The Deadly Sins of Webinars

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webinarThink about your last webinar frustrating experience. What was the problem? Why wasn't it a 10 on the scale of greatness? Chances are at least one of the deadly sins of webinars was committed. Part of avoiding sins is known what they are and what to do if unforseen challenges come up. There are four people that can commit sins and as the facilitator, you are the one responsible for preventing them!

Deadly Sins Committed By Facilitators
The facilitator is responsible for the entire learning community: how content is shared, timing and pacing, interactions of learners, and so on. Here are just a few of the deadly sins that the facilitator is able to control and prevent if he/she takes the time to do so in the planning stage. This list also describes a lot of the roles and responsibilities of the trainer/facilitator.

Not Starting or Ending on Time
Log in early and reward those ready to go by starting on time. If you regularly start late, learners that are ready will learn there's no point in being punctual. I use the first few minutes to review briefly how to use the tools for the day. If learners miss that, they will be frustrated because they don't know how to participate fully; have the producer watch who isn't in the room and have him work with those people on an individual basis. Let learners know in advance that the first few minutes will lay the groundwork for a successful session. If they can't make it on time, send a playback link to a previously recorded mini-session that goes through how to use the platform tools.

Not Having a Soft Opener
A few slides to begin engaging the learners before the session helps to warm up the brain similar to warming up before a run. Soft openers could be puzzles, pictures, visual images or word searches. Skip the scrolling slides that only welcome participants and begin creating a learning community. Use a soft opener to break preoccupation and get participants thinking about the content.

Not Having a Handout
Even if the handout is only an empty page that allows for interaction with the contents, it is a start and much better that having no direction for learners. Most people want to know, even at a high level, what is going to be covered and what the key elements are. I have a hard time listening to keynote speeches that do not have a handout. Oftentimes, I am left feeling like we jumped all over, and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take away. Was there a point? Or was I just supposed to be entertained or motivated.

Handouts create clarity and incorporate at least three principles of how people remember:

  • Handouts are visual
  • It is easier to recall information when learners have recorded it, and
  • Sections are chunked so it's easier to absorb and assimilate.

Not Enough Interaction
Plan some interaction every 4 minutes. If plan a poll and it takes 2 minutes to complete, then I need to have another engagement 4 minutes from the finish time of that poll.

Too Much Content
Webinars are for "need-to-know" information only. If learners won't be using the information multiple times in the next 30 days, the chances are slim that it will be retained when it is finally needed. Instead, teach learners how to search for the nice-to-know information and practice that multiple times so when the time comes and the information is needed, they can search for it. Challenge subject matter experts on what is truly need-to-know information. It takes about 33 percent more time to train online interactively compared to the classroom, which squeezes out the nice-to-know information.

Poor Pacing
Many facilitators and trainers are focused on flow, timing and a lot of other details, and it is easy to forget to check-in with learners to find out if they are comfortable with the level of detail and ready to move on. Teach learners at the beginning how to use their pacing tools and give them permission to ask for the session to be sped up or slowed down. Pause the session occasionally to ask how the pace is for the learners. This will give you a pulse and give learners a chance to feel comfortable giving feedback. If a majority of the group wants to slow down, slow down. If only one person is regularly asking for a quicker pace, consider giving them additional tasks like being a team scribe or time keeper. This will help keep them engaged while others take notes or problem solve.

Too Many People Talking at Once
When using VoIP, there can be a lot of feedback when multiple users all have their microphones on. This can be distracting. Practice calling on participants and having them raise their hands electronically to share; it will reduce the double voices and feedback for all. Have learners turn on their microphones when talking and back off when they are finished. The producers can also help by turning off mics that was left on accidently.

Too Much Text on Screen
PowerPoint puke is in the past. No more 700-word slides that are read. Slides should aid the presenter, not be the presenter. This rule applies to pre-made slides, not the slides participants create themselves. Instead of text, use images and photographs to depict ideas and concepts.

Using Too Many Tools
Just because a trainer knows how to use the tools doesn't mean all of them need to be used. It reminds me of a participant that went through The ASTDI Train-the-Trainer Boot Camp class. She went back to work so excited she decided to test everything out and amazingly implemented more than 30 ideas in a 30 minute meeting. Her company culture was used to lectures, and the interactive culture shock was over the top. Implementing one or two ideas would have been better. As learners got used to those engagement techniques, she could have added a few more or tried something different. Pretty soon the group buys into the interaction because the change is gradual.

Online is the same way. Just because a trainer knows the platform doesn't mean the learners do. Overuse tools and the session becomes a juggling act. Juggling one ball or two balls is manageable for all, but, as more balls are added, it becomes more difficult and nearly impossible for those of us who haven't learned the skill. More time is spent trying to get participants up to speed on where to find tools than it is on the actual content itself.

Not Practicing
Death by lecture is one way to kill motivation. Instead, build in interactive learning activities. Test out one interaction and see how things go. If you aren't enthusiastic about the activities, the participants won't be either, so begin with the exercises that are easiest and more your style. "I have to lecture," some might say. I am a recovering lecturer as well, and here you can start down the road to recovery. Admitting it is the first step.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Break up lectures into smaller 4-minute lecturettes,
  • Have participants be guest presenters on content they have expertise in,
  • Use a short video clip to teach a section,
  • Allow for learners to digest information by jotting down action ideas in their workbooks,
  • Ask questions throughout the lecture and have learners text chat; use their examples and ideas

Appearing (or being) Disorganised
If learners think the facilitator is clueless or disorganised, credibility is lost and hard to regain. Be consistent in where you place items you will use. If demonstrating the use of props on the webcam, have them readily available on the desk. If sharing a link to a website, check the link in the morning of the session and have it ready to paste in. When application sharing your desktop, be sure to clear or file miscellaneous documents and shortcuts not needed for the session. The appearance of organisation goes a long way, and it does help in maintaining an organised session and platform.

Improper Handling of Questions
The purpose of a question in an online webinar is for learning to take place, not testing. Most sessions I have attended either run out of time or spend too much time on one question. If the answer goes beyond the 4 minutes, I'm not listening; I'm checking my emails.
Allow participants time to process or craft question in sub groups. This increases the buy-in for all and eliminates questions that are not valid or can be answered by another learner. Allow learners to "ask the team before you ask me" when it comes to content that has already been covered. This encourages other learners to adapt and assimilate the information enough to help bring up to speed.

No Evaluation
Smiley sheets and feedback forms are used in the classroom on a regular basis but when it comes to online training, they are nowhere to be found. In webinars where I've been an attendee, more than 65 percent of the facilitators didn't have any type of evaluation at any point during their session. How do they know if several concepts were over my head? They won't. They may feel like they did a great job because 50 people logged in, but when I log out at the end of the session, there may be only 11 left in the room. After only a few minutes, participants not paying for a webinar will log out if it isn't worth their investment of time. Keep them engaged and ask for feedback to make the next session even better.


  • ASTD Handbook, ASTD Press, 2014
  • Webinars Basics, Pearson, 2013

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