Training in the 21st Century

Webinars: More (Information) Is Not Always Better

Last week, when I attended and presented at the Virtual Edge Summit in San Diego, I realized once again what odd and valuable experiences conferences are: People come from far away, sometimes at considerable expense, to meet and greet others as they rush from presentation to presentation. During this intense experience, they sample a smorgasbord of knowledge and information. Those topics that are most relevant to their present needs will likely stick with them. Less relevant information may be stored in their memories (and/or folders) as interesting tidbits, headlines, and key words that will enable retrieval and exploration later, when needed.

This process works for conferences. The short- and long-term value is proven each year as people put responsibilities on hold and head off to the airport to attend this or that annual meeting. Certainly, I learned many new and important things at VES, met new people, and encountered a few I knew from other events. But this year, the conference experience offered one additional insight: As I was leaving, I came to a realization that the way conference presentations are designed is a close match to the way many webinars are structured. And though it works for conferences, it’s usually a very unsuccessful format for virtual presentations.

Before the conference, while developing our presentation, our focus was to pack as much valuable, relevant information as possible into the time allotted. After creating the first draft, the next step was to streamline the sections so there would be time to include some quick, simple audience participation elements. This format generally fits with conference scheduling and is what most conference attendees expect: Presentations that download knowledge and insights quickly so they can rush off to the next sessions on their schedules. The excitement and energy of the conference atmosphere enables people to stay focused, processing information for extended hours, session after session. Unfortunately, that kind of excitement and energy is missing in the case of webinars, and the strategy of packing as much information as possible into a short timeframe really works against their effectiveness.

Most webinar presenters feel like they’re in the same situation as conference presenters: they have one brief session in which to cover everything possible about the topic, then the audience is gone. But webinars can be more effective when they’re designed with limited amounts of information that is presented using participatory techniques. By devoting more time to meaningful activities and probing questions that engage attendee participation and deepen understanding, aspects of a topic can be explored with depth, breadth, complexity and involvement that result in a richer learning experience. And though presenters may cover less information in this kind of webinar, attendees will come away with a much greater understanding and knowledge of the subject that will stay with them long after the webinar is over.

What techniques have you used to make your webinars truly engaging learning tools? Please share your ideas and strategies.

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