The brave new world of webinars, podcasts and Zoom

Nothing like a pandemic to shine a light on inequalities.

That’s how I started a blog post five months ago, when we were in full lockdown and the world was unfamiliar and scary. I don’t have to tell you about all the things that have been difficult, painful, stressful, worrying and just plain wrong.

But now, six months later, I come up from being submerged in a sea of strangeness, take a deep breath and look around at this new landscape. I still see things that are difficult, painful, stressful, worrying and just plain wrong. But I can also see something else.

Nothing like a pandemic to make us embrace new ways of connecting.

At long last! I’m writing a happy blog post about something positive!

A few days ago, the PCPLD Network hosted an online webinar. This is a great network of people who are championing the need and the right of people with learning disabilities to live the best and longest possible life, and then to have the best possible care and support at the end of it. I was the chair for a while (a position I’ve just handed over to Gemma Allen).

When the pandemic hit the world, we felt paralysed. Along with everyone else, we cancelled one thing after another.

We closed nominations for the Linda McEnhill Award scheme (we reckoned that the people who usually send us examples of outstanding practice – those working in palliative care services or learning disability services – had better things to do now than write nominations).

And we cancelled our conference, due to be held on 16th September in Cardiff. We were gutted. We had such excellent speakers lined up. Our conferences were our main networking events. If we couldn’t meet, how could we be a network?

PCPLD Network Conference in London (2018)

It seems obvious now that the thing to do is to host a webinar instead, but back in the spring, this felt new and scary. How would it work? Would anyone watch it? But as we had to hold and Annual General Meeting for our 300+ members, which could only really be done via video link, we thought we might as well try and add in a couple of online talks.

We would have expected some 150 people to attend our conference, so who knows, perhaps we could get that many people to attend online? Especially if we made it free, rather than the £100 we’d have to charge for a “real life” conference? (That’s what it would cost for us to break even on venue costs, speaker travel and hotel, delegate lunch etc).

Well, how about this.

Over 1400 people watched our webinar live, with many more catching up on it later.

If you’ve missed it, you can catch up too. Here it is.

The feedback has been so overwhelming. And all I can think now is: How amazing is that! Thousands of people all over the world who are connecting with these issues! Who are interested in finding out more, doing things better, sharing knowledge!

I am also thinking: Wow, this was hard work and lots of preparation, but now we know how to do it, we can do more!

I absolutely love it that this way, we can really communicate and talk to each other. I love it that we can include people in this who would never otherwise have been able to joins us, because conferences are:

  • too expensive
  • too far away
  • too time consuming
  • too intimidating (all these professionals!)

In our webinar, we could include the pre-recorded voices of people with learning disabilities and families, simply by holding a Zoom conversation with them. No-one refused. It’s so much less scary than standing up in front of an audience or speaking live online. (It also means that we could pare their talks down to the core messages, which was so much more impactful.)

Here’s an example of one such pre-recorded Zoom conversation, with my friend Richard. He had told me about a funeral he’d attended online, and how hard that was – so we simply talked about that once more on Zoom, and pressed RECORD. We used part of that clip in this trailer for the webinar:

We showed six such films during the webinar, each lasting just two minutes, and it was immensely impactful to hear the voices of these Speakers with Experience (experience of lockdown, and experience of having a learning disability). It also helped to keep the audience engaged.

I hope that you, too, are discovering the possibilities of this new online world. For what it’s worth, let me share with you what we’ve learned about putting on a successful webinar.

My top tips for webinars

1. Don’t do it alone. Get a team together.

Our team was just brilliant, sharing ideas for content and technical possibilities for months before the webinar. There was the PCPLD conference team of Gemma (our new chair), Louise Jenkins and Sharon Prowse, who brainstormed ideas for content. Anastasiya Stravolemova did all the technical stuff almost single-handedly, from editing videos to making sure the live event went without a hitch. For the live event, she enlisted the help of a colleague – so we had two “producers” behind the scenes, who sent speakers and videos and slides live at the right time. Louise monitored and published the comments that came into the Q&A box, whilst Gemma was busy live-tweeting the event. We had over 600 comments and Twitter went into overdrive, so both could have done with help! All I had to do on the day was sit in front of my computer and talk through my script, trusting the rest of the team to make it all work.

2. Choose your platform – and get to grips with it.

We thought about Zoom and Microsoft Team Meetings, but by now we were watching registrations climb well into triple figures, and most platforms have a limit on the number of attendees (although things are changing and improving all the time). We were incredibly lucky that Kingston University (where I work at the Faculty of Health, Social Care & Education) had just signed up to Microsoft Live Events, and not only agreed that we could use it, but helped us with the technical side (THANK YOU!!). They didn’t now what hit them. This was their biggest online event ever, so it was both interesting and hair raising to test this unfamiliar platform.

We practiced for hours. We tested everything, including the ability of external speakers to come on air. Just as well, as we discovered lots of things that could (and did) go wrong during those rehearsals. I won’t bore you with the details. We were so very happy when it paid off, and it all ran like clockwork on the day.

For recorded interviews with people who are not used to technology (and especially people with learning disabilities), I find Zoom is easiest.

3. Think carefully about your webinar content.

Have sympathy for your audience. It is much more difficult to keep your attention and focus when you’re sitting at a screen. It helps to have lots of variety of voices and things to look at. We were worried about asking Dr Kathryn Mannix to cut her planned one hour talk down to just 15 minutes, but were pleasantly surprised that this was effective. This particular webinar was quite complicated (only 1.5 hours to fit in 7 films, 3 speakers, Q&A and an online song!) and we won’t be able to go to that level of preparation more than once a year, but we’ll definitely think about incorporating several short sessions or speakers in future webinars.

We are planning more webinars!

By popular demand. There will be a monthly lunchtime webinar.

In fact I’ve spent today recording a couple of online conversations. Baroness Ilora Finlay‘s comments about Do Not Resuscitate caused some confusion among the listeners, and really needed more time and explanation. So I talked some more with her today, and also spoke with the mother of a severely disabled daughter about her experiences of being asked by doctors “Would you like us to resuscitate your daughter?”

I am incredibly excited by this brave new online world. How amazing that you can talk to a mother in the Netherlands, then show that conversation to an expert in Wales and get her to comment on it, all on a Sunday afternoon!

Oh, and this week I’m recording my first ever podcast, on “What words do you use when talking about death with people with learning disabilities?” That’s a novel venture for us, and I have no idea how it all works, but will give it a go.

So watch this space. And join us!

PS if you want to be kept up-to-date with all these future events, follow me on Twitter, or better still, become a member of the PCPLD Network. It’s free.