Involving the Learner

Webinars pose a challenge to the basic adult learning principle of involving the learner in experience-based activities that have immediate relevance to work. “Soft” skills or professional development skills webinars are harder to design than technical training webinars as designers must creatively turn instructor-led classroom activities into activities that grab the participants through cyberspace.

No doubt you’ve heard the basics of building effective webinars: use colorful graphics and animation, keep bullet point lists to a minimum and include lots of interactivity.

But here are six critical elements that we’ve found valuable for leadership training webinars:


1. Grab Attention First!

Do something interactive with your participants within the first two minutes. Yes, a brief introduction is needed and establishing the credibility of the facilitator is important, but all webinars start that way. Experienced webinar participants (and that’s probably most of your employees) become immune to webinar introductions and continue to multi-task until grabbed.

So grab them first! You’re setting the expectation that when your facilitator said in his/her introduction, “this will be an interactive webinar,” he or she really meant it.

Grabbing participants at the start also puts them “on notice” that they may not be able to multi-task or answer those e-mails during this webinar… this webinar may be very different… and hey! possibly fun and interesting, too! We start our webinars with an interactive brain teaser that has relevance to the topic. This sets up a nice transition to your first learning objective.

2. Find Out Who They Are

Webinars we’ve attended go to great lengths to make sure that participants know who the facilitator is… his or her credentials, experience and expertise. How many webinars have you attended that asked who you are? If possible, follow your introduction with a quick survey and poll your audience.

Experienced facilitators leading instructor-led programs always find out “who’s the audience?” and tailor the course to the participants’ role, level of experience or business function. Your webinar facilitator needs the same information to make the content relevant.

A standard slide in our webinar deck is “Who Is Out There?” and sets up a poll with varying descriptions of possible participants, for instance: Individual Contributor, Manage 1–3 people, Manage 4–10 people, Manage 10+ people. For this poll, we always include an “Other” category and ask those who select “Other” to describe their role using the chat room. Not only have you given the facilitator the opportunity to know “who is out there” and tailor his/her comments and questions to those participating, you’ve also told the participants that they’re important to this webinar… it’s about them and the learning will be tailored accordingly.

3. Two Voices… and Both with Energy

If you remember “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” you’ll recall the sound made by the unseen adult speaking to Sally or Lucy, Linus or Charlie Brown. It was a “wah, wah, wah” sound made by a trombone in the background. Unfortunately, in many webinars, that’s exactly what the facilitator’s voice starts to sound like after 20 or 30 minutes. You’re changing your colorful graphics frequently and keeping it visually interesting… think about making it equally aurally interesting. Your facilitator should keep great energy in his/her voice, using lots of inflection and emphasis on important words and phrases. (It’s also OK to laugh on occasion.)

And here’s the secret weapon: use your web administrator or technical support person! We’ve had the great fortune of working with a web administrator who has a great speaking voice and we use him throughout our webinars. He reads the polling questions, summarizes and broadcasts the results, reads the questions that enter the chat room and even role plays situations with the facilitator to model a concept. This is especially useful with soft skills training… modeling how a manager might handle a difficult employee, dissatisfied client or stressed manager. Encourage a conversational style between the facilitator and web administrator throughout the webinar. They don’t have to be “Click and Clack” or Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but a humorous exchange between the two adds levity and humanity to the webinar.

4. The Power of the Pause

Your great facilitators who are experienced classroom trainers will need to learn a few new tricks and break some old habits when delivering a webinar. Energetic classroom facilitators are wonderful at being able to bring up the next slide in their presentation deck at just the right moment. This takes even more practice with a webinar – the facilitator will want to completely finish each thought with the screen that the participants are viewing and pause as the next screen appears, rather than talk through the transitions.

Remember that no matter what the facilitator is saying, when the next screen or graphic or bullet point appears on the webinar screen, that is what your participants are reading. It takes practice to stay in synch with what your participants are seeing.

Another important pause that takes discipline is after you’ve asked the participants to use the chat room to respond or asked for any questions. Be assertive with the pause – and wait. It takes time for participants to formulate, then type, their questions and responses. Unlike the classroom, where you can look out at blank faces or raised hands, you must get comfortable with silence when delivering webinars. Remember, silence on a webinar indicates to participants that it’s time for them to do something!

5. Practice Does Not Make Perfect. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.

There’s no getting around it… webinars involve technology and technology (the Internet, your computer, your webinar administrator’s computer, the webinar platform system you are using, your firewall, even your power) can have its good days and its bad days.

We have made it a policy to have a technical run-through not 30 minutes before the webinar, but the day before the webinar. Beyond the technology check this provides, the rehearsal also allows your facilitator and webinar administrator to “choreograph” their interactions, set-up the polls and how the polling results will be broadcast, when the facilitator will stop for questions, practice of any role-plays, etc. Often, the rehearsal takes longer than the actual webinar – so allot sufficient time for a thorough run-through – but it pays off when the webinar flows seamlessly and the facilitator and web administer present the material like skilled professionals.

The rehearsal doesn’t eliminate the need to sign-on 30 minutes prior to the actual webinar – you’ll still want to do your sound check and have “all systems go” when your participants start to sign on. Be aware they may sign-on 5 or 10 minutes before the webinar, so have all of your private conversations finished by the time the first participant appears.

6. Watch. Watch. Watch.

This is one final piece of wisdom we’d like to share. If you belong to learning and development or industry-specific professional groups, you will receive offers to attend free webinars. Even if these are marketing webinars selling a product or service, sign-on and watch as many as you can.
Though many will turn out to be “death by PowerPoint,” you may stumble upon some that are highly creative and give you wonderful new ideas for delivering information interactively. The world of virtual learning is growing rapidly and you can tap into a world of creativity every day.

If you’re looking to get better at Webinars, communication, or leadership in general Infopro Learning offers leadership and Organizational Development for Communication. Also, read my article on Presentation Skills, for how to have a great learning experience with presentation training.

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