Thinking of facilitating a webinar?

image source: John Allan

If you are considering leading a webinar in the near future, I have some suggestions that might make your experience a little more enjoyable.  I was on the TESL Ontario Social Media Committee and became interested in the idea of running a webinar as the team matured and the range of session titles expanded.  I have to admit that I thought it would be a walk in the park as I have facilitated online workshops, meetings, courses and presentations before. However, the experience surprised me, as webinar facilitation involved additional features that required attention.

The first step was to attend some online webinars. You can lurk with the first few, but you should be an active participant to try out the features that the webinar tools offer.  It is always a good practice to use technology as a client before moving into development.

I was impressed by the focus and professional structure of the Tutela and TESL Ontario sessions.  Actually, I was a little intimidated.  Now, just a few years later and I am preparing my ninth webinar for the TESL community. I think I have a handle on webinar facilitation, but I am not so confident that I ignore my preparation routine.

Recently, a colleague was asking me if she should try presenting a webinar.  After this discussion, I realized that there are many things to consider in preparation for a webinar session from the presenter’s perspective.  Behind the scenes, there is a team of dedicated volunteers who ensure that the technology, logistics and moderating of the events are as seamless as possible.  Without this team, the TESL Ontario webinar session would not have the same quality as our membership currently experiences.

The following tips are provided for your consideration if you are thinking about presenting a webinar to our community in the future. I hope they are helpful if you embark on your own webinar.

 Topic selection

The topic should be something that you know very well and have intimate experience with.  It can be something you have been doing for years or a recently acquired skill, idea, or practice that you want to champion.  Just be sure that you have a solid understanding of your topic and are able to provide answers on the fly for questions related to teaching and learning.  I have found that doing an in-house face-to-face workshop first reveals potential questions, concerns and issues.

As well, choose a topic that is relevant to the target community. It is a good idea to check through the Tutela and TESL Ontario webinar archives to determine if the topic has recently been presented as a webinar.

 Your moderator

TESL Ontario and Tutela assign a moderator to assist you with your webinar. Moderators are the most significant element to your session running smoothly.  The following points are suggested to help you build a good working relationship with your webinar moderator.

  • listen to and consider the moderator’s expertise
  • do a complete run through of your session with the moderator if it is your first time
  • do not be afraid to ask the moderator for their opinions on details of your webinar
  • set predefined roles for you and your moderator, examples:
    • the moderator monitors the chat window for questions
    • the session leader (you) controls the polls during the session

 Your preparation

Thorough preparation is important for leading any professional development event.  I am listing a few items that may not be obvious, but I have found were necessary to successful sessions.

  • do the run through in the same place and equipment that you will run the actual webinar
  • practice using specific tools in Big Blue Button, examples:
    • the pointer and draw tools
    • chat window
    • poll
    • using feedback emoticons
    • web camera
  • have the telephone dial in number on speed dial, just in case your computer audio fails
  • prepare poll prompts and session questions on a text document as copying and pasting is much faster and accurate than trying to type during the session
  • prepare hyperlink texts on a Word document so you can paste them into the chat window if the participants cannot use your presentation link due to a technical incompatibility
  • prepare a script for each page/slide of your presentation if you feel a little nervous
  • prepare possible explanations for items you feel will require additional explanation in text that you can paste into the Chat window
  • be aware of ambient noises such as appliances, air conditioners, street traffic, family members and create strategies to prevent these from interfering at webinar time
  • ensure that your personal image on the webcam is acceptable, examples:
    • webcam background is not distracting
    • adjust the room lighting
    • comb your hair 🙂

The day of the webinar

Thirty minutes before the session, your moderator will meet you at the Big Blue Button in Tutela to start the countdown to your webinar.  At this time, you can complete any fine-tuning testing of webinar functions such as a microphone check.  I recommend that an hour before the webinar starts these final following tasks should be considered.

  • reboot your computer
  • close all non-essential software or websites
  • open relevant web examples in browser tabs
  • greet participants as they arrive using your voice (not the chat window) to save session time
  • avoid getting into chat window discussions leading up to the session
  • relax, don’t panic if the technology is not cooperating, your moderator and his/her team are there to support you

I am sure that this is not a comprehensive list, but I think it might be useful for those who want to give webinars a try. Oh, one more thing, don’t be afraid to have participants link out to a resource or an activity during your session. They can hear you on their systems even though they are not watching the webinar.  I have found it is better for the guests to link out on their own and interact with the video or interactive resource and return at their own pace rather than having the presenter lead them through a demonstration.

I hope this is useful to the TESL Community.  If you have any tips or ticks to add please feel free to comment below.

Hi—I'm John Allan. I am an educator who works in the technology enhanced language learning field. I create online learning opportunities and mentor instructors on the Avenue project. I have experience teaching ESL and EFL in Canada and the Middle East. I hold an MSC in Computer Assisted Language learning, a M.Ed. in Distance Education, TESL B. Ed., a B.Ed. (OCT), and a variety of TESL relevant certifications from TESL Canada, TESL Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education. For more articles, learning objects, projects and blog links see


7 thoughts on “Thinking of facilitating a webinar?”

  1. Yet again, John, you’ve volunteered your time to share your tips with other presenters. I’ve volunteered on the TESL Ontario webinar team for over two years now. Although I’ve learned many things in that time, I learned even more by reading this post. I think it should be a must-read for all presenters, even those with previous experience.

  2. Francine, I am hoping that folks will write in and say, “What about …. ” The we could make a quick checklist for webinar presenters. I have got to figure out how to change global time-zones so I don’t have to start these things in the middle of the night. 🙂 I am glad that the post can be referred to as a guide to help others in the future.

  3. This is very timely. John Sivell and I have just agreed to facilitate a webinar. We will return here a few times to read and take notes. Thank you for this! K

    1. Kelly you and Dr. Sivell are both very welcome. John has been a great help to me for a long time. I am happy to share back! 🙂

  4. John, I appreciate your post and how you’ve highlighted the importance and expertise of the webinar moderators. Great checklist for future presenters.

  5. This article helped me to consider the careful planning that occurs for facilitating and/or attending webinars. Thanks John.

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