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My First Webinar

What do you need to train people over the Internet?
Vladimír Záhradník
June 23rd, 2020 · 9 min read

At the beginning of May, we chose new management in our speakers club, Toastmasters Košice. I didn’t run for the position anymore because I wanted to focus on other things. However, the question before me was how to train my successor, Roman, as effectively as possible.

When I was the newcomer a year ago, my predecessor Janka explained my work basics in about an hour. However, it took me several months to gain the necessary experience and knowledge for my work. And I want to pass them on so that my successor does not have to learn from his own mistakes. And so that a change of leadership does not cause a decrease in the club’s quality.

I don’t want to bore you with details, and therefore, I’ll only briefly mention the basics. We use a tool called easy-Speak to manage club meetings and schedules. The future vice-president for education must master that tool. Over the past year, I’ve become so versed in it that I’m already helping solve other clubs’ problems.

I knew I’d have to explain to Roman how to work with it efficiently. But at the same time, it occurred to me that I could record this meeting and do a webinar. If I do it right, Roman will get a video that he can watch again as needed. But that’s not all: this video may also be used by other Slovak clubs that solve the same problem as me — training their successors. Leadership in clubs changes at least once a year, and I don’t think a little automation will hurt. So far, the existing leader has always had to sit down with the new one and explain. From now on, he will do the same, except he can first send a link to the video and then answer the questions, if any.

Where to start?

Organizing a webinar is a daunting task, especially if you haven’t done anything like it in the past. But there’s no need to fear. Just divide the task into smaller parts. I started by setting a deadline. I opened the webinar to all those interested in the club, and I had a vote on which date would suit them. I favored the date that was of the greatest interest. But also, it had to be a time when my successor was available. He alone was a mandatory participant in this webinar. A tool called Doodle worked for me to vote on the deadline. The basic version is completely free, and you don’t need to register.

A webinar is an online event in which an instructor explains a topic. Although he can interact with the audience, most of the time, only he talks.

You can also describe the event you are organizing directly in Doodle. I set out there a brief list of what I plan to take over. At the same time, I invited participants to think about what they would like to know in advance. I left the vote open for about four days and then closed it. I also informed the participants about the date by a separate e-mail. At the same time, I created an event in the calendar, which I continuously updated. The guests were, therefore, kept informed.

Which video platform to use?

I set the deadline for June 18 and set aside an hour and a half for the webinar. So I had about a week to prepare. The second problem I had to solve is which video platform to use.

If you are organizing a webinar, you have several options:

  • You can stream video to platforms like YouTube or Facebook. Guests can ask questions in the comments below the video.
  • You can set up a video call where participants can join and ask questions directly.
  • A combination of both approaches. Some of the participants are connected to the video call. The rest are watching the stream on YouTube and Facebook.

I opted for the second approach. I targeted the webinar for a smaller number of people, especially from our club. It’s better when they can ask me questions directly.

I recently watched another webinar, and the creators used a web service called StreamYard. It’s simple; people can connect via a web link and stream to YouTube and Facebook. And most importantly, the image is sharp. However, I decided not to pay for this software just for one webinar. It’s not worth it.

In the end, I chose Zoom as the video platform. We use it regularly in the club during our online meetings. Members got used to it and know how to use it. However, we share the Zoom account with several clubs, and I needed to book a date. Fortunately, no one else had a meeting scheduled at the time.

Zoom has the advantage that you can broadcast live in the premium version, and simultaneously, the video is archived. However, I decided to save the video locally on my computer to edit it (for example, trim the beginning) before publishing.

If I didn’t have Zoom available, I would probably use Jitsi Meet. People don’t need to register to do it, and it can stream to YouTube, which solves the archiving of the video. Another alternative is Google Meet, which is now available for free. Although it can’t record video in the free version, you can do it differently in the case of a webinar. I’ll tell you later how. Google Meet is a proven platform, and it’s guaranteed to work properly with a large number of participants. However, everyone needs to have a Google Account.

How to record a sharp image?

You can also do a webinar directly in Zoom. I recommend utilizing the option of sharing space. The image is displayed to the participants in full screen, and they can see it sharply enough. However, if you are technically proficient or want to achieve an even better result, I recommend you try a software called OBS. It is used by various YouTubers to live stream their gameplay. However, it will also serve well for a webinar. Compared to Zoom, it has many more options. Often you can place the image from your camera in the corner of the screen, and the rest of the virtual desktop will be filled, for example, with a PowerPoint presentation.

OBS
OBS with virtual desktop

In my case, I presented easy-Speak, which is a software running in a browser. I didn’t want my face to cover important parts of the app, so I turned off the camera. I only had the microphone on.

OBS software is very versatile, and above all, it is free. However, it also has its limits. Suppose the resolution of your desktop is higher than the resolution of the virtual desktop in OBS. In that case, you need to reduce the window. It is also possible that OBS applies filters that reduce the image. And that will blur the image. I got the best results when the OBS virtual desktop had the same resolution as my monitor. However, it was a resolution of 3440x1440. At such a high resolution, it isn’t easy to ensure a stable stream, and at the same time, it is not a standard 16:9 aspect ratio. So I recommend working with a desktop in full HD resolution (1920x1080), which provides balanced image quality. It is sharp enough, takes up less space than 4K video, and is also suitable for live broadcasts.

