How can virtual trainers be more engaging when learners are in physical rooms?

A question from Nareej…

Dear Roger,

Could you please help me in finding a solution to below issue/scenario:

We are used to conducting webinars on frequent basis. There are around 15 institutes joining at a time and each of them is having 100 or more than that students sitting in a large classroom/ auditorium. Each institute is attending the event via one computer system (using projector). Now, the challenges are following:

  1. What kind of engagement activities can be used.
  2. How to make effective use of polls, chat box, Q&A box.
  3. How to design interactivity activities to engage all the participants.

Thanks and regards,



Neeraj, thanks for reaching out. The simplest answer is, well, quite simple:

Quit having everyone go to a class or auditorium and have them join the meeting from their own computer.

The longer answer is this: You are using web conferencing as a broadcasting tool. Broadcasting is less inherently engaging for the average presentation.


People in the scenario you describe are largely passive spectators.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be engaging… think about what television producers do: Action. Intrigue. Conflict. Changes of camera angle. Interesting visuals via how and where something is filmed. Music that is written to enhance the emotional connection. And on and on and on.

So… I don’t know what your webinars are like, but I’m guessing that they’re missing many or most of these elements.

To answer your questions:

1. What kind of engagement activities can be used.

You will have to design the experience to include individuals at every physical location to interact with the audience. If a presenter/trainer asks a question, how is that question facilitated?

If everyone is logged on, there’s a one-to-one relationship between the attendees and the tools that facilitate the interactions. If they’re not, you need to redesign the execution and experience.

2. How to make effective use of polls, chat box, Q&A box.

See the last part of the last answer. You have to re-design the experience.

FYI, I’ve been the presenter in this context many times. The truth is that it takes more effort to make this happen than to simply project something on a screen (e.g., coordination of one or more assistants, making sure A/V people have microphones available, ensuring that the right thing is projected on the viewing screen vs. what the Q&A assistant is looking at, how you’re going to have locations “report in” if you ask for a show of hands, how you have learners interact with each other in small groups and then come back together as a group, etc.)

3. How to design interactivity activities to engage all the participants.

How are you going to use a poll if people aren’t connected individually? Take a show of hands in a given room and have the assistant there vote for the whole audience?

I could repeat the question for every web conferencing/webcasting/virtual classroom feature you’ve got.

I design exercises for this scenario pretty much like I do for presenting to an in-person audience…which gets me back to the “coordination” idea. The question evolves from “How do I design the interactivity?” to “How to I work with assistants to facilitate the activity?”

The bottom line

Neeraj, I confess a little bias: The key is adapting to the uniqueness of the medium and situation. What you describe puts additional and different demands on the instructional/presentation design process.

Short of designing new interactive experiences, in your situation the bulk of the burden falls to designing new sensory and cognitive experiences. This starts with what they see and hear:

Is the PowerPoint (or equivalent) visually engaging? This is typically visual (versus data), and there’s the question of how quickly the visuals change…most visuals in television or movies change a helluva lot faster than the average PowerPoint slides (AND are more visual in the process).

Does the presenter use their voice in a compelling, “listenable” way? Most presenters are subject matter experts, not expert presenters. This isn’t wrong, but it IS a big difference between what people experience when sitting back and watching a movie and watching a typical corporate presentation.

Finally, is the content shared psychologically compelling? Regardless of whether the motivation is inspiration, motivation, or education, the brain likes to see content in proven patterns.

If you want to be engaging in the environment you describe you begin with being engaging. You then design the experience from there.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Kunkle

    Wow. It’s funny, when you become friends with someone, you start thinking of them as “Roger, your buddy.” That reply (this post) reminded me of what drew me to you in the first place. Straight shooting, spot-on expert advice that is brilliant.

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