Online seminar

An online seminar is a short online conference session in which several speakers provide input on a pre-defined topic, interact with each other guided by a moderator, and engage with the audience through a short Q&A session.

Area of application

The area of application for online seminars is broad. A typical example of an online seminar is an exchange of experiences and know-how between representatives of different countries or different sectors on a specific topic. Online seminars can have an informative or an awareness-raising purpose. An online seminar can be a single event or a part of a larger online seminar series.

The target group for seminars can vary depending on the topic and the project. It is possible to reach a large audience as in terms of organization additional participants typically do not require any further effort (unless breakout groups are foreseen) and the interaction is not affected. Online seminars can be conducted with many participants (a hundred or even more) if the technical aspects allow it. Furthermore, the online seminar could be recorded and made available on PTB’s Youtube channel, Moodle or project homepages, thus reaching an even larger audience. Often online seminars are relatively short, not very technical and open to a very high number of participants. Therefore, additional people can be reached who normally do not participate in the project activities.

The number of input providers might vary depending on the length of the online seminar. Inputs should last 10-15 minutes, which allows for three to five speakers in case of a 60-90 min online seminar. Experience shows that shorter online seminars are more likely to attract participants’ interest to register and keep their interest during the online seminar.


 One person is needed to moderate the online seminar and guide the audience through the different presentations and the Q&A session. Most direct interaction (communication and participation) occurs between the moderator and the speakers, whereas interaction with the audience is limited to the Q&A session and an occasional use of a chat or live polling tools, if appropriate.

To better tailor the content of the event and interact with the audience, relevant information (e.g. professional background, opinions, experiences, etc.) might be gathered before the event as part of the registration process or during the event by using the chat function or poll tools. In addition to longer Q&A sessions, short interaction with the audience (e.g. via poll tools or chat) are suited to get and keep them engaged.

At the end of the online seminar, the moderator can give the opportunity to the audience to ask questions, either by speaking directly (“raise hand”), or by writing in a chat or a Q&A tool. A time-saving and fun way to assess what has been captured by the audience is to set up a quiz to be answered after the presentations. Selected representatives of participant groups might be invited to the speakers room to provide feedback.

If more interaction is needed, the online seminar could be followed by a workshop session with separate breakout groups or participants might be invited to a group chat or an informal meeting.
Generally, no follow-up communication is required. However, the organizers could share the presentations with the audience before or after the event (see asynchronous working). It might also be helpful to draft a written Q&A document and to share it with the participants.

Virtual mode

The advantage of online seminars is that they can be opened up to a larger audience and reach people in remote areas. The disadvantage is that it is more challenging to keep the attention of the audience. Data protection issues have to be kept in mind, e.g. when using poll tools or recording the event.

In an online seminar, fewer results can be achieved than in an offline event. Therefore, the organiser should concentrate on central issues. Additional content can be shifted to the preparation and follow-up phases, e.g. via links to materials or email exchange.



Generally speaking, online seminars always follow the same method: a series of presentations by several speakers. In order to avoid large variations in length and depth across speakers, the organizers could prepare presentation templates in order to standardize the inputs. Another option is to structure the seminar as a panel discussion, for example by proposing guiding questions for the inputs by the speakers or as a so called fishbowl event by inviting representatives of participants to the speakers’ room.


Time management is key for conducting successful online seminars. The seminar should start and end on time since most participants include their participation in their regular working schedules.

Maximum 15 minutes presentation per speaker. The overall online seminar should not exceed two hours. For longer seminars, it is recommended to include comfort breaks in between.

Speakers should turn on their cameras, if possible.

If possible, the organising team could collect all the different presentations and merge them into one document as a backup, in case speakers have issues with sharing their screens.

Right before the online seminar a technical check with all presenters is recommended to see whether they can present and use of the screen-sharing function. In addition, the moderator should check at the beginning of the presentation, if the speaker can be well understood by the audience.

It is recommended to designate a person who is responsible for technical aspects of the facilitation (e.g. the project assistant), such as helping participants who have access problems or answering questions in the chat. Especially with bigger groups, enough time needs to be planned for analysing chat comments.

A backup communication channel (for structuring questions from the chat, time management, observations) for the organizing team is recommended.

For additional tips, see Avoiding Technical Difficulties.




A preparation time of a few weeks is needed in order to develop the concept of the online seminar, identify and invite speakers, disseminate information about the online seminar and give the audience an opportunity to register for the event. In case external experts are engaged, more preparation time needs to be planned. The experts’ inputs should be coordinated with the organizer andr among the experts.

In terms of communication with the audience, a reminder could be sent out one or two days before the online seminar.



The budget for organizing an online seminar is comparatively low. Compensation for certain key participants (facilitator, input providers) might need to be budgeted. Depending on the topic, speakers might be technical experts from a project’s partner institutions, in which case there is no need to hire external experts.

If purchasing a new online tool or interpretation is required, the budget increases accordingly.



Online seminars can be conducted with a variety of videoconferencing applications that have at least a screen-sharing function. Useful additional features are a chat and a “raise your hand” function.

In order to engage with the audience at the beginning or the end of the online seminar one could include a survey, live polling or a Q&A round. These could be integrated, for instance, in Adobe Connect or conducted with external survey tools, which can also be used for documentation. 



provide input for the online seminar; they might be external experts or from a partner institution.

are in charge of the logistics before, during and after the event.  Most of these tasks could be covered by the project team (PC, PA, iKZE). Prior to the event, the project assistant could manage the registration process, send out the online seminar link as well as instructions regarding the videoconferencing tool, and technically facilitate the event. During the event, the project team could also monitor the chat and maintain backup communication.


Suzana Lange
Lukas Kleiner

Contact us
© Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt