USA Today ran a column by Steve Strauss on the basics of business webinars. It’s a high level introduction to the subject for neophytes. Fine… I have no problem with Steve’s quick overview or his advice to businesses that are thinking of adding webinars to their communications mix.
The content of the column isn’t what interested me so much. It’s the first two reader comments published online (the only comments so far as I write this). I hope I’m not violating copyright by quoting them here:
1) “Ahhh… Webinars. Best way to get an quick 1h/2h break from work and do nothing. I don’t think I have ever been able to acquire or improve any skill through one of them. Just too many interruption, or other things that gets prioritized ahead of the session. Great as a speaker, fairly low value as an attendee.”
2) “Yeah, right, let’s have a webinar. You have got to be joking!”
Ouch. Do we have a problem of perception, a problem of personalities, or are webinars truly useless as a business tool?
The second comment doesn’t give us much to work with, unless the writer disagrees so vehemently with Steve’s column that s/he finds it ludicrous to even consider webinars as a business tool. I know this does not match reality… Thousands of companies are benefitting from expanding their marketing, training, customer communications, and other types of collaboration through webinars. So let’s assume instead that the ridicule implies that it’s ludicrous to attend a webinar. I’ll address that below.
The first comment has more meat, so let’s see why the writer has such a bad opinion of webinars from the audience perspective and evaluate whether your webinars are helping to perpetuate her attitude.
“Get a break from work and do nothing.” – Do your webinars force your audience into a passive mode? If you don’t address each listener as an individual and invite them to think, participate, and mentally apply the concepts you introduce, then you end up with audiences that view your webinars as an opportunity to “do nothing.”
“I don’t think I have ever been able to acquire or improve any skill” – Do your webinars consist of “data dumps” that replicate a white paper or textbook? Then you aren’t helping your audience acquire knowledge or skills. Use the unique advantages of visual and audio communication – along with the opportunity to collaborate with and engage your audience as active participants – to drive home key points, engage enthusiasm for your subject, explain applications of the factual information they can study offline. I give lots of webinar presentation training online. The comments I see indicate that my students feel they are acquiring and improving skills in a way they couldn’t do by reading a book.
“Too many interruptions” – Do you make it easy for your audience to drift away from your presentation? A monotonous presentation delivered in an abstract lecture style is sure to let interruptions take precedence. The interruptions are more interesting than you! Assume that your audience is constantly trying to do something else. You need to repeatedly recapture their attention and enthusiasm, again and again.
“Other things get prioritized ahead of the session” – Do your advance communications stress the value that your attendees will get by attending? They should be so clear on the benefits they will receive by attending that it is silly to let something else take precedence. If your confirmation and reminder emails only contain login information, you are setting yourself up to be the lowest priority task for that time period. Each email must succinctly restate the value proposition of your webinar from the audience’s perspective. Satisfy their self interest and the priorities will take care of themselves.
“Great as a speaker, low value as an attendee” – As you prepare and practice, do you listen to your presentation with an attendee’s ear? Are you quickly delivering the value you promised in your promotional materials? Are you being explicit about why each fact and concept you introduce is valuable and useful for your audience? Are you thinking about the speed and density of information transfer to make sure your audience can absorb the information and stay with you? If not, you are creating a webinar that is only great for you. And that’s not worth your time, energy, and money.
Your webinar can be the exception that surprises and impresses people like these commenters. It takes a commitment to think from your audience’s perspective during planning, preparation, and delivery. If you just knock together a monotonous, tedious data dump because someone in your company tells you that it’s your turn to present, you are not only going to drive away your own audiences… You’re going to turn them off webinars in general. And that doesn’t help anybody.