Tip #94: Using Webinars

We should begin by defining “webinar.” According to Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia: “A webinar is a seminar which is conducted over the World Wide Web. It is a type of web conferencing. In contrast to a webcast, which is transmission of information in one direction only, a webinar is designed to be interactive between the presenter and audience. A webinar is ‘live’ in the sense that information is conveyed according to an agenda, with a starting and ending time. In most cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, pointing out information being presented on screen, and the audience can respond over their own telephones, preferably a speakerphone.”

A webinar is similar to a teleconference, where folks call in from their locations to a central phone number, give a pass code, and are allowed to join the session. It is different from a teleconference because of the visual online features, which include the capability to view a PowerPoint presentation and have interaction online (chats, polling, voting, etc.)

The advantage of a speakerphone or a headset is that it allows the participants to keep their hands free to hold handout materials and type in their responses online. Those who don’t have these advantages have to juggle phone, materials, and keyboard.

My first and only experience conducting a webinar involved what was scheduled as a two hour train the trainer session. We used WebEx, because my client had an account with them. Therefore, I will be sharing from my extremely limited perspective.

The reason for the webinar was that the participants were located throughout the country and some of them were traveling. Theoretically, the idea of the webinar made sense and offered some very nice conveniences. As the trainer, I didn’t need to travel or even get dressed up, because I could conduct the webinar from my own computer. Of course, that also meant I couldn’t hand out kooshes or candy or use any of the other tricks of the trade I usually employ to create a comfortable learning environment. And I also had to get over the fact that I would not have face-to-face contact with the participants, which is my preference, of course! But I did still have to create the training materials and handouts and get them to the participants prior to the session.

However, it became apparent very quickly that there were several challenges to the effectiveness of this particular session.

Both WebEx and RainDance, who are two major web conferencing providers, offer guided tours on their websites to familiarize newcomers with the process. Unfortunately, when a webinar is used to accommodate the busy schedules of participants, it may be unrealistic to expect that they will take the time prior to the session to visit the site, register, and take the tour- even if the message scheduling the training session requests that they do this. In this instance, the lack of familiarization with the process created real issues.

First, time management was difficult.

  • To use WebEx, you have to do some prework online to register. If participants wait until the time of the session, they will need to complete this registration process before they are allowed into the session. This can create some delays.
  • As with any training program, people have different ideas of what it means to be on time.

Second, access was a problem.

  • Some of the participants were traveling and had to stop where they were, locate a telephone line and make sure they could get online with a computer- all before they called into the central number.
  • Some folks had difficulty getting through to the central phone number. It took over a half an hour for two or three of them to finally get past a busy signal, which was frustrating to them as well as to us. There went a quarter of our scheduled time!

A colleague had alerted me to the fact that it might take some time for everyone to get on line and suggested that I begin with a puzzle or quiz on screen to keep folks occupied until everyone was ready. I did that, but it certainly did not take 30 minutes for them to figure it out! So we chatted, introduced ourselves, and discussed our various troubles getting on line…

Third, not everyone had the training handouts.

Although the handouts had been emailed to all of the participants, some either did not receive them, had not printed them out, or did not have them with them.. It took additional time to ensure everyone was all set with the materials they needed.

Fourth, participation in a webinar was a new experience for many folks. Therefore, it takes more time to:

  • explain the process and the format, and
  • tutor the participants in how to find and use the tools available for raising a hand or voting or having online chats, etc.

These administrative matters took more time away from the actual training content and created more frustration for some of the participants.

So, there are good reasons to consider the use of a webinar and there are logistical issues that need to be anticipated and factored into the experience for it to run smoothly. Next week, we’ll continue our discussion by looking at what is involved in actually conducting a webinar.

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