Virtual classrooms are like aeroplanes…

Mark Gilroy guest blogger for Lightbulb Moment

Webinars airlines blog

The practice of facilitating in a virtual environment is unique in so many ways. When planning a piece of virtual learning, one of the key challenges is that it can appear incredibly abstract. If you’ve never designed a piece of e-learning, webinar content or other virtual learning solutions, it can be helpful to pick a meaningful analogy to make things more concrete.

In this post we’ll be using the analogy of an airline when considering the planning, design and delivery of virtual learning.

So, if you’d like to take your seats and place your luggage into the overhead compartment, we’ll get started…


Before boarding a plane, airlines take several steps to let you know that you’re in the right place to begin, long before you arrive at the airport. Clear, concise messages are sent out to remind all passengers about the important dates, times and location to minimise confusion. When passengers arrive on the day, there’s either an automated system or an ‘in person’ check-in to welcome you to your flight.

In the same way, it’s critical for virtual learning hosts to think about this stage of the learning process:

  • Most virtual facilitation tools have automated emails that are sent out when your participants register. Are these being sent in a timely fashion to give your participants appropriate notice?
  • Check the tone and impact of these emails – do they reflect the intended experience of your session? Are they clear and easy to understand?
  • As people arrive in your virtual ‘room’, consider verbally checking-in people by name as they arrive. If there’s anything you want them to prepare or think about before you get started – usher them in the right direction.
  • Signpost clearly when things are about to start. Some facilitators like to use a musical cue to distinguish between check-in and take-off (see below).

Pre-flight checklist

As passengers arrive on a plane, the airline team are busy working through numerous checklists to make sure that they all have a safe and smooth flight. Lists are an important part of airline protocol to ensure that processes are slick, nothing essential  gets missed, and things happen in the correct order. These are often checked by multiple people to ensure accuracy.

Similarly, with webinars and other types of virtual learning environments, it can be helpful to prepare a pre-flight checklist to work through on the day of the event, to guard against the unexpected. Be cautious of facilitating long sessions by yourself, and consider recruiting a crew to support you, including a co-pilot and technical support, to help keep everything ticking along. Potential checklist items might include:

  • Ensure any computer updates are downloaded and applied several hours before take-off.
  • Have a backup computer powered-up and ready to switch to in case anything happens mid-flight.
  • Run a test to check that your microphone/headset is working. All necessary polls/breakout rooms set-up and ready to go.

Safety announcements

As a plane is about to take-off, the hosts guide the passengers through a set of safety announcements. Where the exits are, how to fasten your seatbelt, how to blow that  funny little whistle, and so on. For frequent flyers, these are often a dull and unsurprising part of the journey, but for a first-time flyer, this is essential information.

Virtual training rooms can be a confusing and frustrating place for the uninitiated. Even for the seasoned virtual learner, different platforms can have slightly different rules and features, so ensure that some time is spent before take-off answering the following questions:

  • How do you want your passengers to interact?
  • What can people expect to see/hear during the course of this session?
  • How can people offer feedback during/after the event?
  • What are the ‘controls’ that participants can use, and how do they work?


The doors are closed, the plane has taxied to the runway, and the flight is ready to begin. Suddenly the engines fire-up and you’re in the skies. Most of the time, this is such a smooth process that passengers rarely even notice the series of complex steps that allow this to take place.

The official start of a webinar can be a make or break situation for both the hosts and the passengers. How are you going to make it as smooth as possible to let your passengers know they’ve made the right decision to fly with you?

  • If you’re the type of facilitator who prefers a flexible, unscripted approach, consider scripting the first two to three minutes of your session. This has two positive effects: it’ll leave you feeling confident as a presenter in knowing what’s about to come next without having to wonder what to say/ask, and also will give your participants confidence that you are in control.
  • Consider recording a ‘dummy run’ and listening back to the first section of your virtual learning event. Notice, and capture, the things that work well which can be repeated in the real thing. Equally, notice the things that don’t work, so that you can try and avoid them next time round.
  • I remember after hearing myself back for the first time presenting virtually, I was struck by how the noticeable and numerous my use of words such as “um”, “right”, and “OK” were. In an audio-only broadcast these conversational ‘fillers’ really stood-out and I still work hard to try and minimise them, without sounding too robotic.
  • Occasionally, things will not go to plan on take-off. Passengers may be late, your presentation slides might appear in the wrong order, or (worse case scenario) your internet connection might cut out. Practice and plan for the eventualities that you can control, so that you can avoid panic in the heat of the moment.

