A client of mine is wondering about people's experiences with webinars and how well they work as training tools, so last week I ran a reader survey to get your feedback.
Webinar Survey Results
Twelve people completed the full survey. Unfortunately another 27 started, but abandoned it, so my survey sample is pretty small. Nonetheless, I still wanted to share what they reported.
Participants were mostly split between business and nonprofits, with a few coming from the edublogging world. The majority (75%) had participated in more than 4 webinars, so this was a group that has had some experience.
Responses to Webinar Experiences
Most (54.55%) thought that webinars are OK as a training medium, but they prefer face-to-face. I'm not sure if this is because they NEED face-to-face or because their experiences with webinars have been less than wonderful.
Thirty-three percent 33% said that webinars were an effective way for them to learn "sometimes," with another 25% indicating that it was "usually" a good way for them to learn.
The greatest webinar frustration was "lack of interactivity" (58.3%), followed by "quality of the content" (41.67%). A few had issues with the quality of the technology and the assistance they received in using it to access the webinar.
What They Like Most/Least About Webinars
For survey participants, the benefits of webinars included:
- Easy sign-up and participation.
- Reduced travel costs and the general convenience of not having to travel.
- That they are often free.
- That you can access people and contents that you might not otherwise be able to experience.
The downsides of webinars were:
- They usually consist of someone reading PowerPoint slides, which means that often, they are not engaging. As one respondent indicated, "Presenters seem to feel that because they aren't visible they don't need to prepare as much as they would for a face-to-face event, and they don't seem to adjust their delivery or content to fit the audio/web delivery method."
- It's too easy to multi-task and move on to other activities.
- Few opportunities to ask questions or to interact with other participants.
The basic message I got was this: The things that make face-to-face events deadly dull seem to be amplified in the webinar world. This means you have to work even harder to keep online training sessions engaging and interesting for participants. Not that this is news, of course, but it underscored both my own experiences and what I've heard from others.
What Do Webinar Participants Want?
So what do webinar participants want from the experience?
It needs to be engaging. They want interactivity with both the presenter and each other. Ideally, they'd have photos of the other participants or some other way to be able to identify and "meet" who's there. At a minimum, they'd like to be able to "meet" the presenter.
They like polls and chat features, but they need to be used to foster a sense of connection to the presenter, to each other and to the content. They can't be used as gimmicks just because they are there.
This really isn't rocket science. What people like in their "in-person" events is what they they want to see in a webinar. This seems like it's easier said than done, though.
Resources for Making Your Webinars Better
One of my main reasons for taking a closer look at all of this is because I'm going to be running a few webinars in January and February and I'm looking for ways to improve the quality of that experience. As promised, here are some webinar resources that I'm finding helpful.
- Susan Smith Nash, the "E-Learning Queen" has some good ideas on how to improve the learning aspect of webinars.
- From the National Corporation for National and Community Service, here's a great webinar planning checklist and set of tips. Scroll to the bottom for links to additional materials. Note that much of this is related to logistical and technological issues, but still useful.
- From Holly Ross of NTEN, came this link to a recent Discussion Group Summary on tips for running a successful webinar.
- A good TechSoup article on effective online training.
- Web Conferencing 101--12 great tips.
I'm looking for others, so please feel free to share with me any suggestions you have.
Some Additional Questions
As I'm delving more deeply into developing a webinar, I'm coming up with more questions/thoughts.
- Having never presented a webinar before, is there something I'm missing about how the technology works that makes it less effective to have interactivity? Is it because of the size of the groups? Is it the fact that you don't actually see people and have them to respond to, so you need to keep filling the space with your own voice?
- Why don't presenters make better use of the medium? Why aren't they using video to add to the message and break things up? Why don't they have more visuals, tell more stories?
- Why does every webinar I've ever participated in hold the questions until the end? Again, is there something about how the technology works that makes this necessary? Or is this just a hold-over from how so many trainers end up structuring their presentations.
I suspect that I won't get real answers to these questions until I actually run a webinar. I'd love to hear from presenters to get their side of the experience. If you've been a webinar presenter, how have you been able to make your webinars more engaging or interesting?
UPDATE--Be sure to read the comments section. Some great advice and resources from some experienced webinar presenters!