Experiences and lessons learned by the Mentaalbewust team in the FireWare studio

01 May 2020

On Wednesday, 22 April the FireWare studio served as the stage for a live webinar by Paul and Jasper Weyling of the Mentaalbewust team (an organisation that focuses on improving mental health awareness). A group of 40 senior staff, who were able to participate interactively by webcam and using the chat function, were taught all about becoming mentally aware in professions that are exposed to trauma. FireWare is proud that we could play a part in this great initiative on the part of Mentaalbewust. And so it was great to receive feedback on both the experiences of and lessons learned from Paul and Jasper's session, experiences and lessons we are pleased to share with you.

Our experiences of the mental health awareness webinar in the FireWare studio

On 22 April we hosted a webinar on mental health awareness in the FireWare studio, with 40 senior staff members of North-Holland North Fire Services participating.

It was a great experience for us to share our knowledge through an alternative channel, and an exceptional one too. We were very impressed with everything that FireWare managed to set up in such a short space of time – the technology used, of course, but what was even more impressive was the enthusiasm, skill and drive of the FireWare staff. They were entirely focused on a single objective while we were there, and that was to broadcast the best possible webinar. It was a great experience and we look forward to more of the same.

This was also the first lesson gleaned: a webinar is not about the instructor and the students, it is about a team effort in which the technical people play a prominent role. To a large degree it is they who determine how the content of your webinar is received by the participants.

Further lessons and experiences include:

  • Preparation – It was a good thing that we arrived early and had the time to get to know the technology and to go through and practice together with the operators. It's not all about simply standing in front of the camera… this is a studio that you make suitable for what you have to tell together with the technician. And that means you must have plenty of time to prepare, rehearse and get to feel at home in the studio before you go live.
  • Instruction – At least 90 percent of your session must be in your head already, including how you intend to present it. This means you won't need notes and you can make proper use of the various camera angles and the monitor. So, you have to consider all the aspects and also communicate them in the studio and make technical arrangements. If you do all that, your presentation will be both fluid and natural.
  • Attributes – A camera is available to film the instructor's desk from above, which turned out to be a fantastic benefit as we could use it to explain information-processing using document trays. This was something that we had previously thought would not work in a webinar. The upshot is that you should never assume anything, but discuss with the technical staff what you want to achieve, so that together you can work out how best to portray it – and try it out before broadcasting.
  • Interaction – We were worried before the webinar how we would be able to function interactively, given that we normally conduct workshops in a fully interactive manner, but that concern turned out to be unfounded. Thanks to proper arrangements, keeping the chat function onscreen and agreeing on how to deal with chat-questions as part of the bigger picture, a great deal of interaction was possible… even with 40 participants!!! That was an incredible experience.
  • Trust – As brothers, we are already very finely attuned, but even before we got in the car to go to the studio we had confidence in the studio and its staff. This resulted in immediate and productive cooperation and that the level of trust increased by the minute. The very big advantage is that, as the instructor, you never once have to think about the technical aspect once the broadcast starts. That's because you can rest assured that it is being handled and you can concentrate in full on what you are saying.
  • Intensive – Hosting a webinar is an intensive experience. The rehearsals, the cooperation, the knowledge that you are live, and the interaction on camera and through the chat function. It is very demanding but also very rewarding. It was undoubtedly also intense as everything was new to us, but it remains a given in our opinion that because it is a truly different approach it requires something different too.
  • Zoom/BigBlueButton - We are accustomed to using Zoom, but after also using BigBlueButton we realised how different the technology was – a much better image, an easier chat function and a very professional look. We'll certainly use it again.
  • 2 instructors – We were the first studio guests to host a webinar as a pair, and we had some doubts in advance, as previously only a single instructor had been used. Ultimately, the result was great, with the exchanges fluid and one of us was able to monitor the chat function while also considering the next chapter to be presented as the other one was lecturing. The approach worked very well for us.
  • Expression – Expressions are a crucial part of our workshop – how the participants respond to what we are saying. Unfortunately it was impossible or at least exceedingly difficult to observe the expressions of the participants, given the small images. This was a disadvantage, but it is a disadvantage that is a part of our subject matter. This will certainly not be the case for many other topics.
  • Talking things over – At the conclusion of a 'normal' workshop there is always the opportunity to talk things over with people who have questions but don't dare to ask them as part of a group, or with those that responded to something or simply require further information. We used the chat function and also the live interaction to give people the opportunity to ask questions after the session, which they did. However, we still felt that the event ended abruptly. What would be great is a 'post-live' room so that the discussion can be continued online.
  • The figure of 40 and the classroom feeling – It was very nerve-racking for us to not be actually standing before a group of people. You know that there are 40 participants but you don’t see or feel their presence. A group of 40 people just becomes a few faces on the monitor in front of you. And so, the figure of 40 at first affected us greatly, and we became increasingly nervous as we counted down to the launch of the webinar. But those nerves disappeared quickly and within about ten minutes we had completely forgotten that we were not in front of a class. A feeling grew that we were facing the group, which was largely thanks to the technical staff and the rehearsals. We could improvise and add to what the other person was saying without arranging to do so in advance, with the technical staff taking our lead and ensuring that everything was properly filmed.

Our final conclusion: it was a great experience that exceeded our expectations and we would love to do more of these webinars, especially in this set-up, as we had a very fun afternoon with the staff of FireWare and the North-Holland North Safety Region.