5 Ways to Make Your Webinars More Engaging and Interactive

We’ve all been there: the title sounds great, the instructor is smart and skilled… and yet after 20 minutes you have another tab open in your browser, and you’re checking your email. 

Webinars are becoming more and more popular, and they provide fantastic opportunities to meet new people and learn great information from experts around the world. So why is it that they often end up being dry, facilitator-centered slogs?

That’s not a fun situation for anyone. The facilitator feels like they are talking to an empty room, and the participants aren’t engaged, and certainly not in a mindset where they can analyze and retain information.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! We’ve worked with a number of clients on improving their webinars: focusing on increasing engagement, conversations, and interactions with participants. Most recently, we helped Equal Exchange, an incredible company focusing on promoting small farmer cooperatives, improve their webinars for internal staff trainings.

So below are 5 tips and ideas for how to improve your online facilitation, and make your trainings more engaging and successful. And if you need help implementing these ideas, reach out to us!

1) Less Powerpoints, please! (And get the participants talking.)

Most of the webinars we have seen rely heavily on powerpoint presentations. Which can immediately cause participants to open up a new tab until the session is over.

Now, Powerpoints don’t represent the wrong way, or “bad teaching,” and, they can certainly be useful. But do everyone a favor and mix it up. Try some different activities styles, and shift the ratio of talking. When a powerpoint is used, the facilitator usually speaks for at least 80% of the time. Try to flip this ratio, and design a workshop where the facilitator only speaks for 10-20% of the session. Or, if it’s more comfortable for you, try to gradually shift your sessions towards that ratio.

2) Establish clear goals, objectives, and structures (and communicate them)

This simple idea makes a huge impact. But the most important thing is remembering to actually do it.

Before you even start thinking about activities, images, or videos you want to use, you should create very clear learning goals and objectives for your webinars. In turn, use these goals and objectives to guide the structure and content of your sessions. Now, and this is key, make sure you explain them when the workshops begin. You’d be surprised how many facilitators don’t communicate what they want the participants to learn from a session, and instead just jump right into the content.

More often than not, the title of a webinar and a brief introduction is the only guidance the participants will receive from a facilitator about what they will be doing and why. Try developing chapters or sections of your webinars with very clear demarcations and learning goal identifiers. Better yet, explain the micro and macro objectives: how does this activity build towards our larger learning goals and why? Being clear and explaining your process throughout the sessions will go a long way towards a more clear, concise, engaging, and effective webinar.

3) Don’t separate engagement and analysis from content delivery

Often, the typical set-up for webinars is as follows: facilitators spend the majority of the session delivering content, and then participants have a small amount of time to answer or ask questions. This setup will usually result in a brief, disengaged Q&A that is more about very specific participant scenarios than a shared framework for engagement or analysis.

Following the previous suggestion, once you understand your learning goals and objectives, the next step is to identify how you want participants to analyze the content. A workshop that presents content and has the participants engage with it from multiple levels will be memorable. Instead of separating content delivery and engagement, bring them together. Design activities where the participants are both learning new content and skills, while spending time engaging with each other and the facilitator at the same time. (For an example of what this can look like, check out the “Jigsaw Activity” sample after suggestion #5.)

4) Prioritize participant centered learning when possible

In our opinion, it is pretty hard to have a participant centered webinar when the facilitator talks and uses a Powerpoint for the majority of the session. Sure, the content may be something that attendees are interested in, but everyone is going to be examining the content through the perspective of the facilitator.

Remember that people become more engaged with content when it is directly linked to their own interests, and as a result, they will retain more of the information. It’s a win-win teaching style.

5) Use the technology you have to simulate engaging classrooms

Somewhere along the line, technology seemed to freeze in regards to webinars. The tools needed to make an engaging session centered around conversation, dialogue, and interaction are lacking.  

Thankfully, we can make this work ourselves just by combining a few other existing tools. Most of the major hosting services like Zoom will allow you to have breakout rooms for your webinarsw. You can use these breakout rooms to create small group conversations as well provide spaces for project based activities. You can also mix those tools with platforms like Google Docs and Google Slides, which allow multiple people to engage with the same content at the same time. For example: Google Docs can be used in a breakout room to allow participants to fill out worksheets or brainstorm ideas together.

Start thinking of your webinar space as a flexible and open physical classroom instead of a digital lecture hall.

Bonus: Sample Webinar Activity

Need a little help thinking about how to apply some of the above ideas? Check out the sample activity framework below! 

Sample Activity Type: Jigsaw Activity

Purpose of Activity: This activity is a great way to put learners in the position of teachers, and to cover a lot of content in a more condensed fashion. Participants are separated into groups, and each group gets a series of documents, images, videos, maps, etc. that are related to a specific theme. For example, your presentation could be on the evolution of the US immigrant rights movements, and you could have one group that receives documents on the early 20th century labor movement, another group that receives documents on the United Farm Workers, and another that receives documents on workers centers and the sanctuary movement.

On their own, these documents don’t tell the whole story and it would take a lot of time to cover each, but when they are all put together, the participants will have a more full understanding of the history. The small groups will engage with the content together, answer questions and analyze the content together, and then come back to the whole group present their findings. This will allow attendees to dive deep into a certain part of the workshop in an engaging way, while also creating a broad survey of the full topic. Most importantly, it is highly engaging, learner centered, and will result in a more memorable webinar.

Recommended Number of People: Any group size works, though we don’t recommend that the small groups have more than 5 people in them in a digital setting. You can also have multiple groups take on the same topics or review the same material if you have a large group.

Recommended Time: This will depend on how many groups you have for the report back, but each group should get 10-15 minutes together and 2-4 minutes to report back.

Activity Structure:

  1. Select your group categories and the documents for each group. We recommend that each document is 1-page or less. Remember, the groups need time to go through all of the documents, analyze, and prepare to report back. Finally, create a cover sheet that outlines the instructions, includes analysis questions, and identifies what each group should report back on and in how much time.
  2. Organize the group documents into a google doc so everyone in the group can access it remotely, or alternatively, send it to folks before the workshop so they can print it out.
  3. Break the whole group up into the small groups ahead of time to make the transition smoother and faster.
  4. Set-up the breakout rooms in Zoom (for this example that’s the webinar platform we are using), and name them after the different groups so it easy for each participant to find their breakout room.
  5. Once you are ready, read off the instructions and outline the activity. Let folks know that you will provide time updates.
  6. Have folks breakout and go to their different breakout rooms. While they are in their rooms, we recommend popping into the different breakout rooms to make sure everyone is on track, and to be available for any questions.
    1. If you have some folks that are together in person, you could have them be in the same groups.
  7. Once the activity is completed, have attendees return to the whole group, and lead a report-back. Each group should have 2-4 minutes to report back on their topic and conversations. We recommend saving the conversation and Q&A until each group has shared back.
    1. If you have multiple groups working on the same content (say you have a very large webinar audience), have some of the groups report back on specific questions and the other groups reviewing the same content report back on a separate cluster of questions. You could create enough questions that they can be divided, or you can create separate questions for each group.
  8. Thank the participants and summarize everyone’s findings, relating it back to the learning goals of the activity.
  9. Transition to the next activity.

Want to talk to us about working together to make your webinars more engaging and interactive? Be in touch! Fill out the form here, or send us an email: contact AT toolboxfored.org

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