It’s time to re-think webinars

Technology is improving; travel budgets are shrinking; people’s time is becoming increasingly scarce.

Those three factors are leading more organisations to hold virtual meetings and training sessions, instead, or in complement to, face-to-face meetings and workshops.

Great, right? …right?

I’m not bored at all….!!

Well, maybe not. If you’re like most of us then you’ve experienced terrible webinars and dysfunctional virtual meetings. Let’s face it: many things can make webinars uninspiring, boring and dull.

Most often, it’s when they are treated as a ‘one-way’ communication tool. This is demoralising for everyone involved: the people ‘receiving’ the message get bored and find distractions elsewhere; the person ‘transmitting’ the information gets little feedback from the group and feels isolated and frustrated.

These types of webinars rarely achieve desired outcomes and are often a poor investment of time for all involved.

You may have experienced webinars that do ‘work’

Sometimes we just appreciate that there have been no technical difficulties and that the person running the webinar seems prepared and wants to involve others.

If we raise the bar further, you may have experienced a few webinars that were actually fun, memorable and made a difference to the people involved. With the right kind of planning, it’s perfectly possible to run engaging webinars. It really is!

Webinars are not a direct replacement for in-person workshops or meetings. Rather, they are a tool that can be blended into how a group works together, either through a learning journey or as part of their regular working rhythm.

Done well, they have some of the benefits of in-person sessions: social connection, collaborative working, and learning with and from each other. They combine that with some of the positive things associated with e-learning: eliminating the need for travel and enabling activities to be blended into day to day working.

From a learning perspective, interactive live webinars can achieve outcomes which self-directed e-learning can’t. The social nature of human development means that learning with others is more effective than learning alone. There are specialised neural structures in the human brain for encoding information about agents and their goal-directed actions (the mirror-neuron system). Getting these to ‘fire’ accelerates learning.

The social element becomes even more important when our goal is to change behaviour, rather than just impart knowledge. Significant, lasting changes in behaviour require a change at a deeper level: a shift in beliefs. (Take a look at Dilts & Bateson’s logical levels model for a great explanation of this). Careful planning, a skilled facilitator and a supportive group act as catalysts for this change.

So how can we run webinars and virtual meetings that enable us to do this?

Thinking practically, we need to design our virtual session in four parts.

  1. Think about WHY.  Why should your participants be motivated to engage with this subject?  What are the benefits to them and the consequences if they don’t?
  2. Plan the content of your session – WHAT is the session about?  What are the key pieces of information that need to be understood? What behaviours do we want to change? 
  3. Your session plan should include approximately 50% of your session time on HOW.  This part of the session is for you to facilitate your participants to engage with the content and work out for themselves how it will work for them. 
  4. The final, and vital, part of a facilitated session is getting people to consider SO WHAT?… how will they use what they have learned? This is where what happens in the session is transferred out of the session and into the day-to-day work of the team.

When you’re planning your session…

Plan to move through it at a faster pace than if people were running it ‘in a room’. Quick bursts are more engaging in this environment as people are able to consume this ‘narrower bandwidth’ of content quicker than experiencing the full sensory experience of an in-person meeting or workshop.

Keep the session brief: the longer people sit in front of a screen, the more their body becomes an obstacle to their attention. Time for the science-y bit: heart rates slow, blood pools more in lower parts of the body and oxygenated blood flow to the brain is reduced. That means energy level drops and the amount of information retained is reduced. Make sure your session is no longer than 90 minutes in duration.

Zzzzzzz…!!

You will come across topics, however, that do take longer than 90 minutes to cover. When that’s the case, simply slice the content into logical ‘chunks’, each of which can be covered in a separate session.

The more people we add to a meeting, the more people will benefit, right?

Wrong.

Using a virtual platform for a meeting or training workshop means that it is often tempting to ‘be efficient’ by adding as many people as possible to that webinar.

However, as the number of people participating in the webinar goes up, the opportunity and pressure on individuals to interact and engage with the rest of the group goes down.

Having around 12 people participating is an optimal number: there’s enough people for there to be a diversity of views. There’s also few enough for there to be an ‘intimacy’ in the group and for participants to feel a responsibility to contribute.

Finally, keep it interactive…

If you’re going to engage people then you must plan interactivity into your webinar. Plan to do this often, at least every four minutes and use a variety of different ways to interact, such as chat, whiteboards and polls.

Do all of these things, and you’ll be on your way to running engaging, wonderful webinars!

I would love to hear from you and your experiences. If you found this article interesting, please comment and/or share.

If you’d like to find out more about how Expression for Growth helps people build the knowledge, skills and confidence to plan and run engaging live virtual learning and meetings, then get in touch with me at: nick@expressionforgrowth.com or have a browse of our website for inspiration.

Nick Todd

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