Engage Your Audience, Please

In: BlogDate: May 02, 2022By: Henry Stewart

Recently I went to a webinar on 'how people learn'. The first slide stated "people learn by doing," and the last slide said "don't give a lecture." Yet the 45 minute webinar was a lecture with no interaction with the attendees and certainly no learning by doing.

This was especially ironic because of the topic, and the message, but is true of so many webinars. What is stopping people from making online webinars engaging?

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The webinar company GoTo, who can tell if the audience has moved away onto other software, reckons that participants in webinars are, on average, only paying attention a third of the time.

Online it is so tempting to do something else, to — for instance — check your email.

You can see people doing it. Long introductions, people are straying to their emails. Reading off slides or simply being dull, it's email time. Questions to the whole group, rather than getting people into breakouts, some people will go to their email.

Here's my test: In your next online session, can you split your audience into pairs in breakouts and know that everybody will have somebody to talk to?

I guess there are two approaches that people take:

  1. I'm going to give my talk and if people want to hear it they will, it's up to them
  2. I'm going to seek to actively engage my audience so they fully get the message

I go with the second option. I want people not just to hear what I say, not just to find it memorable (which stories enable) but to relate it back to their own lives and work. And for that you need interaction, you need people to be able to work through their thoughts.

In our face-to-face conferences, I always made sure that nobody spoke for longer than 9 minutes, before giving people a chance to discuss at their tables. (The speaker would generally get a second 9 minutes afterwards and then more discussion.)

People left engaged and inspired because they weren’t simply watching people talk and experiencing death-by-PowerPoint.

Online it is even more important to keep those presentations short. And online can be even more engaging than real life. Our virtual conference last year was rated the most engaging conference we had ever held.

We have the tools. We have breakouts that enable people to relate what they have heard to themselves, to debate and discuss it.

We have chat interaction. We have Jamboard, Miro or Mural to enable people to move post-its around the screen. We have Slido or Mentimeter for polls and word clouds and the ability to vote questions up and down.

And we have Google Docs and Google Sheets (or Word and Excel) to quickly capture information from the whole audience.

And the feedback indicates that introverts as well as extroverts — as long as the breakouts are small enough — also value the opportunity to talk about what they've heard.

Give people a minute for silent reflection before going into the breakouts and it works even better.

What is getting in the way? Why are so many webinars so unengaging?

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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