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Making webinar training worthwhile

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Webinars can be useful training tools if used correctly. Wayne Turmel suggests ways to make your webinar training worthwhile, for your company and your learners, so you know that the training is, in fact, a keeper.

As trainers, we are all being asked to do webinars to replace classroom training that costs too much, involves travel and actually asks people to stop working long enough to learn something that will help them. I’ll give you about 30 seconds to enjoy the sarcasm in that last sentence and then we’ll get on with the task at hand. Good, now get over it and listen up. Webinars can, in fact, be useful training tools if used correctly and we’ll look at how to make your webinar training worthwhile for your company, your learners and you can look yourselves in the mirror and know that the training is, in fact, a keeper.
First, for our purposes let’s just say that a webinar is a live, instructor-led web meeting with a learning objective. One-way pre-recorded webinars we’ll call webcasts. This is an important distinction for you to use in discussions with the nice person in HR who wants you to just record all your lessons and put them on the web before you close the lights on the training department forever. (Yes I’m being facetious… and yes there’s at least one person in finance who’s had the thought, even if they’ve never said it out loud).
Here are four ways to ensure that your webinar training is effective:
1. Keep it 'real' - or as real as possible.
You know that training in any form has objectives, information and some kind of assessment for both acceptance and knowledge acquisition. Most web presentation platforms allow you to assess audience members by polling them (often with cool interactive graphics), allowing them to participate by phone or over the computer, by chat and in numerous other ways, depending on the platform. Build those opportunities into your training and use them often.
Further, just like in the real classroom , the more people you have in the class, the less interactive and engaging it is. If at all possible, keep class size to about the same as you would have in a real classroom. Feel free to show this to the person who thinks you can have all 100 employees take part in one webinar and 'get it over with'.
2. Keep it short  
One of the biggest mistakes organisations make is assuming they can simply take the classroom training and migrate it to the web. It’s not that people aren’t willing to spend as long as it takes - they are physically incapable of it. You know that in the classroom you can’t keep people off their Blackberries and away from their email and phone calls, imagine how hard it will be when you can’t shoot them dirty looks or control who stops by their cubicle.
Assume that people will focus for short periods of time and then it depends on how interested, engaged or active they are in the experience. Assume a maximum length of 40 minutes per module, including Q and A. You can go to an hour if it’s highly interactive and the learning objectives are really fascinating or crucial to their jobs. It also helps if there will be a test on what they’ve learned. We all pay more attention if we know it will be on the test, right?
3. Keep it interactive
The biggest complaint classroom trainers have is that it’s not as much fun as being in the classroom. There’s an exciting dynamic to getting a bunch of people together and working together that’s hard to come by in a virtual classroom. Remember that the more people in the class, the less interactive the learning will be but there are ways to raise the interactivity level:
  • Use webcams to put faces to names.
  • Open the phone lines and let people hear each other.
  • Encourage chatting with the group and each other… most new presenters try to control chatting because they “might be off topic” but it’s no different than in a classroom: sometimes chat, jokes and personal connections actually increase when they use the tools.
  • Use polling and tools that allow them to get physically engaged with the screen.
  • Use your classroom facilitation skills - questioning your audience is the best way to engage them and you can also check?
If your platform allows, use the 'attention' tools to see if people are multitasking, then do something about it
4. Just keep it 
The world of work is 24/7 but most of us (despite what our bosses think) are still only capable of working a part of that. Most good web presentation platforms allow you to record the session for replay later. This not only allows people who can’t attend the session to catch up with the rest of the group, but creates a cheap, reliable archive of material for people to refer to later - either as a refresher or to help them when you’re unavailable.
Webinar training is not the same as classroom training, it’s true. The food is usually not catered and you seldom have kids or dogs interfering with the classroom discussion like you do when you’re attending a webinar from your home office. Of course, the company will usually frown on you teaching in your pyjamas.
We can look at this from a position of scarcity - 'we aren’t allowed to travel any more', 'we won’t allow people to take the time away from their desks' and all the other things we love to complain about. Or we can look at this technology as a way to do training in a more timely and efficient manner, and in ways that may actually benefit the learner as well as the people in Finance. By understanding what these tools can (and can’t) do well and learn to present effectively using them, you can make make your training, and you, a keeper.
Wayne Turmel is a writer, speaker and president of www.greatwebmeetings.com, where he works with companies to use web presentation tools for sales, training and customer service. He’s also the host of one of the world’s most popular internet radio shows 'The Cranky Middle Manager Show'. You can contact him at wayne@greatwebmeetings.com

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