In my daily search through the interwebs for anything referencing the word "webinar" I came across an article by Susan Esther Barnes. It was titled "Wobbly Webinars" and was posted on the Jewish Journal, of all places.
What is refreshing about the article is that it is not a list of best practice proclamations from an industry insider. It's not a thinly-disguised promotional piece from some vendor. It's just Susan ruminating on webinars she has attended as a participant, with her impressions of why some seemed to work and some didn't. We can glean some valuable insights from Susan's straightforward descriptions.
1) Sometimes a conference call is all you need. Webinar participants expect visual stimulation and value-add from the display capabilities of webinar software. If your content consists of people talking for long periods with no visual information, why ask your audience to logon?
There actually IS a way to make a webinar work even when you have no visual content to add. You use the web functionality as an interactive medium throughout the talk, complementing the presentation with questions, answers, debate, and audience conversation while the presenters do their thing. This is impossible to implement in a conference call (unless you use live Twitter streams or other third party software). For this to work, you have to be willing to use an open chat where participants can see what others have typed. If you use privatized/moderated chat that shields participants from others' comments, it takes away the vibrancy, interest, and group participation.
2) Live video is a minefield. I have written about the hazards of "talking head" video several times in this blog. The technical functionality of webinar software is far more capable than most of the people using it. Special setup and training is necessary in order to come across as comfortable, professional, and persuasive on camera. Most casual webinar users have neither the experience nor the physical setup to make it work well. Do video right or don't do it at all.
3) Polls should be used to drive and advance the content. Early in her article, Susan mentions companies using webinars just "to be cool or one of the in crowd." I think this applies much more specifically to the use of interactive polls. Companies decide that they should have some polls just because a vendor told them it's a good way to engage people. But they don't have a REASON for the polls. The questions feel forced and offer no value-add for the attendees.
Susan is complimentary about a webinar she attended that used polls well. It's exactly the same setup that one of my clients used this week in a webinar that received many compliments from attendees. Each piece of learning or factual content was preceded by a short hypothetical case study. A poll asked attendees if they knew the answer that applied in the described situation. Then the speaker could present the relevant facts that covered such cases.
This is not just engagement. It actively improves the learning process because attendees get a firm grasp on the applicability and relevance of the facts BEFORE they get the raw information. And it helps the speaker know which sections they can breeze through quickly and which ones need more explanation and possibly debate!
Susan never described why she used the title she picked. I like the phrase. I think a "Wobbly Webinar" is one that doesn't have a firm foundation and can't stand up under its own weight. If the basis for using the webinar software isn't well thought out, with obvious value for your attendees, they are going to walk away wondering why it was wobbly. Work on wowing them and writers on the web will welcome your work.