How Course Facilitators Can Redefine Audience Engagement in Virtual Webinars
I’ve been receiving a few questions lately on how to improve engagement for virtual webinars given that I’ve been facilitating quite a few.
Again, not a webinar “guru” here, but happy to share some of my insights.
As someone who frequently facilitates in-person workshops & gives talks, one of the first things I noticed was the disheartening lack of “engagement” from moving to online webinars. From the feedback that I’ve been receiving, I’ve come to learn that engagement isn’t lacking, just different.
I’ll share some tips on increasing engagement after I address some expectations.
Verbal engagement vs. Non-verbal
This is one of the biggest differences that facilitators need to embrace. We’re used to reading our crowd, seeing if they’re disengaging based on their body language, eye contact, if they respond well to humour/questions etc.
- Most people will prefer to have their video turned off for webinars, you’ll have to get used to speaking into the void and not hearing from your audience. A lack of response does not equal to you doing a bad job/people not being interested.
- Instead, a warning sign for bad engagement is if people are dropping off early and not tuning in till the end.
- People prefer to stay on mute as well, and most rather not unmute to ask questions or answer questions that you pose during your presentation.
- Instead, allow people to engage in ways that they are more comfortable — e.g. typing out in the chatbox or answering a poll.
- Again, silence does not equate to poor engagement. If many people are responding or typing, that’s a sign that you’re doing a good job too.
- Similar to in-person workshops, the more people in attendance, the less likely someone will speak-up.
Try different presentation styles depending on your objectives
If you truly want to maximize engagement, the best type of webinar to run is NOT a presentation designed around slides.
- Instead, run it like a discussion.
- Have a topic, set the context with some of your opinions/tips, then open the floor for discussion.
- With this style, the speaker is in full-screen instead of a small side icon while you’re sharing your screen. Seeing a person speak makes it more personal, this also encourages others to turn on their video and come off mute to respond.
- There are downsides to this style:
- It’s harder (but not impossible) to position yourself as a thought leader in this type of situations. BUT, it does build a stronger community.
- It’s more difficult to do this with an audience that is not familiar with you. Less of them will be willing to engage. Having some people you know attend and asking questions helps to spark conversation and get people comfortable with speaking.
Using lots of exercises:
- There are many different types of exercises you can get the audience to do. Some of them to a varying degree of “engagement”.
- Reflection — Activities where they need to reflect on different things/write down a list of things etc.
- Creation — Have them fill out/create something. e.g. Create your customer persona based on what we’ve discussed.
- Quiz — The best way to do this if to gamify it. https://kahoot.com/ is a great way to do quizzes. Polls, surveys, or questions to the audience work too but expect much lower response rates compared to doing them in-person.
- One of the hardest exercises are ones that require you to break people up into groups/pairs to do something. Many video conferencing/webinar tools have different ways to create breakout rooms, but it’s still really difficult to do things where you give 1 group a set of instructions, and another group another set of instructions, especially if they’re both not supposed to know what the other party’s instructions are.
- The most traditional webinar, where you present with the aid of slides.
- You can mix in exercises here and there, but recognize that it’s also very OK to have a content-rich presentation and hold off on Q&A till after you’re done.
- I’ve tried getting people to interrupt anytime they have a question — almost nobody does, since it’s harder to do so virtually by coming off mute or typing quickly enough that you’ll notice (even “raising hand” features that virtual conferencing tools have don’t really work as well).
- I’ve tried pausing at intervals to ask for questions, again, lots of awkward silence.
- I find that if you flood people with good information, they WILL have lots of questions when you open for Q&A at the end.
Tips for increasing engagement
- Give the audience an option for asking questions on the topic when they register — so that you can answer them when you begin the webinar.
- Engage the audience at the start, while you’re waiting for more people to join and begin the webinar.
- Prepare questions in advance to spark conversation with early arrivals.
- Or if you’re an introvert like me, use a rotating presentation like this
<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vRqq4P1kNe_-xdY9U5mxBm5NG7DNjeoiq20zr0LZSZ0-ceBZs7nMbfqPZskOfOKSJEn7B6iDFhKEUxo/embed?start=true&loop=true&delayms=10000" frameborder=”0" width=”480" height=”389" allowfullscreen=”true” mozallowfullscreen=”true” webkitallowfullscreen=”true”></iframe>
- Give an orientation at the start, tell people where to find the chatbox, how to raise their hands, how to unmute, how to turn on their video etc. Seems common sense, but not everyone may be familiar with your webinar platform.
- Quite obvious, but simple things like reminding people to close all tabs/eliminate all distractions so that they can focus on the webinar.
- Don’t record the session — people feel more comfortable sharing if they know that their questions/comments aren’t recorded and on display for eternity.
- Encourage everyone to turn on their video.
- Make your questions SIMPLE.
- Choice questions get the best engagement — would you prefer A or B. Instead of complex questions where you’re asking things like “what isn’t done correctly here” or “how could you improve this?”
- Or pre-populated polls that they simply have to vote on.
Remember, chin up! Just because you can’t see/hear your audience, doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy what you’re doing!
I had someone say to me after the webinar “You may not have been able to see me, but I found that I was unconsciously nodding a lot to my computer screen when you gave your presentation”.
Related post: Hosting Engaging Webinars