Ten More Webinar Gaffes, Clichés, and Pet Peeves

Dave Clark | Aug 9, 2023 | CWC Blog

Angry Man

Back in 2020, I posted an article that featured a collection of ten webinar behaviors that, as a veteran webinar producer, really get under my skin. It was meant to be both a lighthearted venting for myself as well as an amusing overview for my readers of some of the irksome things that webinar hosts and presenters routinely do. I was hoping it would get a chuckle or two as people recognized themselves in some of the ten items on my list. We were in the midst of a pandemic, after all. We all needed a good laugh.

Fast forward about three years and, while the pandemic has ended, webinar blunders and banalities are still with us. In fact, over the last couple of years, I've remembered a few more that weren't included in my original list and I've observed some new ones that are doozies in their own right. Therefore, I've decided to pick up where I left off and highlight ten more webinar gaffes, clichés, and pet peeves. Once again, it will be cathartic for me and, I hope, entertaining for you.

1. The Keyboard Slammers. Boy, quite a lot of webinar presenters apparently feel the need to take out their assorted angers and frustrations on their computer keyboards. I can't count the number of times my ears have been blasted with a SLAM! every time one of these presenters needs to tap a key on their keyboard to advance their slides or do something else. What are these people so agitated about? Maybe it's just a simple case of nerves.

Granted, as a webinar producer, it's my job to listen for anything that might decrease production quality or distract the audience. And the high-quality headset I use tends to pick up audio nuances that the average attendee probably doesn't hear. Still, presenters would do well to remember that their low-budget omnidirectional internal laptop microphones—which they unfortunately often use—capture a lot more than just their speaking voice. If you need to use your keyboard to interact with the webinar interface, try to take it easy. A soft tap will achieve the same results.

2. Dry Run Hijacking. The items on my original top ten list from 2020 were all examples of behaviors that occur during webinars. I'm going to mix it up a bit with this new list and include a few vexing things that occur at other times too. The first one involves webinar dry runs. I posted an article last year about why dry runs are so important. Which is why it really annoys me when someone, however well-intentioned, decides to turn a discussion about webinar technical and logistical details into one about presentation content and development instead.

I have only one opportunity as a webinar producer to meet with presenters and support staff before an event. To ensure a successful and professional webinar, we need to agree on procedure, review the run-of-show, and test the technology. The fate of the webinar literally rests on the successful completion of a technical dry run. It's not my fault that content creators and subject matter experts still aren't yet on the same page even a day or two before the webinar. There's a time and place for everything. Let me facilitate the dry run...and then the rest of you can meet separately to talk about whatever you need to talk about. Otherwise, if we end up needing to extend the duration of my scheduled dry run in order to first cover material it was never intended for, let's just hope everyone can stick around long enough for what it was intended for. And on the bright side, at least I bill by the hour...

3. Fun with Framing. With virtual meetings now the norm rather than the exception, most people have become fairly comfortable with appearing on webcam. Some people have apparently become so comfortable that they forget their camera is even there! As a webinar producer, I make sure my presenters are perfectly framed and centered and that they can see themselves on-screen before we go live. But then, more often than not, the next time I see them they've moved a few feet to one side, or they've sunk down so low in their seat that their mouth is missing, or they've somehow grown a few inches and cropped off the top of their head.

If you're speaking on camera during a webinar, that's not a time to relax! Maintain a good posture, don't move around a lot, and keep your eyes on your self-view. You don't have the luxury of a camera operator to keep you framed and nobody (including yours truly) is going to interrupt you in the middle of your presentation to tell you that half your torso has disappeared or that you're morphing into your virtual background.

4. Video Camera Oblivion. Let's follow up #3 with another video-related faux pas. This one happens much less frequently, but it's so egregious that it deserves its own place in the list. It usually starts when a webinar speaker shows up late to a webinar. This, in itself, is a huge no-no. If the producer tells you to join the event 30 minutes before the official start time, please do. It's for your own benefit. Anyway, sometimes when said speaker shows up after the webinar has already started, having had no pre-show instruction from the producer, they obliviously activate their video camera. That's what they always do when they join an online meeting so why should now be any different?

It's different because this isn't an online meeting. It's a formal, structured, professional webinar event. Moseying on in and turning on your camera is the equivalent of walking up on stage in the middle of someone else's TED Talk. Who would do that? I can think of one particularly notable instance of this happening during a high-profile webinar with a well-known personality. I was able to disable their camera within a few moments, but it was too late to avoid the awkwardness of the not-yet-introduced keynote speaker randomly popping up on screen for no apparent reason.

