An article I read this morning suggested three means of keeping webinar participants engaged throughout the experience.  One of the recommended tactics was to assign pre-work.  Unfortunately, the author didn’t elaborate on this, so I’ll step into the breach.

First of all, webinars are in most cases a poor choice of mode for one-way communication.  If you read a script to your audience, you are mightily increasing the odds that they will multi-task during the call.  Is it customary in your shop to send a PowerPoint presentation before or after the live experience?  This practice makes it still less likely that participants will give you their full attention.  They’ll think, “If I miss something now it’s no big deal, I’ll just review the PowerPoint later on.”

What can you do during a webinar other than lecture?  Actually, the less you do, the better.  By this I mean that you can–rather than do all the talking–delegate to selected registrants the job of presenting information or leading discussions.  To make this possible, you’ll assign pre-work, including assignments to lead selected segments of the experience.

The pre-work you assign should have several components:

  • Reading matter – this might be a memorandum, a report, a “cheat sheet,” an article, etc.
  • Direction that the assignee joins the event thoroughly versed in their topic(s)
  • Direction that the assignee create, in advance, a list of at least three discussion questions that they feel would engage other participants, and prepare themselves to lead the discussion
  • When appropriate to the topic, instructions for assuming the conference moderator role during the event
  • A primer on leading discussions

Tips:  Assignments

  • Assign more than one topic to each registrant.  The more topics per registrant, the more likely it will be that they stay engaged throughout the event.
  • Assign the same topic to at least two registrants.  This will ensure that a given topic can be addressed even if one registrant fails to show up for the event.
  • Make the assignments seven to ten days before the webinar.
  • Check in with each assignee two to three days after making the assignments.  Answer any questions and address any concerns.
  • Prepare a matrix for ready reference during the event:  which topics are assigned to which participants?  If time permits, supply this to all participants prior to the event and encourage them to confer with one another as they complete their pre-work.

Tips: During the Event

  • You’ll be the master of ceremonies.  You’ll introduce the presenters/discussion leaders and thank them for their contributions.
  • If it fits, use “polling questions” to assess the understanding of participants after each mini-presentation.
  • Participate as little as possible during the discussions, leaving the airtime for the participants.
  • Take a more active role only if one of your assignees loses their way, gets on a soap box, etc.
  • Try to avoid correcting your presenters/leaders during their segments unless absolutely necessary.  Instead, send a follow up message to all participants, advising them that you have gotten “clarification” of the matter in question.

Tops:  After the event

  • Broadcast a message of thanks to all.
  • Communicate privately with those who did their jobs especially well or especially poorly.  With the latter, adopt a stance of “What could I have done to better prepare you?”
  • Share any commendations with the manager of someone who turned in a particularly stellar performance.

So there you have it.  Do most of the above and your participants will stay engaged and you will accomplish your objectives.  At the same time, your presenters/leaders will have achieved greater competency in fulfilling the important role of discussion facilitator.  And, of course, they will have achieved a full and lasting command of your subject matter.