“What works for webinars?” People have asked this a lot lately, so here’s my opinionated answer.
I do a lot of online workshops, such as the scenario design course. I’ve ditched many of the conventional webinar techniques. Here’s what’s left on my list.
My main recommendation:
- Include many, many thought-provoking questions for people to answer in the chat.
These aren’t polls or multiple-choice questions. They’re more like, “Here’s a problem. How do you think we should solve it?” or “Here’s a draft of a solution. What’s wrong with it?”
I try to ask a question like this every couple of minutes. In my personal notes for the presentation, I highlight in blue every question I plan to make and then scroll through the file to make sure there are blue blobs sprinkled everywhere.
This results in slides that tend to be activities instead of information presentations.
For example, I’ll display a slide that has a draft of a scenario question and ask what should be done to make it better. Information that might have spawned a series of bullet-heavy slides called “97 rules of scenario design” goes in the handout, where text belongs.
You could also repurpose a self-paced elearning activity. For example, you could run a scenario in the session. Display the first decision point and ask everyone what they want to do and why. As the debate goes on, one choice will probably surface as the preferred one, so click that and continue the scenario.
Again, I’m suggesting you do this as a discussion, not a poll. It’s harder on you, because you have to read a lot of chat comments, but the learning is far deeper and the issues raised will be surprising.
The chat is where it’s at!
This one change — your commitment to ask a ton of thought-provoking, open-ended questions — means that you’ll design a series of mini-activities instead of an information dump. Your participants will stay with you, thinking and participating, instead of clicking away to plan their Bali trip while you talk to an empty room.
This one change will require a few more changes:
- You’ll need a webinar platform with a big, public chat window. I use Zoom.
- You’ll need to stop talking and listen. I periodically say, “Hang on, I need to catch up with the chat.” I’m silent while I read what has happened in the chat, and then I respond to it.
- If you’re recording the session and the chat won’t be recorded, you’ll want to read chat items aloud so the recording makes sense to someone who wasn’t there. Just as you do when presenting to a big group, repeat the question aloud before you answer it. Of course don’t read everything that appears — just hit the major points.
- If the chat is super-busy, some participants might hide it so they can focus on you. That’s another reason to pause periodically and read aloud the major points being made.
- As soon as people realize that you want them to use the chat, they will definitely use the chat. This might happen in ways you might not have intended, such as answering each other’s questions or literally chatting. Don’t try to control them. At least they’re in the room with you instead of pricing hotels in Bali.
Yes, you can handle the chat! It can help to have a second person, but I’ve flown solo with up to 400 people typing furiously away. They realize you can’t read and respond to everything. All you need to do is pause occasionally to catch up with the major points or questions.
Some more tips:
- Avoid headaches and reduce development time by creating a presentation without animations or transitions.
- Use a headset with a decent mic, not the computer’s default mic.
- Limit sessions to 90 minutes at most.
- If you’re providing a handout, make it useful, not just a copy of the slide deck. You might create a handout that includes the main slides with additional text.
- Make the handout available at the beginning or shortly before the presentation, so participants can use it to take notes. If it’s in Word or another easily edited format, they can take notes right in the handout.
- Practice giving your presentation, of course, timing yourself and allowing lots of time for the chat.
Finally, here are some common webinar techniques that I avoid. Maybe you can convince me that they’re great — leave a comment!
- Not allowing public chat. This is Mortal Webinar Sin #1 for me. Probably 90% of the sessions that I’ve attended have no chat. You’re only allowed to send questions in secret, and they go only to the presenter. I rarely stick around.
- Adding “interactivity” by using polls to vote on non-questions, such as “How many people here have seen a boring PowerPoint presentation?”
- Sending people to breakout rooms. Maybe I just haven’t seen this done well. When I’ve been a participant, breakout rooms have meant five minutes of technological confusion followed by several minutes of “Is anyone else here?” and then “What are we supposed to be doing?” followed by me quietly disappearing to watch the Shiba Inu puppycam.
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