6 Questions Every Webinar and Virtual Classroom Newbie Should Be Asking

In their awesome book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath popularized the idea of the “curse of expertise.” In short, once you’ve learned something you generally find it hard to remember what it was like not knowing it. More importantly it takes being purposeful to get inside the mind of your audience and teach at the appropriate level.

This is top of mind because just this week I had more than one gig where we were starting at the beginning in terms of using web conferencing for online meetings, seminars, and classes. It also got me to thinking… “What questions do I wish someone had prepared me with when I started (15 years ago! Gulp!)?”

1. Is this medium really for me?

By analogy, some great actors on screen (e.g., movies, TV) have tried live theatre and suck at it. The reverse is true…some masters of stage have failed on the screen. But they’re great actors and should rock whatever they touch, no?

You actually might find it’s easier for your to rock a webinar or virtual class than an in-person session. Or you might be one of those who blindly just figures that because you’ve got stage chops in-person that your webinars will simply be extensions of your awesomesauce.

Not so. Every day the world suffers webinars from executives and experts who either shouldn’t be virtual or haven’t taken the new medium seriously. Trust me, I see all the snarky tweets. Just because you’re awesome one place doesn’t mean you belong in the other.

To be sure, though, presenting or facilitating online is a learnable skill, and every week I work with people who used to hate it only to see the lights come on. Here’s how…

2. What do you do offline that you want to translate online?

Most webinars are sub-standard experiences because we take the lesser engaging parts of most offline speeches and classes and amplify them — namely 1) me doing all the talking and 2) PowerPoint.

Start by thinking through the way you engage people offline. How do you kick things off, ask questions, see that someone wants to make a comment, facilitate group discussion, etc.? Look for the best parts, then challenge yourself to migrate those things online.

3. How do your interactions map to a new set of tools?

Once you’ve got better top-of-mind consciousness about what you do offline, it’s easier to ask yourself, “What tools (features) does web conferencing have that enable a similar interaction virtually?”

Not everything maps exactly, but there are a stunning array of ways web conferencing does help you do those those things online. Check out the chart starting on page five of this paper (graciously sponsored by Citrix) for ideas.

4. What might actually be better online?

It’s natural to first evaluate a new medium of communication relative to pre-existing experience, and so it’s natural to feel a sense of loss (e.g., lack of eye contact). But any new medium also brings with it a new set of possibilities that are different, if not better.

Here’s an example. Imagine you kick off a training session by having participants introduce themselves. If you have 18 people who each take 90 seconds, you just killed a half hour. The experience is sequential.Do the same thing in an open chat in your virtual classroom and it might instead be a five minute exercise, because the experience is simultaneous.

Given that most trainers feel like they never have enough time for all they want to cover, you just bought back 25 valuable minutes. Powerful. And there a zillion other things you’ll discover.

5. Might a different web conferencing solution help me engage more naturally?

I was speaking at an in-person conference and facilitated one of those exercises where people work together at their tables for a few minutes before talking about the topic as a larger group. A gal stood up, a little miffed, and huffed, “That, right there! You can’t do that in a webinar!”

My response, “You can’t? Or you’ve never seen it done?”

The most common web conferencing solutions are configured for meetings…the most common use case. Presentations in web seminars or facilitating a group training have communication behaviors that are different than meetings. Unfortunately this means that the most common (and cheapest) solutions that newbies are aware of fall short of delivering great experiences.

You may or may not get to choose the webinar or virtual classroom solution you get to use, but now you’re aware that there’s another discussion to be had.

6. How do I practice so as to enhance human connection?

As I like to quip, “Microsoft will teach you how to use Word, but they don’t teach you how to be a writer.” By analogy, a great webinar or virtual class isn’t because you learn how to use software, it’s because you learn how to meet people where they’re at and reach their hearts and minds in a new “room” that has new sensory, cognitive, and social implications.

To be sure, there’s a level of confidence that only comes with competence with the webinar software, but if you simply “learn how to use Webex,” you’ll fail to grow from average to great.

The bottom line

Being a breath of fresh air to your virtual participants isn’t hard, but it is different. You CAN do it. Don’t sell yourself short, and start by asking the right questions.



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