Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Librarian’s Guide to Webcast Wrangling, by Nikki Dettmar

"Cat Sat on Computer" is a Creative Commons licensed, Flickr picture by dougwoods.

You’ve already mastered The Seven Rules Of Avoiding Poutreach covered in John’s excellent guest post?  How about in online outreach and education, such as webcasts, where communication cues from your target audience are hard to come by?

Librarians don’t actually do webcasts as part of their jobs and only attend them for professional development, you say?

I started hosting (leading the technology of) and/or presenting (leading the content delivery of) a regular webcast series within months of starting my first library job in May 2008. To date in 2012 I am still doing webcasts at the same place and they haven’t fired me, so apparently something’s going well with them.

With the increase of both embedded librarianship and online education, especially in academia, chances are good you will be asked about presenting on a webcast at some point in your career. I am intentionally not covering specific webcast technology platforms in this post since they are changing as rapidly as chat reference tools (Meebo widget anyone?).

Here are some tips to help you not just prepare for but enjoy giving a webcast presentation:

Be SUCCES(s)ful – I highly recommend reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, where both great marketing ideas and the elements of SUCCES(s) are covered. Briefly, SUCCES(s) for webcasts translates to Simple (focus on a core message), Unexpected (get your audience’s attention and hold it! Example: try colorful Creative Commons licensed images for slides that enhance your ideas instead of 7 rows of bullet points and screenshots), Concrete (one memorable concept/idea per slide), Credible (you know the information resources you’re discussing are awesome – your inherent professionalism through solid content and delivery will convince your audience they are too), Emotional (think of your audience as individuals to connect with instead of a faceless crowd), and Stories (find ways to personalize, people always remember stories better than statistics).

Keys of Content - Write down the main and supporting concepts of what you want to say but not every.single.word. Your audience can hear the difference between reading from a script and presenting information that you are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about. Using acronyms is fine after you first explain what they mean, ideally with both the full meaning & acronym written on your presentation slide, but jargon should be avoided since it tends to confuse rather than help people better understand what you have to say. Practice your presentation a few times but avoid the temptation to be ‘perfect’ – be yourself!  

Elements of Audio – Do you have chorus, drama, speech & debate, Toastmasters, or college DJ experience? The vocal delivery tips you’ve learned there are helpful to keep in mind when speaking in general, but especially on a webcast where the audience is reliant upon your voice for context and meaning. Having a vocal tone somewhere between the expressive emotion of motherese (AWWW! WHO is SUCH a caYUTE LITtle bayBEE?!) and the clarity of a dry staff meeting presentation (During the third quarter our reference questions increased by 15%) is just about right. Do some expert vocal research – “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio is well experienced in clearly delivering memorable news and information to commuters who may not yet be properly caffeinated.

Silence Disinterest – One of the most common mistakes webcast presenters make is either being nervous about audience silence and commenting about it, or assuming that a lack of verbal comments means the audience isn’t interested. Nothing could be further from the truth – the audience wouldn’t log in if they didn’t want to hear what you had to say, and they may not have a microphone available to use on their headset. Most webcast platforms have personal status icons (like ‘thumbs up’) that can be used in response to a yes/no question and multiple-choice polls. Try a question near the start of your webcast with clear directions on how to use these tools, and provide immediate feedback based on the audience response (i.e. “I see most of us have used PubMed before but there are also quite a few who haven’t. Thank you for participating and I’ll make sure to keep this in mind as I explain how to search”). Towards the end is an ideal time for a poll based on your content, which naturally leads to time for questions & answers as a conclusion.

For other librarians who present webcasts, what tips and strategies have you found helpful while developing or giving them? Please comment below and thanks for sharing!

Nikki Dettmar is the Education and Assessment Coordinator at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Northwest Region and @eagledawg on Twitter. When she’s not trying to keep up with her family, she encourages participation in Thursday evening Twitter chats about medical librarian topics ( and has a personal blog at


  1. We've done a few of these at my library through Adobe Connect. While it's still new, we've found it really helpful to have two people do the webcasting: one to do the presentation and the other to keep track of the chat box, share links, let the presenter know when there are questions, etc. It allows the presenter to focus on the content without having to worry about the technical details as much.

    It may be easier to do this with other software or once you have more experience though.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jess! I totally agree that tag-team presenting with a colleague on a webcast or having someone else keep an eye on things while you present solo is ideal. I did both hosting and presenting on a webcast in May and even after 4 years of this it was a little nerve-wracking for me. :)