Best Practices for Engaging Training Webinars
By Alexandra Levit
In the last decade, webinars have become a popular vehicle for delivering training. It makes sense. Scores of software options make it possible to simultaneously showcase audio, video, slides, and other visuals to participants around the globe. Organizations don’t have to pay to send their people to one place, and those who can’t attend live have the option of viewing the material at their convenience.
In my career as a human resources and workforce consultant, I’ve conducted around 100 webinars. I enjoy doing them, but over the years I’ve learned that the skills and techniques necessary to deliver an effective in-person course are not the same as those required for an engaging webinar. Here are considerations to keep in mind as you dip your toes into webinar planning and execution.
Interactivity is Even More Important
In an in-person class, participants at least feel somewhat obligated to pay attention, or at least refrain from doing three other tasks at once. There are no such constraints with a webinar, however. Participants can do whatever they want, and the instructor is none the wiser. For this reason, it’s essential that you hold their interest by stopping every few minutes to ask a question, do a poll, or request a chat response. If you tell your participants at the beginning that you’re going to do this, you have an even better chance at keeping everyone on board throughout your remarks.
Beware the Super-Dense Presentation
Just as in an in-person course, less is often more. Not only are wordy slides harder to read on a computer screen (or a phone), but they will also tempt an instructor to read from them directly. You also run the risk of overwhelming your audience with too much information that they aren’t free to immediately ask questions about, and this may prompt them to zone out. Instead of trying to communicate everything you’ve got on a topic, select three main points, explain them succinctly, and use colorful case studies, statistics, and anecdotes to support them.
Keep Up With New Feature Releases
If you’re been using the same webinar software for a while, it’s easy to get complacent. You think you know the program like the back of your hand, and you don’t think to learn about fresh offerings that can further enhance your presentations. As an example, one program I use is now able to analyze audience chat and questions in real time to determine the topics that are of most significant interest, and/or the aspects of my remarks with which people are struggling or need clarification. This feature helps me enormously in zeroing in on an individual audience’s specific needs, but I never would have known about it if I didn’t regularly communicate with my vendor.
Train the Trainer
In-person corporate trainers often have education or work experience in instructional design and delivery, and many rehearse extensively prior to getting in front of a new audience. For some reason, though, webinar instructions are not always held to the same standards. Being across an Internet connection instead of a room does not remove your responsibility to be smooth and prepared. If you are planning your first webinar, consider a trial run with colleagues or friends and collect feedback on strengths and areas for improvement.
Test and Backup Your Tech
In an ideal world, software and wireless connections would be foolproof. However, in delivering many webinars over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that this is not the case. Obviously, you cannot conduct a webinar if you are unable to log into the hosting system, so make sure you’ve tested your software in the exact physical location and using the exact hardware and connections that you will employ on the day of the live webinar. If something doesn’t work properly at go time, you may not have time to fix it, so have a backup plan for gaining quick access to your audience. For example, even if a webinar is supposed to run over Wi-Fi, I always make sure I have an available phone line just in case.
Webinars can be an efficient and cost-effective way of conveying experience and transferring knowledge, but don’t take their ease-of-use for granted. Adhere to these best practices and you’ll enhance the opportunity to realize the full benefits of this learning platform.
About the Author
Alexandra Levit is the chairman of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. She is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.