I call it Log-In, Check-Out Syndrome. It's that thing that happens when, about 17 seconds into your virtual event, your attendee engagement gauges plummet but your attendee numbers stay the same. They're there, but they're obviously not paying attention. They're in another window or their screensaver is on; either way, they're in the virtual room but they're not really there. You know this is the case because at the end of the webinar, you have to clear the room of folks who didn't exit on their own...because they didn't even notice the webinar ended. They were logged in, but they definitely checked out.
This is not okay with me, and I hope you're equally horrified. But let's be clear. I don't blame the people who are multitasking or walking away from their desks during webinars. I blame the people who created those bad webinars for making them so easy to ignore. If I have to choose between (a) getting some work task over my always-overflowing plate so I can leave work on time today or (b) stopping everything so someone who sounds like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off can read me PowerPoint slides for the next 60 minutes, I know which option I'm going to pick.
But there's good news: You don't have to stay in an unfulfilling relationship with your virtual events. Here are seven tips for breaking up with bad webinars.
#1 Please step away from the bullet points.
One of the best indicators that a webinar is about to suck the life out of its audience is an endless parade of bullet points on densely populated slides. I'm not the first person to wax poetic about the evils of Death by PowerPoint, nor am I the first person to suggest more attractive, more effective presentation slides. But apparently it needs to be said a few more times because, y'all, bad PowerPoints are rampant. Slides should not contain every word the presenter is going to say, and they're not there to take the place of handouts.If I can read the whole presentation in the slide file you send me after the event, why should I bother even attending? The role of webinar slides or other visuals is to reinforce the presenter's key points -- not to replace them.
#2 Decide that chat is not a four-letter word.
In a live, face-to-face training or presentation setting, the audience members feed off of the energy of those around them, and the speaker feeds off of the energy of the audience. It's harder to achieve this same effect online, but using chat is a great move in that direction. People inherently want to connect with their peers. Encourage the use of live chat for questions, comments, and sidebar conversation during your events to keep people engaged in what you want them to see and hear. More on chat in a moment.
#3 Get ready for your close-up.
Take advantage of your webcam so attendees can both see and hear the speaker throughout your webinar, or at least at key points in the presentation. Most newer computers have cameras built in, and you can find them for under $20 with free shipping on Amazon if yours doesn't. Either way, it's worth the effort. It's a lot easier for attendees to disengage from a mysterious voice. When your presenter is on screen, particularly when they make good "eye contact" by looking directly at the camera when they speak, participants feel more connected to the content and to the speaker as a human being and engagement climbs.
#4 Share the mic.
An hour is a long time for one person to talk with enthusiasm without getting any breaks or opportunities to recharge. Support your speakers with a facilitator or moderator who can give them a breather by asking questions, making observations, or highlighting questions and comments from chat. Much the way news teams often use co-anchors, a speaker-moderator team in your webinars creates more energy and engagement. You can also share the mic with your audience by using chat. Ask open-ended questions pause a moment so folks can type their answers into chat, and then read some of the responses.
#5 Ask and it shall be answered.
Throughout your webinar, ask for real-time input from your audience. Most webinar platforms have multiple options for attendee engagement, but most webinars don't take advantage of these tools. Just as you would do "temperature checks" in a face-to-face event, ask your participants about the pace of the event. Ask for a show of hands related to your topic of the moment. Ask for agreement or disagreement. Conduct relevant polls and discuss the results. If you show people how to interact with the speaker and then give them tools to do it, they'll respond.
#6 Give the people what they want.
Presumably you know the topic for your webinar when you start promoting it. But mostly likely the content is still developing when people are registering for your event. Take advantage of the registration process: Ask people during registration what questions they have and what challenges they're struggling with related to your topic. Your audience members come to your events with expectations and needs in mind; find out what those are, and use that information to craft your content and your approach. It's a lot less work for you -- no more mind reading! -- and a lot more satisfaction for them.
#7 Put production in capable hands.
The most successful webinars I've ever attended or presented used a webinar producer. Your organization may have its own definition for this term, but a webinar producer is usually the person who serves as the bridge between the presenter and the technology. The producer's job is to make the presenter look good and make sure the event runs smoothly. They handle things like making introductions, running the technical aspects of the room, assisting with or conduct polls and other interactivity, facilitating Q&A, covering any gaps or silences, and troubleshooting technical issues with attendees. In my approach, the producer also works with the content to shape it for online delivery and incorporate interactivity to engage participants.
Log-In, Check-Out Syndrome is a serious and contagious condition, and it's rampant throughout the gov universe. But you have the power to stop it by breaking up with bad webinars, and by teaching others how to do the same thing. After all, friends don't let friends deliver bad webinars. What are your favorite strategies for breaking up? What are some of your virtual event pet peeves? Let's hear 'em in the comments.
Kristen King is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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