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Lessons Learned: Tips for Running Online Seminars in Lockdown

Person sitting through an online seminar

The ongoing pandemic has brought a unique set of challenges for all sectors. We’ve all been trying very hard to stay productive while being quarantined in our homes. 

One silver lining is that the pandemic has forced people to think outside the box, including in regard to how online seminars should be run. 

While most schools and colleges have managed to get by with standard Zoom calls for regular classes, larger-scale events have faced more serious challenges.

Even with the best web host setup to make sure your seminar video streams smoothly, there’s still a big risk of unforeseen issues arising.  

In this post, we explore insights into how online seminars can be run effectively in the times of Corona, and use the Philadelphia Urban Seminar as a model for success.

Virtual seminars are the only option right now

Woman on laptop taking virtual lesson

The pandemic has imposed several restrictions on all aspects of life, and social distancing is now the norm. As an eduprenuer, if you want to hold a seminar – large or small –  going virtual is now your only option.

Providing useful virtual content that resonates with your target audience needs to be approached carefully, but certainly has its advantages.

The ability to scale faster and reach more customers is an obvious perk, which also translates to more revenue. The unique thing here is that while you do get more money, it is more diversified.

This means your earnings are protected, even if your traditional business experiences a downturn.

The other prominent advantage is the ability to streamline and automate your business processes. Shifting over to deliver a more personalized customer experience without the extra effort.

You see, once you shift your content online and make it on-demand, it will become easier for you to set up a sales funnel and promotional campaigns to drive conversion rates up.

But it’s this online delivery that can result in a more effective form of learning. Spaced out content that can be repeated over time prevents information cramming.

The brain isn’t wired to absorb large pieces of information at one go, so on-demand seminars represent the preferable option for participants.

How the Philadelphia Urban Seminar pulled off a successful online switch

When the coronavirus pandemic shut the whole world down, Jeanine Staples, a professor of education and African American studies, along with a team of teaching assistants, had a huge task to grapple with. 

The CI 295D Philadelphia Urban Seminar is a two-week-long course that in normal years runs in Center City Philadelphia during Penn State’s Maymester.

The course aims to familiarize students with the cultures of the city, giving them the opportunity to live as visiting members of the neighborhoods, communities, and schools.

A previous Philadelphia Urban Seminar cohort

At the start of Corona, it became clear that conducting the seminar in its usual format would not be possible.

They were forced to come up with creative ideas to make remote learning a rewarding experience for the students who had enrolled for the course during the spring semester.

Switching to remote learning has been a major challenge for schools and universities since the pandemic hit, and while the planning was hectic, the team was confident that they would be able to deliver a useful learning opportunity. 

Since in-person meetings were out of the question, Staples concentrated on securing virtual placements for the enrolled students.

There were, of course, a series of obstacles too that had to be overcome, which included coordinating the curriculum and risk management, and giving precise instructions to avoid confusion with the new setting. 

Several guest speakers were invited, and online placements were created. Staples and her team created Zoom rooms, where classroom teachers, administrators, community activists, and parents of the Philadelphia School District and Mastery Charter School were asked to speak to students.

Seminar participants listened to guests talk about their personal and professional experiences in the city and advocate for their respective visions of a brighter future and a healthy present.

People who took the course found the overall experience immersive, observing in classrooms and attending virtual meetings three times a day.

The fact that guest speakers took a hands-on approach by sharing videos, giving commentary about their spaces, and taking the effort to research also contributed towards simulating the off-line version of the seminar from before the pandemic.

Staples called the whole transition “a gorgeous miracle“ and was satisfied that despite the online format, they were able to ensure the course remained meaningful and effective for the participants.

Tips to execute a successful online seminar

The following are a few key takeaways that can help you launch a successful online workshop of your own.

1. Figure out requirements beforehand

Determining the right tools and time zones is a must when it comes to conducting online workshops.

If you plan to organize an international workshop, it’ll only work with effective time zone management. A good idea is to create teams with people who are in the same or adjacent time zones. This will facilitate easy collaboration and scheduling.

When thinking about webinar tools, Zoom, Livestorm, WebinarJam, and Demio are all excellent options. Depending on your requirements, you can use them in combination to set up sections for specific exercises and include the necessary materials like examples and templates.

2. Get expert help

If you’re new to the world of online seminars, you should consider hiring an expert in online education. The main idea here is to learn the best practices that can make online seminars more immersive.

An academic pro should know his way around the virtual classroom, ready to review the curriculum, and brainstorm strategies to create more effective content to make the entire process a success.

3. Keep it short, whenever possible

Shorter courses are actually a better option for greater student engagement with the course module, the educator, as well as with each other.

Reducing the duration can also be a helpful tactic to increase the frequency. Having three 2-hour sessions is better than holding two 3-hour sessions over the course of two weeks.

If you feel like you’re cutting too much content in the name of brevity, you can move it to recorded video presentations.

In fact, giving seminar participants the option to have secure, 24/7 access to academic material is useful for them in the long run.

4. Skip the lecture portion

If you want to host a great online seminar, avoid lecturing as much as possible. Alternatively, instead of delivering a live lecture, you can simply record all your lectures and turn them into videos.

Not only will this help promote greater engagement and motivation, but it will also shorten each session.

You can use the extra time for presenting interactive material that prioritizes conversation, question and answer sessions, and other group and team exercises.

5. Use the cloud for recording the webinar

Most on-demand webinars allow you to schedule your webinar and then record it directly to the cloud. Once the webinar has concluded, anyone who has registered receives a link to the recording in the cloud.

The best cloud storage services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox,, make it very easy to store and backup your video and presentation files. 

6. Stike the balance between new content and innovative marketing

Heading down the road of online seminars can be a challenging yet enriching experience. If you have held in-person workshops and events in the past, you just have to focus on developing a revised teaching strategy that is more suited for the online format.

If you monetize your seminars, at the same time, you should focus on generating the right publicity for driving conversions and revenue by getting more people to enroll in your courses.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to make a virtuous cycle that creates opportunities for significant growth for your education business.

Written by

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Martina

Martina is an expert in writing about website building and eCommerce, but her real passion is helping others grow their small business online. From solid branding to punchy marketing strategies, you can count on her for the best growth tricks. In her spare time, Martina loves nothing more than a good scoop of ice-cream and a sweaty match of tennis.

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