Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping me out of airports, I’ve had time to do some meaningful catchups with some amazing L&D leaders. One of the topics that comes up in every discussion is how to make learning webinars more effective. Now that a major percentage of learning has moved online, making virtual learning programs effective is a top concern. In this piece, I share the questions that come up over and over along with my responses that come from what I learned when I switched from standing on a stage with eager learners sitting in front of me to standing in my home studio interacting with postage-stamp images of participants on a 13-inch Apple MacBook.
How do you handle webinar disdain?Have you ever heard someone exclaim, “Yay, I’m attending a webinar today at noon!”? If you have, it was likely stated with a touch of sarcasm. Webinars have a bad reputation—and with good reason. When I asked people to describe their webinar experiences, some words they used were boring, tiring, frustrating, and forgettable, among others. Yet this draining activity has been woven into our workday. The key to making people pay attention is to make the webinars fun! Everyone knows that we learn more and remember more when we’re having fun, yet we seem to forget that when we are crafting and delivering webinars. Make it clear from the start that the webinar you’re going to deliver is not going to be the same old weary web drivel. It will be better. Fun. Exciting, even!
How do you deal with participants’ temptation to multitask?One-hundred percent of people in the world think they can multitask, but only 2.5 percent of folks have brains wired for multitasking. Despite these low odds, the temptation to check an email or work on another project while “participating” in a webinar is huge. Consider this: “I’ll just listen to the presenter while I respond to this instant message.” When you’re in front of a room filled with face-to-face learners, it’s less likely that they’ll start checking their email in the middle of your learning program, but with people working from home, the temptation to double-dip in work activities is enormous. To keep the temptation at bay, mix up the content. Go from telling a story to asking a question to showing a video, to sharing a relevant quote, and so on.
How do you solve for a boring subject matter expert?Every time I hear an L&D professional ask me this question, I hear the song, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” from The Sound of Music. We all know that subject matter experts (SMEs) are brilliant and have something valuable to impart on others. We also know that delivering compelling presentations is not a top skill for every brilliant professional on the planet. So how do you include the important SME while making your learning experience invigorating? Don’t make your SME the primary content deliverer. Here’s how:
- Use an interview format with a compelling host to serve questions and keep the conversation moving.
- Prerecord the SME on video and sprinkle brief, potent video clips throughout the presentation.
- Invite several SMEs to be part of a panel and make sure some of them are the life of the party.
How do you ensure that learning is impactful?Learning without repetition and action is just a waste of time. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s work says that most of what we learn we forget—and sadly, soon after we learn it. To make something truly impactful and even transformational, don’t think of a webinar in isolation. Instead, make it a sandwich. Create intrigue and excitement with pre-presentation emails, prework, and so forth. The topic I speak on is personal branding, so my prep activities often involve powerful questions on the six drivers of personal branding that participants can ponder. Next, deliver a compelling presentation, with repetition built in. Lastly, end with postwork that encourages participants to turn learning into action.
What can you do to make it feel important when it’s on a laptop or phone?Visually, most webinars aren’t that different from the myriad Zoom meetings your people are attending, so instead of being exciting and energizing, webinars feel ho-hum. To counteract this, make the presentation materials stand out from what the audience is used to seeing. Include no more than 12 words on any slide and keep the font size at 36 points or greater. Remember, your people are watching these on their laptops, and in some cases on their phones. Also, use rich media as much as possible.
For tips and guidance, be sure to join me August 29–September 1, 2021, during the ATD International Conference & Exposition.