In-flight entertainment

The flight has taken-off smoothly, your passengers are in their seats and engaged by everything they’ve seen and heard so far. Now, it’s time to keep them there. For short flights, a timely snack or drink help to keep everyone refreshed. For long-haul journeys, a varied selection of films, TV boxsets, and music is available, to enable passengers to entertain themselves and avoid boredom.

We’ve all sat in on webinars that are ‘broadcast only’. It’s a dull experience that invites distraction. Virtual learning is unique in that it usually takes place via a medium (your laptop, desktop, or mobile device) that is already screaming distractions at you in the shape of new emails, notifications and vibrations.

  • You may find that there is a balance to be achieved between your content and inviting learners to input their own. This will very much depend on the context of your virtual learning session, but I would suggest it’s highly unlikely that your content should take-up 100% of the airspace. Hint: if you think it should, do yourself a favour and record a video/screencast – you’ll be saving everyone a lot of time!
  • At the other end of the scale, running a live poll or Q&A session every two minutes can slow things down and create a list of questions that might never be answered in the time you have together.
  • Consider variety in your in-flight entertainment. Become familiar with the tools at your disposal so that you can select them when necessary: live chat, polling, breakout groups, whiteboards, and video feeds are just some of the popular ones. Is there anything physical and/or tactile that you can have people working on to avoid boredom with a screen?
  • Attend other people’s sessions to keep your toolkit fresh. It’s just as important to practice being a passenger as it is being the pilot.


The journey has nearly finished – it’s been a safe flight, passengers are feeling nourished with snacks and drinks, and appropriately entertained. Now, for the finale. Statistically, the most likely time for something unexpected to happen: landing the plane at your destination.

The end of a webinar is a great opportunity to re-engage and revisit the highlights of the session. A space to recap, ask questions, and share reflections before everyone goes their separate ways. An equally useful time to thank people for joining you, and to consider using some of their ‘loyalty points’ towards a future event.

  • What is the last thing you want people to be thinking/feeling/doing as their final impression of this piece of virtual learning?
  • Are any calls to action made clear?
  • Do you want to encourage people to fly with you again? Is there an opportunity to showcase a benefit of upcoming events that people may be interested in?
  • Consider scripting the final few minutes of your event so that you can ensure all bases are covered.

There we have it – a handful of parallels between running an airline and being a successful virtual facilitation ‘pilot’. There are many other areas that I haven’t included here: refuelling (managing your energy when presenting), navigation (letting passengers know where you’re headed, and how far they’ve travelled so far), baggage (ensuring the ‘journey’ isn’t weighed down with too much non-essential content). Mark GilroyPerhaps you can think of others – please do feel free to post them in the comments below.

About our guest blogger

Mark Gilroy is Managing Director of TMS Development International Ltd, a leading global provider of psychometric development tools designed to create, nurture and sustain high performing teams. Mark has a background in psychology and has been working in the L&D arena as an executive coach and team development facilitator for over a decade.

Webinar World Conference learning points


ON24 is a webinar based marketing platform. Each year they host a large event celebrating and understanding everything Webinar based. They use the the hashtag #Webinarworld and a world all about webinars was exactly what I got from the day!

The event was held for one day in London on the 12th October 2017 and you can get all the details here.

Speakers and agenda

With a huge array of talent on display it was hard narrowing down my choices for who I wanted to see, as is usually the case at conferences.

The agenda was ram packed with great sounding seminar based events, as you would expect there were lots of sessions for how to market your webinars and others for keeping up a high level of engagement with repeat signups.

Session 1 – Driving Webinar Registration

With Lightbulb Moment running free webinars the title of this event was exactly what I was looking for. The speaker was Mark Bornstein @4markb the Vice President of Content Marketing at ON24.

