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When Webinars are Worse than Communism

The old joke about communism was that as long as the bosses pretended to pay people, the people would pretend to work.  In this sense, too many webinars have become worse than communism because nobody even bothers to pretend!  The attendees spend time “multitasking” (checking their email), not pretending to pay attention.  The presenters lecture and click through slides, not pretending to be concerned about their learners’ experience.

Here are 5 tips to engage webinar learners:

  1. Keep the chat box open

Sometimes webinar facilitators don’t bother to use the chat box to ask participants for input.  Sometimes they simply ignore the chat box.  Sometimes they have set the permissions so that participants cannot type into the chat box or see what others have to say.  While the facilitator may be the expert, the facilitator doesn’t hold a monopoly on all knowledge.  Allowing participants to engage in “side conversations” (as long as they are on topic) can be a way to add value and engagement.

  1. Make use of the white board

The white board is the default screen.  If you don’t load up a single slide, you are left to stare at a white board.  You can also turn your slides into a virtual white board for people to provide their own thoughts.  Posting a question or asking people to type their thoughts or experiences right on the main screen is a way to put the learners’ contributions front and center.

  1. Quizzes and polls

Who doesn’t like to see how they’re answers stack up against a bunch of other people?  I’ve seen many facilitators begin their webinars with a quick poll on job titles or years of experience in order to get a feel for the audience.  But why not continue to ask for responses throughout the webinar?  Why not throw out a trivia question related to the webinar in order to transition and introduce a new topic?

  1. Show of hands

Perhaps the easiest way to get people involved is to ask to see a show of hands.  The “raise hand” button – an icon found under the participant list on every web conference service – is simple to find and simple to use.  Facilitators can break up their lecture by simply finishing this sentence: “How many of you have ever…?” It’s quicker than setting up a poll.  And it is a way to check whether the audience is still paying attention.

  1. Breakout rooms

This is the highest risk feature of web conferencing and I’ve never actually participated in a webinar in which a facilitator has broken us up into breakout rooms.  It requires the facilitator to be comfortable with the web conferencing technology, it requires practice to be sure the technology works and that the facilitator knows how to start and stop breakout rooms, it requires that clear instructions be given to participants and it requires trust that participants will engage in conversation without a facilitator monitoring their every move.  I’ve used this feature in webinars and it leads to enormously high levels of interaction and information sharing among participants.

While this blog focuses mainly on training and development, the same degree of disengagement found in webinars can also be found in web-based staff and team meetings.  Many of the above tips can also be used if you’re using web conferencing software to conduct meetings for a geographically dispersed workforce.

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