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What skills do we need to be great webinar facilitators? Obviously there is a need for basic to intermediate knowledge of a webinar platform. Then, we need the ability to do basic troubleshooting when things don’t work well. While this part is mostly learned from experience and intimidating to many, these skills are rather easy to acquire. Moreover, they do not make the huge difference for which they are credited. Really…Instead, I believe there is a set of other critical skills—much harder to learn and less linear in their development—that great webinar hosts demonstrate in their work online.

One set can be grouped under the category of meeting/event planning skills. No matter what anyone thinks, a webinar is first and foremost a meeting. As such its success or failure depends on the clarity of its purpose and its ability to deliver the intended outcome. The meeting/event planning group of abilities includes many other skills that apply equally to-face-to-face facilitation. They include agenda planning (the ability to match a purpose with an activity that achieves the learning objective), and pre-meeting communication (the ability to craft an invitation that communicates the spirit of the session while encouraging participation), and logistics.

Another set of skills is a mix of listening/platform skills and emotional intelligence— the ability to “feel” your audience online. This requires the use of a variety of self-management strategies to reduce the personal stress and stage fright associated with public speaking. It also requires the ability to convey warmth and exhibit a welcoming attitude. Here, the use of reflective listening and feedback encourages group involvement, clarifies and expands upon trainee contributions, guides the discussion direction, and enhances participants’ understanding of the content.

A great webinar facilitator knows strategies that keep the group focused, on task, and within established time frames while remaining responsive to group needs and concerns through his trained intuition and sensibility. Here, the use of the voice becomes a critical cue for the webinar facilitator’s presence: whether for soliciting feedback, asking a question, or pausing for reflection. The platform skills allow the facilitator to vary volume, pace, tone, and inflection to maintain participants’ attention. A good facilitator is also very adept at summarizing and bridging to help preserve continuity when moving between segments of the session.

A third set of skills can be grouped under hosting skills. This is the ability to create a sound, free, safe, enjoyable learning environment. This includes including preparing the virtual training room, greeting and engaging trainees, and attending to the social, emotional and comfort needs of the learners. The exceptional online facilitator recognizes the impact of the training environment in facilitating or impeding learning. She can arrange the training space to promote comfort, interaction, and group development. He can adjust his presentation methods, use of language, and group management style to achieve the optimal level of informality for the group, and to match learners’ level of expertise.

What could you accomplish in your webinars when you master those skills?