I chatted with Mark after the session and you can see the periscope recording in this tweet!

The session was full of really useful information for getting people into your webinars in the first place, such as having a longer marketing campaign leading up to your webinar. This is something at we need to do better at Lightbulb Moment, as we’ve only really focused the week leading to the webinar. Learning point one already!

Another great tip to actually get people to finish the process of showing interest and click register is to reduce the form length to sign up. Other ideas included having a video on the sign up page.

Some quick notes on what I got from the session:

  • Title of the webinar should be action oriented
    • e.g. How to / 10 common <topic> mistakes / 5 best practices to xxx / 7 keys to successful xxx
  • Email subject line – should be promotional and not just the name of the webinar
    • Could be disruptive / specific need / promise change / tease or titilate / short and concise / read well and phonetically interesting / feel personal
  • Always a day of webinar promotional email for 25% of your signups (not the same as the link reminder email)

The session was great and I was filled with positive plans to take away. It was a pleasure to speak to Mark after the session. If you did not see the live video interview above I recommend you do, it was a really interesting chat from an expert.


Session 2 – Buying Cycle

Once again with Mark Bornstein. This time he was taking the next step from getting people on your webinars to getting them to buy what you are selling.

He spoke a lot about your funnel of customers. That’s a newer piece of marketing terminology for some people and refers to the people you have from vaguely aware of you through to about to sign on the dotted line. You have different levels of potential customer in that funnel.

There were strategies for where to start when thinking about designing your first webinar campaign. I’ve been running lots of different webinars and speaking at conferences and that gave a starting point, it’s still hard even with that!

I came away with quickfire understanding of not just having a funnel, terminology I’m using much more now, but understanding the different levels people might be at in my funnel plus how to keep current clients engaged.

Session 3 – Webinar Driven Campaign

Lev Cribb was the speaker for this session and was bringing his experience in marketing.

The session was a real mixed bag, the speaker obviously had a lot of experience, knowledge and passion but I found it hard to follow his message.

What was also interesting was the lack of tweets about this session. Is that because there was a lot of interesting information and data that people did not get a chance to tweet or was it that they felt there was not much to tweet?

Closing session – future of webinars

All in all a great day, lots of learning and I look forward to next year!

Making the most of your live online session webinar recording

In case you missed the sold-out Learning Technologies Summer Forum Conference session from Jo Cook, this was a chance to get all the same information!

Click here to watch the webinar recording.


The LTSF17 session description and what is covered in the webinar version too


Click here to see tweets of the Learning Technologies Summer Forum 2017 session.


Click to register for the free Lightbulb Moment webinars with Jo Cook!



The very first Lightbulb Moment free public webinar!

Hurrah! We are so pleased!

Today we ran our first ever free webinar from Lightbulb Moment. It was the launch of our free programme and we started with asking if the virtual classroom is a friend, or a foe!

Some of the challenges webinar attendees listed during the #LightbulbWebinar session.

By the end of the session people wrote on the whiteboard “I just wanna have a go now” and “just want to get started!”

In terms of people’s Lightbulb Moments that they learnt during the session one person included “experiencing an excellent webinar like this shows how it should be done”.

You can see why we are so pleased!

If you missed the session, no worries at all, you can watch the recording here.

Click to register for the free Lightbulb Moment webinars with Jo Cook!

And here are some of the tweets from the very first webinar!


Click to register for the free Lightbulb Moment webinars with Jo Cook!


Tweets covering the LTSF17 live online learning conference session

“Making the most of your live online session” was the presentation I delivered at Learning Technologies Conference Summer Forum 2017.

Click for LTSF webinar session description

LTSF webinar session description

These are the tweets that covered my session about webinars and the virtual classroom.

Ady Howes had a 360 degree camera and recorded the session. I’ll update this page when we have a video link!

My session was one of the last of the day, against stiff competition of conference Chairman himself, Donald H Taylor, as well as 702010 God Charles Jennings! I still had a packed, sold out room though.

As Kate mentions, each conference session has a person tweeting the highlights, which was the lovely Joan Keevill.

