Webinars, the way of the future?

I just had the misfortune to take part in a webinar. I say that with great sadness as I usually like webinars. I love the flexibility they offer and the fact that I can extract the learning I need and not feeling “spoon-fed” on someone else’s agenda. Sadly the webinar I just sat through did not fulfill my expectations (or anyone else’s in the room for that matter). There was a group of us listening and we only lasted 20 minutes into a 1 hour session. Why?

Ironically, this webinar was about giving webinars! The organisation and presenter shall remain nameless but the presenter positioned himself as something of an expert in the area and then bored everyone stiff. Why was it so though? He (pronouns only please) was energetic and tried to be as engaging as possible. He actually sounded like a radio presenter. Very polished, making jokes, talking about the weather where he was, etc, etc, etc. During what little I saw of the presentation I took notes in two colours – one colour for notes from the session (black) and the other colour for notes of what I was learning from the example being set (green). In this case the page looked like a Greenpeace promo.

Given all the effort that clearly went in, what went wrong? I’ve compiled my humble list of a few “don’ts” that I was reflecting on.

  1. Don’t just take your face-to-face materials and persona and graft them online
  2. Don’t use pointless pictures and slides.  Make sure they contribute to your message.
  3. Don’t have all talk and nothing to look at on-screen; it just inspires people to wander off and multi-task.
  4. Don’t try to stop people multi-tasking, it’s not your job!
  5. Reading out comments from people is boring. Have it visible so we can read it as we like (amazingly this webinar locked down comments “for privacy”).
  6. Get to the point! Don’t leave everyone hanging around while you try to build rapport with anecdotes and chatting. That’s not a luxury we can afford online and is it really necessary?

I don’t mean to be completely negative about this but I was honestly astounded by what I saw. The first point above is the most important for me. the presenter frankly seemed to have just taken a face-to-face presentation and tried to shoehorn it into a webinar platform and was encouraging us to do the same. I think that you need to respect each medium for delivery for what it is. Webinar is a flexible learning tool that people are going to use as they see fit…and that’s OK. You no longer need to control the room because there is no room. What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important for virtual presenters to let go and realise that you won’t necessarily have the participant’s attention all the time. People will multi-task. We live in that kind of world now. That doesn’t mean that they won’t still learn something from you it just means that you can’t control what that something is.

See, I have learned from the experience after all – just not what the presenter intended. Maybe that’s the beauty of webinar afterall? I can learn what I want, when I want.