OBS and ZOOM

Both tools serve a slightly different purpose. OBS is primarily a tool for recording images from various sources, which you customize on the virtual desktop and categorize into scenes. It can record a video to a local file and stream it, but it cannot provide a video conference. It wasn’t designed for that.

In contrast, Zoom handles video conferencing perfectly. And to take advantage of OBS and at the same time provide an image for video call participants, I used an OBS plugin called Virtualcam (available for Windows only). It creates a virtual camera in Windows that transfers the virtual desktop from OBS to Zoom as if it were input from a regular webcam.

Preparation before the meeting

I thought about the detailed agenda throughout the week before the meeting. Although an hour and a half may seem like a lot of time, over the years, I’ve learned that you have to reckon with not having enough time to go through everything. I chose about four areas of easy-Speak that I want to present and sorted them according to importance.

The most important thing is to explain how the meeting and agenda are planned. That had to be explained at all costs. To make the most of my time, I was prepared for such a variant that I would cover all the topics earlier and prepare other areas to explain to my successor.

About an hour before the webinar, I started technical preparation. I set up OBS. I added a browser window to its virtual desktop, in which an easy-Speak page was opened.

Selection of the browser window in OBS
Selection of the browser window in OBS

OBS allows you to record video to a local file in much higher quality than Zoom. The video is minimally edited before being saved to disk. It does not undergo such significant compression as a video call over the Internet. I tested various settings.

I observed whether the image was smooth and played with the parameters. The test video captured audio from my microphone as well as desktop audio. So if I have Zoom open, the voices of the participants will be recorded as well. But mine will be in a much higher quality. I simulated the participants by playing music through Spotify, and I talked through it. The result worked as intended. I was simultaneously able to adjust the volume of my microphone and participants independently.

About 15 minutes before the meeting, I joined Zoom. It was necessary to play around with the settings a bit, but in the end, the image was visible well enough in Zoom as well. However, it was out of focus, which is why I enlarged the website to 150% in the browser. It greatly helped the readability in Zoom.

The output from OBS in Zoom through VirtualCam
The output from OBS in Zoom via VirtualCam

How the webinar went

In addition to me, two members of the club joined the webinar. I waited a few more minutes and started presenting. Guests saw the video slightly blurred. However, it was sharp enough to understand what I was explaining. At the same time, however, I also recorded the video locally in much higher quality, and the video was already beautifully sharp. I had a recording in Zoom as well, but only as a backup. I already had the webinar agenda sorted in my head. If you are explaining a more complex topic, feel free to write out your agenda. You can also assign a time window to individual points, so you don’t spend too much time on one thing and miss the rest.

I started with the most important topic, planning a meeting. I explained it for about 45 minutes and stopped once in a while. I asked the participants if they had any questions about the part. I also watched my time. If the webinar is to last an hour and a half, it is necessary to stick to it. As it turned out, I planned it almost exactly down to a minute. The entire webinar lasted an hour and 37 minutes. However, a discussion at the end is also included in the time. Not all questions were about easy-Speak, but they were still related to the topic.

Despite the preparation, however, I underestimated one thing: pop-ups. You can hardly find them on today’s modern websites, but unfortunately, easy-Speak has them. I shared a specific browser window, but the OBS no longer noticed the pop-up window. So the audience didn’t see everything I explained.

Unless technical issues during the webinar are serious, don’t waste time with them.

I didn’t notice it at first, later I did and described what I saw. Despite the efforts, the preparation did not include everything. But it’s all about practice. In my second webinar, I will be prepared.

Editing a recorded video

After the webinar, I stopped recording in OBS. The resulting video looked great. Before publishing on YouTube, I made only one edit to it. I removed about 17 minutes of non-related discussion before the webinar began.

On that day, our member Mirka watched it and, of course, noticed that the pop-up windows were invisible. However, she said that the content could be understood without them; it just looked funny. I considered editing this video and adding an illustrative screenshot to where the pop-ups should have been displayed. However, since this is not an error that would hinder understanding the material, I have decided not to edit the video. However, my original is archived, and I will be able to make edits later. If I so decide.

Overall, I recommend archiving your videos in raw form. You never know if you’ll need to edit any part in a few months. Although the video takes up disk space, it is worth having the option of editing later.

Sharing with other clubs

I uploaded the edited video to YouTube as an unlisted video. Some easy-Speak screens show sensitive data from our members, and I don’t want the video to spread out of control. The last thing I would want is having to take down the video because it violated GDPR.

easy-Speak webinar (in Slovak)

I also shared the video outside our club with the leaders from other Slovak Toastmasters clubs. They enthusiastically accepted my initiative. One of them even told me that I should get a medal for my work. I’m glad that I could contribute a little to the more effective training of new leaders, and I believe that the video will be actively watched.

Conclusion

Considering that this was my first webinar, where I was not a participant but an instructor, I am satisfied with the result, despite some minor mistakes. I’m already preparing for the next one, which I’ll have in a week and where I’ll explain other things that the club leader needs to know. Toastmasters is truly a playground where you can try almost anything. And I am grateful for this opportunity.

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