When lockdowns and community quarantines were implemented in many parts of the globe, suddenly everything became digital, including the traditional face-to-face conferences, trainings, public fora, and corporate presentations. Enter the now-ubiquitous webinar!
A webinar (a combination of the words “web” and “seminar”) is a video workshop, lecture, or presentation hosted online using webinar software. This approach including the technology has been around since year 2000; but just like video-conferencing, it never made the impact it was supposed to make because people preferred face-to-face interaction… until now.
If you’re in social media, your feeds are most likely inundated with a daily dose of at least 50 webinars announcements, livestreams, and watch parties. At the onset of the community quarantine, topics like building resilience, managing and coaching work-from-home employees, the “new normal,” and business continuity webinars were a dime-a-dozen. Nowadays, the fashionable webinar topics revolve around post-COVID scenarios and living in the “new normal.” Some of these are extremely useful and well-thought-of.
But webinar organizers, hosts, moderators and speakers are still going through a learning curve, resulting in technical glitches, sound and lighting issues, lackluster choice of speakers, incoherent program flow, “hello, can you hear me” prelude from speakers, and distracting speaker background; not to mention the same-same topics. Another culprit is the choice overload, a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options; and there are lots of webinar options!
These are all now leading to a new pandemic, albeit non-lethal — the webinar fatigue. What was your reaction lately when you saw your e-mails and social media feeds inviting you to a webinar? You may have glanced at the topic and headline, and eventually shrugged it off.
Webinar fatigue is a new term used to describe an overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy towards webinars. I validated this with some of my former students and with audiences in the webinars we ran, who confirmed that, indeed, they are experiencing webinar fatigue to the point of not deciding, if not, completely stopping attending webinars.
So if you’re a webinar producer, how do you attract and sustain the attention of your attendees, and quell their webinar fatigue? Drawing form several scientific studies on webinar and face-to-face seminar effectiveness, here are the factors that impact the effectiveness of webinars.
Speaker and moderator performance. This involves how they speak clearly and to the point. It should be clear to the speaker what objectives he or she will attain with the delivery of the webinar. Moderators should seamlessly transition topics from one speaker to another, as well as synthesize at the end of the session.
Webinar content. It goes without saying the content should be interesting, out of the ordinary, and can impact the attendees. Me-too content should be avoided unless new knowledge or analysis will be shared. This, together with the speaker profiles, should be communicated effectively and in advance to potential attendees. Fillers and teasers before the actual webinar date can be effective in drawing the attention of participants.
Frequency and length. There’s no optimal length or frequency of delivery. But best practice is breaking up longer content into chunks of smaller webinars to avoid fatigue.
Group interactions. Interestingly, the reason why webinars were less favoured than face-to-face seminars before the pandemic, is that participants look for group interactions, in the forms of networking, group work, or group participation. This is what webinars patently lack. Though there are chat rooms in most webinar platforms, these are not close proxies for good old face-to-face interaction. Luckily, there are advances in technology that virtually mimic networking and personal interactions which we use in our virtual events.
Choice of technology and environment. This plays a vital role in enhancing the experience of the speakers and the participants. You should choose the technology that’s easy to use for both speakers and attendees, without compromising on other aspects like sound quality, lighting, and opportunities for group interaction. The bandwidth speed of the host and speakers should be checked.
In summary, webinars are similar, yet different from face-to-face seminars. It requires thoughtful preparation and practice. A digital director, a key emerging role, will understand and design the speaker and attendee experience. A scriptwriter is equally important to make the flow of the webinar seamless
Ultimately, the objective of the webinar producer is to make the webinar interesting and stand out, before and during the webinar date itself, to preclude webinar fatigue… and avoid another pandemic.
Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr. is Founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is Institute Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation and the Country Representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia (ICTPA). He is also the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org