June 29, 2020

Whose webinar is it anyway?

A behind the scenes look into yet another organisation's journey to hosting the 'perfect' webinar.

4 min read
Scene: Monday morning team meeting of a mid-sized nonprofit. On video call.

The employees are gloomily remembering the times when they could hide in the back of the conference room during their Monday meetings. They’re not sure if the half hour of extra sleep they get now compensates for the video Zoom’ing in on their faces, first thing in the morning.

Senior management asks for options to drive engagement with key stakeholders.

Middle management has been jamming down on the little ‘raise your hand’ icon for the last eleven minutes. “We have an idea,” they announce. “We should do a webinar.”


The communications (or comms) team groans, but softly. They’re not fully awake yet.

Senior management is enthused. Yes, a webinar. Everyone has a webinar these days. Their board members have been one upping each other about how many webinars they’ve been invited to speak at, for three months now. This can truly drive engagement with the elusive followers on social media. “Can we make it go viral?” they ask.

All eyes turn to comms. They have switched their video off.

A committee is formed to decide the subject of the webinar (remit: something unique).

Related article: 12 reasons I missed your webinar

Scene: Wednesday evening committee meeting. On video call.

Middle management is chairing the meeting, oblivious to the lack of enthusiasm. They have come prepared with suggestions on topics that can ‘enable a scintillating discussion’ and ‘attract a vast audience’. True leaders lead, they have told themselves.

The leading candidates for the webinar topic are ‘How to spot opportunity when the world is burning’ and ‘Six new frameworks to build organisational resilience when frameworks from other webinars have failed’.

After a short meeting, senior management decides to go with: ‘You are only as good as your team: A discussion around how to strengthen middle management’.

Scene: Friday midday webinar committee meeting. On video call.

Options for panellists are being discussed and debated. Someone points out that they need to ensure they have at least one person who is not male. They can’t repeat the mistake they made with the gender conference last year. They settle on a female programme head from the organisation to moderate.

A shortlist of panellists has been created and vetted. An invite is sent to an important official in the government (any department will do—a board member has a contact through a friend of a friend).

The date will be decided based on the official confirming their attendance.

a skeleton closing its ears_webinar_nonprofit humour_public domain pictures

Picture courtesy: Public Domain Pictures

Scene: Monday morning committee meeting post the Monday morning meeting. On video call with the video turned off.

The official is available at 7 PM India time on the Friday of next week. It is a time that works for everyone without any problems.

Invites are drafted and sent for the other panellists.

Scene: Thursday morning committee meeting. On conference call.

There is a state of panic since the first-choice panellists have all committed to attend other webinars at the same time. In one case, they have been triple booked (“I’ll just keep muting myself when it’s time to speak on the other webinar”).

It’s hard coming up with choices for other panellists to take their place. If they’re not booked as panellists on these other webinars already, are they worth inviting in the first place?

The comms team has to redo all the social media creatives. The middle management has asked them to ‘create buzz’ and ‘add more hashtags’.

Scene: Saturday noon committee meeting. On WhatsApp audio call.

Third-choice panellists have accepted (too quickly—almost like they were waiting for the invite to come in) and briefing calls have been set up.

Invites to attendees have been sent out. Comms has trialled a new mailer system linking up to ‘the cloud’. The consultants who developed the CRM are unreachable for support.

They manage to send the emails but get the time wrong. They send a correction email.

Related article: Building a resilient organisation—Avengers style

Scene: Thursday pre-webinar trial run. On video call.

No one is quite sure how the video thing works.

They have received 26 RSVPs. “We promised the board hundreds of unique engagements,” senior management says gloomily.

The webinar is tomorrow.

Scene: Friday—the day of the webinar. On video call.

The official has logged in half an hour late and their video has failed to start. Other panellists have made many awkward jokes about bureaucratic red tape.

Middle management has sent four messages in the chat box, asking people to type in their questions for the panellists. They have received two questions and one “Hi, this is Shubham.”

The panellists have all steadfastly ignored the moderator’s pointers about what to focus on, and have run over their time limits. There is no time to answer the two questions, because senior management decides to give closing remarks.

The discussion has been hailed as path-breaking and innovative and enlightening by each of the panellists, the moderator, and senior management. They have all already drafted their post-webinar updates for LinkedIn.

The organisation has received 13 new followers on social media.

There are seven tweets with the hashtags #opportunitynotcalamity and #paradigmsforpandemics, all of them by the organization’s staff.

Scene: Monday morning team meeting. On the chat box at the side.

The webinar has been proclaimed a success by senior management.

Comms has taken a leave of absence.

Middle management has been tasked with planning a series of webinars.

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Karan Malik

Karan Malik is Head of Programmes-India, British Asian Trust. Previously, he worked with the Social Impact and Development Practice at Boston Consulting Group. Prior to that, he worked on issues relating to maternal and child health and adolescent girl empowerment at Dasra. Karan has also worked with PRS Legislative Research and the Singapore Economic Development Board. He has a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University, where he focused on International Development.