By: Gabrielle Piché
Photo by Christ Montgomery on Unsplash
Erin Ruta has five children. Four of them are under the age of seven. The other is not human — it’s her Edmonton-based sustainable clothing business, PrairieWilds. Normally, Ruta doesn’t have time for workshops and seminars.
“Hopping out to go to a meeting in Toronto or Edmonton or wherever, even going downtown for me is really hard,” she said.
So, Ruta has been taking advantage of the online seminars, or webinars, that have become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she finds them useful — and she thinks they’re here to stay.
“I basically put the computer on the island and… listen to what I can,” she said.
It’s hard to focus on a whole webinar when caring for four kids, but hearing something is better than nothing, Ruta said. She’ll put her computer on speaker mode while making lunch and snacks.
Ruta’s business was just beginning to expand its lady’s clothing sizing when shops shut down in Edmonton.
“Our ability to get market feedback, to adjust our sizing and to promote our label was really hindered,” she said.
Ruta has been listening to webinars where small business owners talk about their pivots during the pandemic.
“Being able to hear from different organizations about pivoting and learning new strategies and stuff is really positive,” she said.
She said she prefers in-person conferences, but online versions are more accessible for her, and she plans to continue attending webinars even as Canada reopens.
Naqsh Kochar, a business advisor at Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, predicts that webinars are here to stay.
“It’s going to return to some kind of a normal where it’s a balance between webinars and in-person type events,” he said.
Kochar has facilitated webinars on rebounding post-COVID-19. He said he’d be up to presenting online more. However, it doesn’t compare to leading a session in person, he said.
“For me, the hardest part about a webinar is the absence of feedback,” he said. “When you’re in front of people, you can read their face… I think, as a presenter, you can tune in very quickly to your audience.”
Using virtual chatrooms and other tools, like polls, can be useful in engaging your audience and getting feedback, Kochar said. But it doesn’t replace being in the room with people, he said.
“They might be listening to you, they might be texting at the same time, they might be doing other things (in webinars).”
Kochar said webinars have made information sharing possible during a time of isolation, and he recommends them to clients.
“Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of all of the knowledge and the learnings, whether it’s in person or whether it’s online,” he said he’d tell entrepreneurs.
Karen Strang has been attending webinars for over four years.
However, she’s just gotten used to using video calling platforms like Zoom. Strang is the founder of Strang Intercultural Solutions, and she’s a professor at Canadore College in Ontario. She had to quickly learn how to teach online for those last five weeks of the winter semester.
“I watched a lot of webinars, just to get up to speed with how to do it,” Strang said.
Now, she plans on creating her own webinar series for international students coming to study in Canada. The webinars will happen in late summer, she said.
Strang said she’ll get instruction from an expert on how to present online.
“You need to practise and record your own (lectures) to review again so that you see yourself,” she said. “You see, ‘What’s the background like? What’s the audio like? How do you manage people coming in late?’ Things like that.”
Strang said she plans on attending webinars even as things reopen. She’ll teach her college courses online in the fall.
“We’ve got to find a new path forward, and I think webinars are a key part of it,” she said.