A webinar, or web seminar, is a web-based conference-style presentation you can watch on your computer. Webinars usually consist of either live video, a slideshow presentation, or desktop sharing (or a combination of the three), along with live audio, and are streamed to you utilizing web conferencing software. Initially, due to limitations in web conferencing applications, webinars were generally one-way, with a presenter or presenters talking to an audience with little interaction. More recently, however, many conference software suites have evolved to include social media components, such as chat rooms, instant messaging, polls, Twitter integration, or even the ability to give live responses via audio or video.
Why Attend Webinars?
There are a number of reasons to seek out and attend webinars:
1. No Travel Required - Unlike attending traditional conferences, you can participate in webinars right from your desk or home office. That means they are a lot more cost effective (no planes, hotels, or meals necessary), and they're more convenient.
2. They're Interactive - Webinars are often interactive, meaning you can participate by chatting with other attendees or giving live feedback to presenters. That makes them a great way to learn about new things from and with your peers.
3. Easier to Bail - Attending a conference in a far off place can be a very expensive proposition, which means that if the conference turns out to be a clunker it is difficult to bail. Leaving means wasting a lot of money, and you may have to sit around waiting for your scheduled flight out anyway. Leaving a bad webinar, on the other hand, is as easy as closing a window.
4. They're Archived - Many webinars are archived, meaning you can rewatch them at a later date. Unlike conferences, if you miss something in your notes while attending a webinar that's being archived, you can just review it again later.
How to Find Webinars
Many people just sit back and wait to be invited to webinars, but if you're proactive about it, you can actually seek out good webinars to attend.
Webinar Central maintains a great calendar of webinars that can be filtered by tag or category.
Another good place to find webinars is Event Span, which is a directory of online events. They also have a great list of recorded events so you can catch up on webinars you may have missed.
The 3 Geeks and a Law Blog recommends using Twitter to find webinars by searching using the following string: (webinar OR webcast) (today OR tomorrow) http. Adding 'http' to the search generally ensures you're finding results linking to webinars, rather than just people talking about webinars. You can modify the search to add in keywords for your industry or remove the qualifier for people who might be talking about webinars coming up today or tomorrow (though people often use Twitter to broadcast updates close to the event).
Along the same lines, you can use Google Blogsearch to find webinars. Just search for the term "webinar" along with industry keywords, and restrict the results to the past week or day.
Finally, event directories like Upcoming and Eventbrite can also be used to locate webinars. Just remember not to limit yourself by searching within a specific location (which is the default behavior for both sites).
Things to Remember
Webinars are a great way to learn new things without having to leave the office or spend a lot of money, but there are a few things you should remember to do in order to make sure your webinar experience goes off without a hitch.
1. Check System Requirements - Since webinars require the use of your computer, make sure you meet the system requirements for webinar software to run. Also, if you're connecting from work, it might be wise to make sure the domain hosting the webinar isn't blocked.
2. Download Necessary Software - Some webinars are completely web-based, but others require you to download software or browser plugins. Make sure you have all the appropriate software installed so you're not scrambling to get up and running while the webinar is already starting.
3. Phone or PC Audio? - Some webinars stream their audio over the PC, but others require you to dial-in via telephone for the audio. Find out which option the webinar you're planning to attend uses and plan accordingly.