So what are these principles of engagement? Through my experience running career-development webinars for global companies for nearly a decade, I’ve compiled a checklist of best practices:
Engaging with versus talking at - There are a number of different ways that we learn and process information. Being talked at is the least effective way to learn. A one-way online presentation, therefore, without any interaction through polls, raising your hand or chat is the least effective way to engage an audience. I recommend six to eight polls per webinar session, giving the audience time during the webinar to reflect on the material and concepts you’re presenting. By sharing the results of each poll, you’re also building a community. Although the polls are anonymous, the audience can see where they fall in the pack. “Ah, I’m not alone. Others have had the same experience I’ve had.”
Leveraging your voice and images - Remember that the audience does not have the benefit of in-person cues, thus your slides and your voice play an even greater role when running a webinar. Use these to your advantage. Make the slides interesting through colourful and fun images that reflect and underpin the content you’re presenting. Avoid putting your audience to sleep through bullet points and massive amounts of text (‘death by powerpoint’). It’s important to keep your voice animated throughout, as if you were having a conversation with someone. If you’re not interested and enthusiastic about your subject matter, your audience won’t be either.
Providing an easy, logical framework - Self-reflection is a higher level of learning than passively listening or following instructions. This is why creating an easy and logical framework for the participants to work through the issues is critical. The framework I have found useful is the following: what’s the issue, where are you on the spectrum, why does it matter and then the ‘how to’. Jumping straight to the ‘how to’ does not allow the audience time to reflect on how the issue impacts them on an individual level. The more participants can make the link between why it’s important and meaningful to them, the greater the chances are that they will be motivated to learn and behave differently.
Adding personal stories - So often we forget that as humans we are first and foremost emotional creatures. Adding personal stories connects the audience to the material. Maya Angelou (poet, singer, and civil rights activist) reminds us that “Others will forget what you said, but never will forget how you made them feel.” Storytelling is the best way to create chemistry with people. A great anecdote hooks people, takes them on an emotional journey and conveys a memorable message. Personal stories show our vulnerability, one of the most powerful ways to get others to like us and follow us. In effect we are building a level of trust with the participants. With trust they will listen to what we have to say. Without trust they will discount what we have to say.
Referring to participants by name - By referring to someone by their first name, we are making it personal. During the webinar acknowledge comments made on the chat referring to someone by name, “Susan, thanks for your asking about xyz. We’ll cover that in the next slide.” “Johannes, thanks for your comment on career progression.” When the audience raises their hands, acknowledge of few of the raised hands by name as well. “I can see by the number of hands raised - Nita, Mohammed and Sadir – that you’ve also had the same thing happen to you. Thanks for sharing.” The audience no longer feels like part of a faceless group but rather an integral part of the community experience.
Today’s audiences increasingly want to be part of the experience. They are keen to have their voices heard (which is one of the reasons social media has become so popular). I have found that even for in person presentations, the audience prefers a more engaging workshop format rather than standing behind the podium and ‘preaching’. ‘Good’ webinars are essentially workshops that apply the key principles of engagement in order to connect with colleagues and clients across geographically boundaries and time zones.
Learning & teaching methods
Landsberg, Max, Tao of Coaching: Boost Your Effectiveness At Work By Inspiring And Developing Those Around You, Profile Books, September 8, 2015
Meaning & Motivation
Sinek, Simon, Start with Why, Penguin, 6 Oct. 2011
Start with why -- how great leaders inspire action Ted Talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA
Brown, Brene, Dare to Lead, Random House, October 9, 2018
The Power of Vulnerability Ted Talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o