Webinars: medium and message

Here's a short survey I just made up: Do you:

  • Attend a webinar?
  • Participate in a webinar i.e. pose or answer a question, or comment?
  • Log into a webinar and do something else while it's going on?
  • Learn from a webinar?

Over the last two weeks I've logged into five webinars and participated in three and attended (i.e. didn't interact with the technology) two. Here's the list – some of them are available to replay:

I've also attended three presentations using Webex or Go-to Meeting, or Lync

  • A session demonstrating some software
  • A presentation about one US state's healthcare system
  • A faculty briefing (I teach on-line) on 'Planning for the Future'

which might qualify as webinars (which I take to be formal informational/learning events) but they feel different. One I participated in but the other two I found myself multitasking i.e. logging in and doing something else.

Additionally, I participated in several operational meetings where people were just sharing a desktop as the meeting proceeded. These definitely do not qualify as webinars but would benefit from some of the disciplines of well run ones. Further, I've proposed a series of seven webinars to a client, and also discussed with a co-facilitator on a different client project the possibility of running action learning sessions via collaborative technologies, not quite webinars but on the same lines. So all reasons why I've got webinars on my mind,

Thinking back on my experience of these various events I've found them immensely variable in quality, content, approach and meeting management. In brief the webinars were much more thought through than the presentations. The webinars were specifically designed, for the most part with clear messaging, for a dispersed audience from a range of organizations. The better ones made use of the interactive functionality of the medium – 'raise your hand', use of the chat facility, voting, etc.

Typically the presentations were being given to people in a room and 'dial-ins' were merely an afterthought. In some of the cases that was a real difficulty – sound quality was poor, there was no invitation or means to participate, people in the room were talking to each other in the room, the presenter only took in-room questions only, etc.

In both cases (webinars and presentations) I've found myself really having to focus on staying 'in the room' as it were. The temptation to randomly check emails, switch into staring out of the window mode, or book travel while listening but not watching is immense. However, I'm schooling myself. I've come across so much recently about how multi-tasking is not possible (the hyperlink is to a great video) that I am forced to recognize that I learn/participate much more if I pay close, undivided attention. In the well run webinars I was able to pay attention better when I felt I was actively being involved in the session – that is, being invited to vote, raise my hand, answer a question in the chat room. Where I was just a listener as in the presentations my attention wandered.

Then in the way that things happen, I got an email from the CIPD on how to run excellent webinars giving some resources to access. 'The (WebEx based) webinars run by The Ken Blanchard Companies (management and leadership, etc) are a good example not so much of dynamic content but slickness in delivery or the brief case studies provided by Cisco of organising delivering great webinars are a useful reference point .'

From this I discovered the Webex University with a wealth of webinar training info, and GoToMeeting has similar but fewer resources.

The CIPD email offered points for webinar presenters, including some that seem obvious but I think were not to some of the presenters I 'met with' in the last two weeks. The points cover four aspects of webinar skills: capability in use of the system (both presenters and participants), delivery of the material, content presentation, and follow up. Below is the list – slightly adapted.

1. Ease of logging in by audience and prompt greeting from host
2. Audience understanding the functionality of the webinar platform before attending the session
3. Where used in the session, put URL links in the text chat window not the slide deck itself to avoid issues of technical problems of opening links within the webinar platform
4. Additional documents (e.g. Word based) already open and minimised at the top of the screen to aid ease of movement by speaker between slides and documents
5. Minimal use of video within sessions to avoid technical issues re bandwidth – effective visual slides can achieve something similar to video
6. Ensure slick use of functionality (polls, whiteboard, text chat, raise hand, audio on/off, etc) within the session precipitated on suitably trained host and speaker and forearmed delegates
1. A well prepared speaker (having done a trial run before the session) able to concentrate on content with host working alongside to 'manage' the session
2. Audience able to contribute over audio (advice given to audience prior to session if they are dialling in from an open plan office)
3. No background noise at the speaker's end/good quality headsets
4. Natural delivery from speaker – not scripted, appropriate use of humour, appropriate use of personal examples/analogies
5. Ensure interactivity (even in speaker led webinars) working to the rule of asking a (engagement) question every 6-10 minutes (see speaker guide re; effective questioning in webinars)
6. Have a good quality headset to ensure the best sound quality for particpants
1. Effective (bio based) introduction of speaker by host at start to demonstrate gravitas/credibility to audience
2. Clear objectives communicated both before the session in joining instructions and reiterated at the start of the session
3. Session well structured and signposted (along the lines of a typical F2F training workshop – 'tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them' what you've told them'
4. Strong visual content to trigger delivery from the speaker and learning from the audience. However, animation within slides kept to a minimum
Follow up
1. At end of session confirm how delegates can obtain a copy of the slides:
2. Follow every webinar up with a short email that:

  • thanks participants for attending
  • reiterates a maximum of three key points from the session
  • provides any URL links provided in the session

I'm hoping I now have all I need to design a great webinar. I'm wondering if I should include designing meetings and learning events as part of the standard toolkit of organization design. What's your view?