Building on chat engagement in a webinar

2015_kopje_ff_500px-kopieA new guest post by Francisca Frenks, Dutch online learning consultant.

Some time ago I was asked to join a webinar about “Sponsoring” so I could give recommendations for improvement. The audience consisted of representatives of primary and secondary schools in different countries. The organization who was hosting the webinar invited an expert to tell more about sponsoring.

Halfway through the webinar the expert completely lost the audience’s attention. The chat discussion was very engaging and most of the participants were fully involved in that. Some participants shared their stories and experiences of how they manage with sponsors in a practical way. People were asking questions, deeper questions, more questions. So the expert was not really needed.

The host made a decision. She decided to stop the expert to present his Powerpoint and started to ask him the questions of the participants which they had formulated in the chat. Then she made a mistake by expecting too much of the expert. The expert did not feel very comfortable in this situation and it was an embarrassing situation when the host took over.

How to improve this webinar design and make it more effective?

If you were the webinar host, how should you design the program and prepare the expert?
I have some suggestions:

  1. Ask participants what they need to know or what they want to hear before the webinar starts. Maybe make a poll when participants are registering for the webinar.
  2. A webinar is a life event. So if you have content to share, make a recording. Ask participants to look at the recording and formulate their questions and let them send the questions directly to the expert before the webinar starts. Of course you as a host have prepared some questions which could be asked by participants
  3. During the webinar you will be busy with the questions in several ways:
    – Ask participants to ask their questions directly to the expert, live – if they have their audio checked.
    – Ask participants if the question is relevant for them (“Please give reaction in the poll”)
    – Ask participants if the formulated question is formulated well or if it needs some improvement (by chat “How would you formulate the question?”)
    – As a host, you can forward the participants’ questions to the expert.
    – You can ask participants to ask more and deeper questions on the topic, by giving examples. Make them active and always give them instructions on how to react.
    – When they think about questions, they are busy with solutions.
    – You ask participants if they are satisfied with the answers of the expert.
    – You ask participants what they will do with the answer in their daily work.
    – You ask participants if they want to share their relevant experiences on the topic (be clear in your expectations, don’t let them go off the road).
    – Give participants time to think.
    – If there are no questions. You made a mistake. Then the webinar is not relevant for the audience. You can ask what they want most or what they need to make their next step.
  4. Don’t embarrass your expert, even if you are disappointed in his or her performance. Remember it is your task to prepare this expert.
  5. Make time for interaction and a deeper webinar experience.
  6. If something unexpected happened and you have a black out, ask your audience what to do.
  7. Dare to be creative and interactive and accept a little inconvenience as a welcome intermezzo in the live webinar.
  8. If you want a perfect live webinar, rehearse.


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