5. It's About Time. Okay, here's another one that occurs outside of the actual webinar itself. This one really drives me mad. In fact, it's not even exclusive to webinars. I see it all the time for all kinds of events and meetings, both online and in-person. It has to do with the way people indicate what time an event starts in a certain time zone. We've become so conditioned to seeing either "EST" or "EDT" (or the equivalent for Central, Mountain, or Pacific time) we don't even know the difference anymore!

Invariably, I'll see "EST" indicated for a start time when, in fact, we're currently observing Daylight Savings Time. Likewise, I'll see "EDT" indicated for a start time when we're currently using Standard Time. These two denotations are not interchangeable! Of course, this pet peeve of mine almost never causes any harm. When looking at an event invitation we don't even notice that middle letter because, in the moment, it's completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the time zone and the time itself. If you don't understand the difference between Standard Time and Daylight Time, just use two letters. Nobody will show up to your webinar an hour late.

6. I'm Sorry. Most people don't realize that much of what happens during a webinar or virtual event goes unnoticed by the audience. While you, as a presenter, might fret about every little flub or fumble, it's unlikely that such trivial things even register with your attendees. And if that's the case, why point it out to them by apologizing?

We're all human. Everybody makes mistakes. It's perfectly natural. Just because you've put yourself under a microscope doesn't mean your audience has. If you make a mistake, just move on. When you interrupt the flow of your presentation to tell the audience you're sorry about something, you're only undermining your own credibility as a professional and clueing them in on something they probably didn't even notice in the first place.

7. Ghost Slides. When designing event or presentation slides, many people don't seem to consider them in the context of the flow of the actual event or presentation itself. They include slides that initially seem important but that end up being useless. During a webinar, these "ghost" slides appear on screen and then almost immediately disappear again as the host or presenter realizes they serve no purpose whatsoever. The end result is a run-of-show that looks haphazardly designed and a presenter who looks disorganized.

For example, if you have an urge to include a "Disclaimer" slide in your presentation, try to resist it. The same goes for a "Resources" slide. Just because you think a slide belongs in a presentation, doesn't necessarily mean it does. As you're designing your slides, consider what will be said when they appear. If the answer is nothing, or if the slide exists for no other reason than because it's supposed to, then ditch the slide.

8. Standard Isn't Standard. Following on the heels of #7, here's another slide-related boner. I can't believe I still see this so regularly, but some people are still designing their slides using what PowerPoint calls the "Standard" 4:3 size. My first instinct was to blame this on PowerPoint, but I just checked and PowerPoint defaults to the modern 16:9 "Widescreen" aspect ratio when creating a new file (which begs the question as to why PowerPoint still calls the non-default option "Standard").

Anyway, for the same reason that TVs are no longer square boxes, nobody should be designing their presentation slides in 4:3. If your attendees are all viewing your presentation on wide screens, then your presentation slides should be widescreen too.

9. Not a Call. I know I'll be criticized for being overly critical with this one, but I don't care: I'm tired of hearing webinar hosts and speakers referring to a webinar as a "call." As in, "Thanks for joining our call today..." or "If those of you on the call have questions..."

This impulse probably stems from a pre-internet time when companies routinely hosted telephone conference calls to provide stakeholders with news and information. Considered in this light, referring to a webinar as a "call" sounds pretty old-fashioned. Then again, the word "webinar" is becoming a bit stale as well. Fortunately, the hip new term "virtual event," which is a good catch-all for any type of online gathering, is starting to catch on.

10. Attendees Too. For this last one, I'm going to turn the spotlight on the audience. Yes, those of you on the viewing side of a webinar can make my blood pressure rise too! Of course, a webinar audience is limited in what they can do. The software employed for a formal webinar is designed to prevent the audience from causing a disturbance or even taking over an event. But a webinar wouldn't be a webinar unless the audience was allowed at least some level of interaction. This usually means a Q&A feature where they can type in questions for a live Q&A session. And this is where webinar attendees can be a real nuisance.

Most webinar attendees probably don't realize or understand how difficult it is for a webinar moderator to manage audience Q&A. A moderator needs to vet questions for relevancy, parse them for meaning, correct them for typos and bad grammar, and then verbally relay them to the speakers or presenters for answers...all in real time. Imagine trying to do this with an engaged webinar audience of 500, or even 1,000, people. The last thing a moderator needs is for an attendee to clutter up the Q&A module with pointless and irrelevant comments and remarks. There's no need to type in a "Thanks!" after your question has been answered. There's no need to announce that you're running late for your next meeting and need to leave the webinar. For most webinars, nobody but the moderator can see the questions, so there's no point in shouting out "Hello from Des Moines!" The moderator doesn't care who you are or where you're from. The next time you're attending a webinar, please try to remember that there's a real person behind the Q&A that has a really difficult job to do.

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