Looking at Seminars Now and Then

In the early 1990s, cell phones were the size of bricks, MacBooks were called PowerBooks (and you couldn't have a color screen unless you decided you didn't need a need a new car and could spend that money on a souped-up monitor instead), and a gathering of a wide range of participants was called a seminar. The Internet existed, but communication was limited over the web, with dialup connections being way too slow for anything but chat and e-mail.

Sometime between then and now, the World Wide Web and the seminar got together, giving birth to the webinar. This funny-sounding name for an online meeting is a gathering without borders, and one that doesn't care about time zones either. There's an air of freedom when you can reach an audience that doesn't need to physically occupy the same place. Forget about geography because it no longer applies when you're holding your meeting over the Internet (although having participants log in from North Korea is still dicey). And the best part is that there's no waiting for planes, trains, or automobiles.

But while it's easy-peasy for the participant, for the person running the show, putting a webinar together takes as much planning — if not more — than holding a meeting in a public space. Of course, you don't need to worry about snacks and refreshments. And even with the extra work, minus the carafes of coffee and a couple of dozen doughnuts, it's still a better way to hold a presentation.

Take a look back and see how things have changed to the better when it comes to getting your message across to a potentially global audience of viewers, thanks to the webinar.

Finding a place to call your own (for at least an hour)

Reaching out to a wide audience in the early 1990s meant securing a room large enough to fit your potential attendees. Even when you booked the big room at the local Ramada, you were limited to how many people to invite thanks to the narrow geographic range. The webinar not only saves on paying for a physical space to hold the meeting, but also cuts the expenses incurred for participation (either yours or theirs). In addition, anyone anywhere can join in without leaving wherever they happen to be sitting, as long as they have Internet access.

Doing it yourself, or not

Twenty years ago, it was hard to organize a meeting for ten people by yourself, let alone a bigger gathering. The virtual confines of the webinar now make it manageable to do it yourself, if that's your thing. Can you do it yourself? You know, dial into the system, get in front of your webcam, and hit the record button? Or do you require a full-service provider that provides much more support and fewer worries? It's like choosing between staying at a roadside motel for the night and eating pizza as opposed to checking into a luxury hotel and ordering lobster and a bottle of Chablis. It's all a matter of balancing your needs and budget. Most of all, it's about choice.

Getting a free sample

In the days of putting on a seminar by securing a space in a hotel room, the closest you came to understanding the venue was asking the manager to let you look inside the room. But with webinar providers, you can often take a trial run and hold a real webcast while doing it. Lots of full-service webinar providers let you try their service for a limited time, usually 30 days. Of course, you're limited to the number of participants you can host and a trial run usually doesn't include some of the more sophisticated features.

No more asking, "What did he say?"

Live performances are great, but sometimes you can miss what the speaker said. If that happened in the banquet room at that Best Western by the airport, you either missed it completely or had to bother the guy next to you to tell you what eluded you. Not so with the webinar. Many have on-demand viewing, which is the webcast equivalent to those new release movies your cable company offers, except without the fee. With on-demand viewing of the webinar, you can go back to see what you missed or watch the entire presentation again to let it soak in.

Empowering your message through PowerPoint

If you were having a really big presentation back in the day, chances are that either the company or the meeting planners reached out to a production house to create the information graphics. Information graphics back then had maybe a picture and a few words on them. And before each one was made, an art department had to make an actual mockup for photographing on the high-end copy camera called a Forox. Even text slides required this treatment, which ended up being very expensive.

Cut to today, where the producer, presenter, or your ten-year old niece could make high-quality information graphics using Microsoft PowerPoint. You can easily add pictures, video, graphics, and sound, meaning last-minute changes take only a few seconds.

Capturing your webinar on video

To express yourself on video in the early 1990s, you had to buy one of those spiffy new Hi-8 camcorders that boasted a spectacular 400x300 image resolution, and they were around 2,000 bucks. Even though the file size was a far cry from the 1920x1080 resolution of a high definition camcorder, you couldn't think of putting the video on your computer because processors were not fast enough for playback, even at that skimpy range. Today, you can broadcast yourself over the Internet in HD using your tablet or smartphone. People watching your webinar on the other end can view on their web-enabled device as easily as they can on their desktop computer.

Using social media

In 1992, the closest thing to social media on the Internet was CompuServe. It was the first consumer online service, but was not user friendly enough to reach more than a handful of computer nerds. Instead, alerting your potential audience required sending direct-mail announcements or advertising in the trade papers. Nowadays, you can invite your audience via e-mail and inform them in real-time using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In turn, they can communicate with you and with each other before, during, and after the presentation.

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