Many thanks to @Obhi and @Designs_JoanK for their tweets.

Remember to download the paper that goes with this session.

And you can also join us for the webinar version!

Eight reasons to remove chat from your webinar

There must be some really compelling reasons to switch off the chat section in your webinars, as so many that I’ve attended recently don’t have this active.

Reasons for removing webinar chat functionality:

Stretching my imagination a bit, they could be…

  1. Focus on the content delivery
  2. Reduce distractions for attendees
  3. Avoid over taxing the speaker
  4. Ensure competitors attending the session don’t see each other
  5. People will see how few attendees there are on the webinar
  6. Avoid negative comments or questions
  7. Use the Question panel direct to host/producer/moderator
  8. It doesn’t exist in the software (such as GoToWebinar)

Are there other’s you could add? Comment below if there are.


Are these legitimate reasons? Really?

From my tone so far you have probably picked up that I don’t think so.

  1. Focus on the content deliveryI focus better on the content when I’m discussing it with other attendees and the speaker(s). I can share my own ideas, thoughts, research and resources and look forward to other people doing the same so I can have broader and deeper learning.
  2. Reduce distractions for attendeesIt doesn’t reduce distractions, as I’m actually MORE distracted. Probably the speaker isn’t the most amazing in the world, and therefore I’m more likely to put the webinar on a second monitor and start ploughing through email, or pick up my phone and load Twitter.
    Using chat is me ENGAGING with the content, not being distracted!
  3. Avoid over taxing the speakerMaybe you should select a speaker that can handle the chat window. Or you team them up with a host/producer/moderator that can handle that for them. This role is typing in the chat too and bringing comments and questions to the attention of the speaker at pre-decided points.


  4. Ensure competitors attending the session don’t see each otherYep, competitors or clients in different industries might be a challenge to deal with. If people are logging in with their real names, that’s only an issue if they might know each other. When is this a negative? Perhaps when you have two strong competitors both your clients. Then perhaps offer two webinars, promote one to one company, one to another?
    Some software allows you to keep the attendees separate but still include the chat, though this usually does include names. If that’s an issue, some software allows you to set the format, such as first name only, or perhaps suggest to your attendees a protocol in your pre-information.
    Perhaps more transparency is a better thing.
  5. People will see how few attendees there are on the webinarFew attendees on a webinar is not a failure. It’s a huge strength for the attendee and the conversation or learning points as you get to have much better, in-depth conversation. If this is an issue, you need to address your approach, expectations or marketing.


  6. Avoid negative comments or questionsPeople will make negative comments and ask awkward questions one way or another. If it’s not the webinar, it might be on your Facebook page, or Twitter including your @handle. Why not get it out and deal with it?
    If you have a marketing webinar, this is about objection handling. If it’s about service and products then at least you have feedback for improvement. If you are worried about what other potential clients will think, it’s probably how you handle the comments and questions that will make the difference.
    If you do have a rogue attendee really bent on making an issue, and you’ve attempted dealing with it politely in the chat and offered to take it offline to deal with and they are persisting, then perhaps removing that person from the session is the best thing to do. But this doesn’t penalise everyone else!
  7. Use the Question panel direct to host/producer/moderatorQuestion or Q&A panels or pods are brilliant to separate out questions from a busy chat window. This makes it much more manageable for a speaker on their own and if there is a moderator/host/producer, who can deal with that. Sometimes there can be a few people to deal with a busy Question area and reply direct or to all attendees.
    That said, I’ve been on a number of webinars the last couple of weeks where there has been ONLY a question pod.

    This is a great example of the question not being answered properly on a webinar I’m attending whilst writing this blog post (yep, because there was no chat, no tweets and it was a boring webinar). The speaker said that webinars should be social. So I asked this:


    It would have been nice if they actually answered the question. Or, am I being mean?

    On other webinars recently I’ve asked questions pertinent to the beginning of the session (such as, “is there a Twitter hashtag for this webinar?”) received no response. If there’s no verbal, private written or public written answers to the questions, what’s the point of entering them?

  8. It doesn’t exist in the software (such as GoToWebinar)Get better software.