Please. No more mind-numbing webinars passed off as learning.
Because I'm in the training industry, I'm exposed to LOTS of content. I'm interested in some other aspects of my business as well, so I join a lot of webinars. Some are for running a freelance business, some are for online course development, and many are related to the emerging Customer Success philosophy. I also want to learn about specific tasks I perform in my job as a Customer Education consultant, so that I can improve my eLearning and video tutorial design and development skills.
And what I can tell you after dozens of webinars in the last year is that not everyone is good at training virtually. Sometimes I find the learning worth my time investment, but just as often, I don't.
Not long ago, I found myself on a webinar that I quit before it was over. Ok, I admit that I'm a little OCD, and quitting early is just usually not something I consider. I might do something else of low cognitive load (like checking email or cleaning out my physical inbox) while I listen. But this one was poorly done and poorly matched to its promotional materials, and I realized that I was getting no value from it.
It wasn't that the presenter wasn't a skilled trainer. If the content is good, I'm usually willing to overlook a lack in presentation or training skills. What frustrated me is that the webinar completely failed to deliver any of the value I had expected.
I'll try to be better at evaluating content before I sign up. But I also dream of a world with better webinars.
So here are my suggestions to webinar presenters, in three simple rules.
1. Don't Mislead Learners
Yes, you want to use a catchy title for your content. But make sure that it really represents what you plan to teach. The title of the webinar I mentioned above was a little too general, but even the description of the planned webinar made it sound like something of value from my standpoint. However, ten minutes into the presentation, it became clear that the presentation was really about a very specific aspect (localization) that wasn't addressed in the title or the description. I think what made me so angry wasn't the fact that the person talked about a topic that didn't interest me*. I was actually angry because he DIDN'T talk about what I was expecting and hoping to learn, based on the description. I was disappointed that something I'd been looking forward to for a week completely failed to deliver any value.
It goes without saying that your webinar should be thoroughly planned. You've taken the time to promote it, so hopefully you've taken the time to put some instructional design into it, as well as some practice presenting. If you've really done these things, coming up with a title and description that accurately reflects the content shouldn't be too difficult.
2. Respect Learner's Time
Who decided that webinars should last an hour? That's 5 minutes of introduction and chit-chat, 30-40 minutes of actual content, and the rest for questions. Boring. No engagement. Here's my dirty little secret. I usually sign up for the webinar, watch at a later time because I've had something come up or don't want to disturb a deep work session, and if the platform where the recording is hosted allows it, watch it at 1 1/2 times the normal speed. I almost never have to slow down to catch what the presenter has said, and I get done with an hour webinar in about 40 minutes. Shame on those platforms that don't allow speed-watching.
Your audience has taken time out of their day to listen to what you have to say. Don't drag it out for the sake of timing. Don't waste time on trivial matters. And plan, prepare, and practice to make your content as valuable and engaging as possible.
3. Help Learners Be Better at their Jobs
No matter what type of content you are delivering, the purpose is not about you. It's about the people listening and participating. What valuable processes, procedures, or expertise do you have to share? If you are just showing one or more features, you're not helping your audience be better at their jobs. If you are doing an information dump, you're not really helping your audience be better at their jobs. You can't just provide information that your learners haven't heard before. You have to make sure that you are fundamentally improving their skills, decision making capabilities, or knowledge in a way that will make them rock stars at what they do.
Always make sure you consider your audience and make sure you are providing valuable information.
Here's to many improved webinars from following these rules!
* I almost always find something about a webinar interesting, even if it's only one small tip I haven't heard before. But the misleading title webinar was about localization. I've spend a fair chunk of my time on localization projects over the last six years, and didn't need a beginner's guide.