain their attention. Plan to keep the webinar to 40 minutes of speaking time with about 15 minutes for a question and answer session. 


6. Make sure you practice. “There is no substitute for rehearsal time,” Molay’s white paper says. “An audience can easily distinguish between a presenter who is confident, unrushed, an unflustered and one who struggles with phrasing and pacing.” 


He recommends practicing the entire presentation aloud at least once as if speaking to an audience to better judge your timing. “The more times you give your presentation before the audience hears it, the better you will sound on event day,” he says in his blog. 


If you have several presenters, plan group rehearsals that familiarizes participants with the technical aspects, the web conferencing console and how they will interact with the audience, he blogs.


Schedule enough time for test runs, to arrive and log in early and start on time 


7. Record for later viewing or marketing potential. Dewan uses a recording feature for his computer classes. Those who missed the class or want to review the presented material can do so when it’s convenient. They are provided a link to the recording, which is stored in the server.


Have other tips for how to do a webinar? Leave us a note in the comments below.