Behavioral trends have been much on my mind lately. Especially in the ways that they affect the webcast/webinar industry. I believe it's possible that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what people want from online presentations.
Let's approach it tangentially. Instead of looking at webinars, let's look at other forms of communication. Infographics are the new white paper. Emailing has been replaced by text messaging (more slowly in business than in personal life). Text messages went from full words to abbreviations, then to emojis. YouTube videos got shortened to TikTok snippets. Personal blogs and Facebook text posts have been largely displaced by Instagram pictures. The President of the United States conducts official business primarily by 280-character Twitter posts.
Now, obviously, in none of these cases has the long form disappeared completely. The President still gives a full State of the Union speech in front of Congress. Companies still issue white papers. Employees trade emails. But as an overall trend, people are expressing more and more of a preference for content that is concise, compact, and "consumable at a glance." Many podcast players even have time shifters to speed up playback.
This trend gets reinforced as the workforce naturally replenishes itself with younger members who have grown up expecting the short forms of communication in all areas of their lives. What happens when they find their business careers filled with invitations to listen to hour-long monologues from presenters?
If they sign up at all, they quickly find that the first five minutes are unnecessary filler repeating the session title and topic (which they already know), explanations of how to type questions (which is obvious), and speaker introductions (which are either uninteresting or already provided on the registration landing page). Then they listen to someone speaking at them for 45 minutes, followed by 10 minutes dedicated to long answers to three questions from people they don't know and which may not apply to them.
The response from webinar technology vendors has by-and-large been exhortations to use product features. "Introduce polls to engage and interact with your attendees!" … "Appear on webcam so they can see your face!" The problem is that these fail to address the underlying shift in preferences for how information is consumed.
Forward-thinking companies should be looking for opportunities to shorten their information delivery. How can you separate content into easily digestible "nuggets of information?" Can you craft a series of very short presentations and create a subscription and notification service similar to podcast and Instagram models? Can you emphasize content that is available on demand, with easy indexing markers that let viewers jump to a point of interest?
The fancier aspects of subscription, notification, and indexing may require new feature offerings from webinar technology vendors. It's certainly nothing that can't be done right now, but is still rarely offered. But there are other things you can do today, with no reliance on technology:
- Shorten your 60-minute offerings to 45 minutes. Then try to get them down to 30 minutes.
- Reduce "fluff" at the beginning and end of your presentations. Concentrate on the information that needs to be communicated, not on the mechanics or housekeeping.
- Take extra time to edit your recordings. Eliminate pauses, interactive elements, and anything that increases a listener's time requirements without providing a corresponding increase in value.
- Use the "flipped learning" approach to distribute factual information ahead of time (such as summaries of new laws, regulations, features, etc). Then concentrate the online aspect of your webinars purely on interactive Q&A and deeper explanations of things your audience asks about.
I want to be clear that there is still a place for long-form, presentation-oriented webinars and webcasts in the business world. There always will be. But they are not needed in as many contexts as they currently get used. Can you better satisfy your audiences (and your presenters!) by reducing time requirements where practical? You may find quite a business benefit by looking for opportunities to do so.