The Webinar Question

20 February, 2009

I’ve sat in on a bunch of webinars lately, generally they get some slides on the screen and conduct a kind of interview. User interaction is tpically limited to the occasional poll or the ability to ask a question using the chat window. I don’t ever find these overly useful, sometimes you get some good tips and tid-bits that prove to be helpful, but they never really hit the mark as a learning experiance.

So yesterday I had my first chance to run a webinar of my own. Admitedly it was only with 6 participants and they were all staff but it was nice to try the technology out, and see if I could go close to making a webinar as good as a training session.

In short, it wasn’t as good. But it wasn’t too bad either. There are a few things that I reckon are worth keeping in mind if you are about in embark upon training via webainar.

Open the webinar client 1.5 – 2hrs before the session, just leave it open. We use Elluminate internally which I used last week so I was pretty confident that it would open straight away. It turns out I used Elluminate 9 last week and I was using Elluminate 8 yesterday. Elluminate 9 is installed on the PC and works fine but Elluminate 8 wouldn’t work. That meant 20 mins before the session I was forced to change computers and use my 12″ iBook that has a broken VGA out port. In the end it worked ok and I was very glad I logged in a long way ahead of the start of the session.

Have two screens, it might be that I don’t know how to use the tool properly but it is really helpful to have one screen showing what you are sharing (PPT, Applications etc) and one screen for you notes and the ‘preview’ window that shows you what the participants can see. This is vital for two reasons, it means you don’t ask “can you see x” every five mins it also will alert you if your connection drops (as mine did a couple of times).

Run through your session a couple of times to make sure it flows and you know what you are jumping to next. The rules here are the same as face to face training. Think ‘the 5 P’s’  – Perfect Preperation Prevents Pretty (there is another word that can fit in there but we shouldn’t use it in polite company! :-)) Poor Performance.

Use the tool A LOT before you run your first real session, know what every button on the screen does. It will make running the session much simpler.

Be interactive, (I didn’t do a good job of this one) conducting a poll at the beginning of the session is not being interactive, unless the speaker is incredibly compelling people will tune out.

There are too many distractions,  people will have your webinar open in one window, then in others have a combination of email, twitter, facebook, RSS reader, their favourite news paper, YouTube a, a half written report etc. You are competing against all of that stuff for their attention so don’t ever think that your dulcet tones and your funky powerpoint will be enough to keep them focused.

Finally if you don’t have too many people, encourage questions. If a participant misses something and feels they can’t ask a question they are far more likely to close the window and give up.

Many of the techniques used in running successful face to face training sessions can be applied in a webinar, the difference is getting it right much more important. There are very few people  that will get up and walk out in the middle of a face to face session but if you’re online people will close the window.


5 Responses to “The Webinar Question”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Mick
    I’ve always been a little leery of Webinars, guess I see so many people wanting to rush in and (once again) treat it like a mass market tool and to my mind that is where Webinars possibly fall down sometimes; the end user experience.

    I know you guys have had success with SL seminars, have you used any tools like Sight Speed to do small scale visual training sessions? If so how did you find that compared to standard Webinar?

  2. zaana Says:

    Hi Mick,
    Really interesting post – particularly as I am preparing a presentation to deliver via elluminate in two weeks.

    In my limited Webinar experience I certainly find the distractions overwhelming – even if I am keenly interested in the topic. Just wondering if you have any suggestions/ examples of good interactivity in webinars and any other methods for sustaining engagement?

  3. Mick Leyden Says:

    @Paul – I had not heard of Sight Speed till your comment (when of course I googled it!), We’ve not done much with Video conferencing externally, tho we do use formal meeting room style video conferences a fair bit inside the firewall.

    @Zaana – In fact I do have some ideas, I thought I actually included this link in the post but it seems I might have lost it when my connection dropped out for a minute and I didn’t put it back. Check out this post. You can skip the first few paragraphs.

  4. Some great points there, Mick. I’ve used Webex in the past and all your tips are relevant to that platform too – especially the two screens aspect.

    Technicals aside, good facilitation is also key, but it’s not always that easy when all you’re faced with is slides on a screen. From feedback from actual presenters it can also be quite a strange thing actually giving a presentation over webinar.

    We once ran won a Q&A style webinar, with the interviewer and interviewee in the same room, and me monitoring questions and asking them on behalf the audience. That worked exceptionally well and there were well over 200 people on the line.

    Truthfully, a webinar -even a small one – is a lot for one person to manage, so perhaps my only tip is to see how you might be able to get another pair of hands on deck when you’re doing it.

  5. Btw, apologies for all the typos above – written quite hastily and not with any review till it was too late 😉

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