Today’s topic comes from Bob, who asked a question through the Web Conferencing Community Forum:
I'm in the Healthcare space and regularly host live webinars with physicians and other healthcare professionals. The meetings can have a number of objectives, marketing and training being the most frequent. Obviously, there are lots of smart folks in these rooms with plenty of knowledge and insights. And I believe a value of our webinars could be for the audience to share amongst themselves.
That said, I'm wondering if some aspects of Social Media could help. We're doing polling and using chat and have Q&A sessions. Have you seen/used any other techniques to engage the audience and make them active contributors during a webinar?
The only attempt I have seen at linking Social Networking with a live webinar during the actual session is to have a Twitter discussion running at the same time. As a matter of fact, I wrote a post about this on Webinar Wire (You Got Your Twitter In My Webinar!) last year.
Since you are already using an open chat session in the webinar room to stimulate group feedback and discussion, I don’t see Twitter as offering any particular benefits for the attendees. The one thing it might do is open up the discussion in real time to people who can’t attend or choose to not attend the webinar. You could potentially expand the discussion to a larger community if they happen to be following the Twitter thread and contributing during the course of the event.
But generally, social networking is better at extending your reach before and after the live session. You can help promote the event to your network of contacts ahead of time, collect questions and topics of interest from them that they want to see covered during the session, and keep the conversation going after your live event is over (probably posting a link to your archive recording as well).
Getting more interactivity during an event is usually a case of cutting down the amount of lecture material you prepare and planning to open things up, acknowledge your audience, and work with them more during your time together. You will find that this is a double-edged sword however. A small percentage of your audience will tend to contribute heavily, perhaps skewing the perception of important items or swinging the conversation to their private concerns. Some members of the audience who prefer a more passive learning experience can get frustrated if they feel another viewer is monopolizing the conversation and taking time away from your brilliant words of wisdom. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
If your conferencing software has a strong whiteboarding tool, try running some “brainstorming” exercises during your talk. Write down responses from your audience and then use those as a jumping-off point for additional discussion. Remember that the amount of interactivity you can control and manage goes down as your audience size goes up. With 400 people on a conference, it is unlikely that you can even read all the messages coming in from an enthusiastic participatory group, much less respond to them. Be sure to have a plan for dealing with concerns that don’t get addressed… Which can be a great way to tie in social networking again. Post the questions and comments to your network and invite responses or commentary, along with your own answers.
I’ll mention one last caveat about polls. To make them effective at stimulating participation and interactivity, they must be presented in terms of the audience’s self interests. If your polls tend to be demographic in nature, or self-serving for you as a presenter, your audience feels that they are being treated as experimental subjects, providing you with value, but getting none themselves. You should be able to accompany every poll with a statement of “By answering this question, you will benefit in the following way…” Possibilities include knowing more about how they compare to the community of their peers, or getting you to focus your remarks on areas of greatest importance to them, or getting you to talk to their level of expertise and prior knowledge, or helping to determine what webinar topics you should present in the future.
I hope this gives you a few ideas you may not have considered already.
Readers: If you have a comment on this topic, please add it using the Comment feature on this blog. If you have a question you would like me to address publicly, you can post it at the Web Conferencing Community Forum, just as Bob did.