A webinar catches your eye, you register, add it to the calendar and look forward to it. On the day you login, keen to hear from the speakers but also to learn from other people. Hey, you might even be able to encourage others or pass on a nugget from your own experience.
Except that chat is disabled. There is no chat window. Or it’s set to panellists only for questions.
I had this today and I was immediately disappointed and disengaged. I’m not the only one, here are some other responses to me sharing this in a tweet:
— Christine Lior Locher FRSA (@ChristineLocher) October 6, 2020
— Joan Keevill (@Designs_JoanK) October 6, 2020
— Laura Winstone (@LauraWinstone1) October 6, 2020
— Nicola Tyzack 🎧🏠😷 (@call_me_cynical) October 6, 2020
Sunder highlights this nicely by stating how important conversations are rather than just broadcasting content.
Conversations > Content. But, most are in love with themselves to acknowledge & change direction. Thx @LightbulbJo for the nudge.
— Sunder Ramachandran (@sundertrg) October 6, 2020
Webinar or video?
I decided to log out of the webinar. The point I made to a friend also attending, and in the tweet, is that if there’s no chat window, then I might as well watch a video later. I can watch it at a time that’s more convenient (exercising, making dinner, whatever) and even on 1.5 times the speed if I want to get through the content a bit quicker.
There was a question panel, so I know I was missing out on asking questions to the speaker, but I felt thoroughly disengaged. It’s the speaker’s choice not to have chat on, but it was also my choice to log out.
Other people saw the lack of chat in a similar way:
good answer, I faced that too recently, no back channel, no feedback , no need to be real time
— Bruno Winck (@brunowinck) October 6, 2020
completely agree. absolutely no pt in attending a session like that. some people don't understand how people learn.
— Henry Stewart (@happyhenry) October 6, 2020
And Donald H Taylor, the webinar master himself, sums it up nicely.
One of the best routes to an engaged webinar audience is a chat function, open to all throughout.
If you prefer no interaction, a self-service video makes more sense.
Open chat is, rightly, pretty much standard in webinars now. It provides so much value for participants. https://t.co/zSYMRtk20g
— Donald H Taylor (@DonaldHTaylor) October 6, 2020
Is chat distracting?
Others made some good points about chat getting in the way:
No interaction till Q&A at end isn't great. But I also worry about people being distracted from main content by continuous sidebar chat. I prefer presenters who alternate nuggets of content with time for reflection and discussion. Guess it depends on purpose as others have said.
— Katie Driver (@thinking_ally) October 6, 2020
At face value, this is bad. But is a permanently open back-channel actually conducive to a focused learning experience? With regular pauses for interaction, open questions etc, then the chat becomes a vital part of the social learning experience, but a backchannel is distracting.
— Richard Whiteside (@nutrich) October 6, 2020
Katie and Richard make some great points here about distractions. On a busy webinar, with a lot of people, chat really can get distracting and take focus away from the presenter and the content being delivered. Most software allows you to turn it off to try and ignore it, but that’s not always easy if the chat flashes different colours or messages show in pop-ups.
As a speaker, facilitator, producer and attendee, my preference is always to have chat enabled. It adds far more value to all involved than it takes away. A webinar with chat means I’m engaged in the topic and the conversation and it’s probably front and centre on my screen. One without chat, if I elect to stay, means that it’s a small window to the side whilst I’m doing my email.
What does no chat really mean?
What I’m concerned about are the underlying decisions for an organisation and speaker to decide that chat isn’t the way forwards.
Amber and Gavin both make great points on this:
Blerg. I hate those. Why even do it synchronously if they dont want to have any social learning?
— Amber Sauer, M.Ed (@asauer00) October 6, 2020
Chat essential for feedback for presenters, Q&A is an ALSO must for structured followthrough – too many in webinar chat can become a twitter feed on speed. a webinar without chat, is a TV broadcast.
— Gavin Henrick (@ghenrick) October 6, 2020
And Ken makes a great point here about how important some trainers see the content over discussion, experiences and activities.
Back when we used to do in-person training, I remember a consultant starting with "We've only got 6 hours and I've got a lot of material to cover." IOW: be quiet, listen to ME, and save your questions for the end.
That "method" is way too prevalent.
— Ken Brown (@ObviouslyKen) October 6, 2020
You can read more about chat in webinars from me here.
What does your audience really think? That you don’t care
To me, not having chat enabled means that the speakers really don’t want to engage the audience, they don’t care that much about what people learn, or tailoring their message delivery to the people that have been gracious enough to turn up for their live event.
My friend who attended the webinar assured me that there was some great content, and I genuinely do look forward to watching the video at a convenient time. It just didn’t need to be another bad webinar.