Webinars Work When Participants Participate

Participation Is a Webinar Must

I was facilitating a webinar the other day, and I got a great review from one of the corporate university trainers--whom incidently I DID NOT KNOW was in the class!! I had no clue I was being audited. Here's the email he sent:

I took the How to Release Stress webinar this morning. It was an excellent class! The facilitator and presenter were great. Everything went smoothly. People participated! I did not identify myself as a corporate trainer just a Joe Schmo employee, Herb D.

I remembered the participant. He was first to join the webinar. I welcomed him, and we chatted. I asked him if he had attended webinars before. He said yes. Then, I asked,

What makes a webinar work from your persepctive?

He immediately said,

Participation!! If people are just writing comments in chat, they go by too quickly for me to read!

Actively Engage Participation Beyond Chat

As other's joined the webinar BEFORE the actual start time, I actively set about engaging them too. It got me thinking about webinar participation. It seems there is unspoken webinar ettiquette that makes people go schtum (go silent)! And I get it. It would be terrible if everyone was speaking on top of each other, or rambling on too long. But that's why we have facilitators!!  It's our job to keep things on track, interesting and relevant.

So, unless they are encouraged to talk, participants write their comments into chat. But like Herb said, "Chat flies by so fast, it's hard to read."

People Learn By Shared Experience

By the comments on our webinar evals, what works best is when people talk. And this is done by engaging them right at the very beginning. Those first 15 minutes when people join the webinar, BEFORE it has actually started are the MOST IMPORTANT part of the webinar. This is where people decide to: A) engage and be involved, B) multi-task with the webinar running as interesting background noise, or C) turn down the volume and make phone calls.

When I focus on welcoming the participants, asking where they are located, joking about the Chicago weather (where our offices are located), asking about their expectations and goals for the webinar--it sets the tone for entire webinar. Now I know who will talk to me, and more importantly who will not. I know their goals and objectives.

Participation Connects Virtuals

Now people don't feel so vulnerable as they sit in their corporate cube, or home office listening to the webinar. By fully participating they learn more about the topic than even I can share. For example, when one mother shared that,

I have two young children, and a husband that works a lot of overtime--it's overwhelming! Sometimes I can't wait to get to work--but then I feel guilty and worried about what's happening at home!

Or when the new supervisor said,

I've been working at this location for 6 years, but I am new at being a supervisor--it's overwhelming putting out fires and dealing with problems.

Or the lady who told us,

I look after my sick mother, and my husband is out of work; it gets really tough.

Webinars Need Conversation or People Dry Out

Now, I can relate all the skills and tools about how to manage the stress to their actual situations. We're not just talking about hypothetical stress, or made-up scenarios. Yes, these all good training tools, but they don't come close to the actual stress that people are facing. So my friend, webinars are great training tools; and although they are not face-to-face, they are still about people connecting with people--it's called conversation--and it really works!

About the Author

Sarah’s latest book published by McGraw-Hill is titled Business Improv. It includes 75 activities on all aspect of business from Leadership skills to Emotional Intelligence. Sarah’s Business Improvisation based approach to learning has transformed work environments, changed lives and moved organisations forward. Her experience with the challenges leaders face allows her to help develop strategies and implementation plans that transform leaders into storytellers that move people to action. Her work with front line employees helps them communicate in a way that builds trust and collaboration. Sarah has taught Business Leadership to Executive MBA students at UCLA Anderson School of Management, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, Columbia University and the American University Cairo.

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