Using Zoom Webinar to Conduct Secure Virtual Public Outreach, Meetings, and Presentations

With stay-at-home orders in place, people are increasingly turning to online technology to meet virtually. For projects with a requirement to conduct public outreach or with a need to hold public board meetings or presentations, technologies like Zoom are critical. However, swift, widespread adoption of the technology also revealed vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the Zoom Meeting platform for the public presentation format. Fortunately, Zoom’s companion platform Zoom Webinar, crafted specifically for presentation-based uses, renders moot many of the vulnerabilities present on Zoom Meeting, as well as provides many capabilities that actually enhance the online presentation ecosystem.

The main benefits of Zoom Webinar over Zoom Meeting include:

  • Attendees cannot share their screen or video–period–and cannot unmute themselves without being invited to do so by a panelist or host
  • Question and answer sessions are more streamlined with a dedicated Q&A module
  • Hosts can require registration
  • Hosts can view and download rich reports to track registrants, attendees, questions asked, and more

With Zoom Webinar, Zoombombers be gone!

Chief among the complaints of Zoom Meeting users was the tendency for “zoombombers”–think digital streakers across a football field–to enter a public meeting and suddenly share their screen, video, or audio, which often contained explicit or inappropriate content. With Zoom Webinar, attendees cannot share their screen or turn on their video, eliminating the chance of unexpected explicit content.

Further, with Zoom Webinar, attendees do not, by default, have the ability to unmute themselves, though the panelists or hosts may allow them to do so. Attendees may “raise their hand” by clicking the corresponding button. This alerts the speaker(s) that an attendee would like to talk. The speaker then has the option to decide whether to allow that attendee to speak. To enable the attendee to speak, the speaker simply clicks “Allow to talk,” triggering a notification to the attendee that they have the ability to unmute themselves to speak. Once the attendee has finished speaking, the host or panelist can mute them again and disallow them from talking further.

This function provides total control over the flow of conversation, and allows hosts to better organize the meeting by taking questions or comments at predefined points in the presentation without the risk of unexpected interjection, well-meaning or not, in the middle of the speaker’s presentation.

Attendee view on a mobile device.

Questions, answered!

If there’s even a chance that allowing oral questions or comments may risk the stability and decorum of a presentation or meeting, the Zoom Webinar platform has an intuitive and streamlined module for taking and answering questions. Attendees can submit their questions at any time throughout the presentation using a chat-like box, which routes to all panelists and hosts in a pop-out window.

The host of the meeting also has the ability disallow anonymous questions, providing an even greater level of accountability for meeting attendees.

In the Zoom Webinar window, submitted questions first appear in the “Open” tab, then move to the other tabs––Answered and Dismissed––depending on what action has been taken. From the “Open” tab, speakers can review questions and take one of three actions:

  • Answer live
  • Type Answer
  • Dismiss

Answer Live. This flags the question to answer live, with the message “You would like to answer this question live.” If another speaker clicks the “Answer live” button, their name will appear in the message as “John Smith would like to answer this question live,” allowing all speakers to be on the same page and seamlessly transition between answers. Answering a question live is a great option when the answer may be long and complex but relevant to the presentation topic. Answering live is also the best option when you want to ensure that all attendees get the information, since all attendees may not be monitoring the Q&A box for text answers.

Type answer. This drops down a chat box to type the answer. Speakers have the option to answer the question for all attendees to see or to answer privately, so that only the question-asker sees the answer. Using “type answer” is recommended when the question is more logistical or procedural and may interrupt the flow of the presentation to answer live. Whether a question is answered privately or for all to see depends on whether the question is appropriate and relevant for the entire audience to see.

Dismiss. Finally, speakers have the option to simply dismiss a submitted question. Dismissing is the best option for off-topic, inappropriate, or duplicate questions that are similar to one that has already been asked and answered.

Tip: the host can make it so attendees only see questions after they’ve been marked to answer live or answered by typing, further lowering the risk of off-topic or inappropriate questions derailing the presentation.

The Three R’s: Registration, Recording, and Reports

Registration. While it is possible to generate a static “Join” url for a Zoom Webinar, requiring registration is the best way to go to even further secure your meeting, as that generates a unique url for each attendee that can’t be shared. If the registration url is publically circulated, anyone can register, but the webinar host can opt for manual approval of registrants before they receive a link to the meeting. For a more hands-off approach, registrant approval can be automatic.

Registering requires each attendee to provide a name and real email address in order to receive a unique url to access the webinar. Hosts also have the ability to collect additional data from registrants, such as city, state, and zip code, job title and role, organization, etc., as well as any custom questions relevant to your presentation. If follow up or diverse representation is important for your project efforts, this additional data is invaluable.

Recording. If distribution and access are important, hosts can record the webinar presentation for future dissemination. Recordings are automatically transcribed via machine learning, providing even more accessibility, and recordings can be accessed via url or downloaded for placement on a website or other video-sharing platform.

Reports. Depending on what data you collect at registration, Zoom Webinar allows you to generate reports for even more insight. Among others, reports available include:

  • Registration Report. Displays a list of registrants and their registration details, including any custom data you collect
  • Attendee Report. Displays details about each attendee.
  • Q&A Report. Displays questions and answers from the webinar.

How secure is Zoom Webinar, though?

On top of all the more basic controls Zoom Webinar provides to control registrants, attendees, and the flow of information in the meeting, the platform offers security features such as video watermarks, audio signature to prevent unauthorized recordings, content encryption, and more. Further, hosts may password-protect a meeting and the recording of a meeting to limit access and distribution. Zoom has also has numerous safeguards in place to protect information shared on the platform, and they comply with national and international privacy laws, such as including the CCPA and GDPR, and has achieved privacy certifications including SOC 2, FedRAMP, COPPA, FERPA and HIPAA.

Contact us for more information on how our staff can help you improve access to and streamline the running of your public meetings and presentations with Zoom webinar.