5 Ways to Start a Webinar for Maximum Interactivity

A while back I asked: “Why are people checking their email when they should be paying attention to my webinar?!” The answer to that question revolved around engagement and interactivity that can be designed into a webinar. That blog post had several ideas for interactivity depending on your tolerance for risk (the cooler and more engaging you may want to make your webinar, the greater the reward… and the greater the opportunity that the technology could fail).

One thing to remember about interactivity in webinars, however, is that your audience may not be ready for it. Many people still see webinars as little more than glorified conference calls (and by “glorified” I mean conference calls that simply have accompanying on-screen PowerPoint presentations… and maybe a poll or two).

Why not take the first five minutes of your next webinar – you know, the time that you’re needing to kill as you’re waiting for last-minute joiners to log on to Adobe Connect or download all the stuff that needs to be downloaded in order to hop on to Blackboard Collaborate – and get your attendees warmed up with some of the web conferencing features you’ll be using to engage them.

Here are five ideas of how to do this as people are logging on:

Dissecting a Webinar: The Quest for Interaction in Distance Education

Web conferencing technology can be an amazing way to shrink the distance between a facilitator and the rest of the world. Of course, web conferencing technology is only as effective (and interesting) as the design of the webinar.

There are many blogs and magazine articles and even books that offer tips and suggestions on how to design an engaging webinar. This post is designed to break down an actual webinar and point out actual examples of strategies you may want to incorporate into your next webinar.

In January 2012, I was invited to design and deliver a webinar on how I used LinkedIn to find my dream job. Here is a link to a recording of that webinar:


GW Webinar

If you don’t want to sit through the entire 61 minute presentation, feel free to click on the link and fast forward to the good parts. Below, I offer a time-based breakdown of the various instructional strategies I incorporated into this webinar:

2:30  Sound check (you want to be sure people can hear you!)

2:41  Introduction and attempt to connect to the audience through a shared experience

5:13  Poll questions to get to know the audience better

10:12  Setting an expectation for participation and informing the audience that they will have an opportunity to type their own experiences into the CHAT box

12:00  Framing the presentation as a story

15:25  Inviting audience to share their experiences in this subject

25:20  Pause for questions and an opportunity for audience to share their own experiences

27:50  Pose a specific question to the audience and invite them to use the CHAT box

38:50  Again pausing for audience comments and questions

48:31  Connecting the entire message and offering a coherent conclusion of the entire presentation

Looking for additional ideas and tips to create an engaging webinar? You may find these previous posts helpful:

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

When Webinars are Worse than Communism

The old joke about communism was that as long as the bosses pretended to pay people, the people would pretend to work.  In this sense, too many webinars have become worse than communism because nobody even bothers to pretend!  The attendees spend time “multitasking” (checking their email), not pretending to pay attention.  The presenters lecture and click through slides, not pretending to be concerned about their learners’ experience.

Here are 5 tips to engage webinar learners:

  1. Keep the chat box open

Sometimes webinar facilitators don’t bother to use the chat box to ask participants for input.  Sometimes they simply ignore the chat box.  Sometimes they have set the permissions so that participants cannot type into the chat box or see what others have to say.  While the facilitator may be the expert, the facilitator doesn’t hold a monopoly on all knowledge.  Allowing participants to engage in “side conversations” (as long as they are on topic) can be a way to add value and engagement.

  1. Make use of the white board

The white board is the default screen.  If you don’t load up a single slide, you are left to stare at a white board.  You can also turn your slides into a virtual white board for people to provide their own thoughts.  Posting a question or asking people to type their thoughts or experiences right on the main screen is a way to put the learners’ contributions front and center.

  1. Quizzes and polls

Who doesn’t like to see how they’re answers stack up against a bunch of other people?  I’ve seen many facilitators begin their webinars with a quick poll on job titles or years of experience in order to get a feel for the audience.  But why not continue to ask for responses throughout the webinar?  Why not throw out a trivia question related to the webinar in order to transition and introduce a new topic?

  1. Show of hands

Perhaps the easiest way to get people involved is to ask to see a show of hands.  The “raise hand” button – an icon found under the participant list on every web conference service – is simple to find and simple to use.  Facilitators can break up their lecture by simply finishing this sentence: “How many of you have ever…?” It’s quicker than setting up a poll.  And it is a way to check whether the audience is still paying attention.

  1. Breakout rooms

This is the highest risk feature of web conferencing and I’ve never actually participated in a webinar in which a facilitator has broken us up into breakout rooms.  It requires the facilitator to be comfortable with the web conferencing technology, it requires practice to be sure the technology works and that the facilitator knows how to start and stop breakout rooms, it requires that clear instructions be given to participants and it requires trust that participants will engage in conversation without a facilitator monitoring their every move.  I’ve used this feature in webinars and it leads to enormously high levels of interaction and information sharing among participants.

While this blog focuses mainly on training and development, the same degree of disengagement found in webinars can also be found in web-based staff and team meetings.  Many of the above tips can also be used if you’re using web conferencing software to conduct meetings for a geographically dispersed workforce.

Related Post:

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.