Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Readiness for Live Online Interaction

How do  you feel when you get invited to a webinar? 
Excitement? Blah? Dread? Relief? Fear?

I've been talking with a colleague and a most interesting stream of thinking surfaced. Here's the deal. A group requested a webinar style training.  We began to discuss the basics and then turned to expectations? Capacity? Is the group ready to learn via real time interactive webinar?   

Readiness? I felt myself sit up straighter and immediately jotted down the word and let my mind roll it over a time or two.  It struck me, we do a lot of readiness work in communities and yet how much time do we (as leaders, trainers, presenters, consultants, planners, providers, researchers etc) spend developing capacity (readiness) for online participation and engagement?  How do we determine the extent to which a group is "ready" to learn and engage in a real time webinar event -- and what do we do to prepare them?

Revealing Readiness?
My immediate thought went to what questions, if asked, would reveal whether participants are ready to engage in a live, interactive webinar. Most of us are accustomed to presentation-style webinars where we listen for the most part although may have an opportunity to type a question in the chat or Q and A window. For some time now I've been working on learning to create and produce interactive, conversational webinar trainings using a platform that has some key participation tools like chat, emoticons, whiteboards, polling, screen sharing and video. The problems I've repeatedly experienced harkens back to the question of readiness to participate in this type of online event. It's about more than the topic or the content or the presenter (even these matter too)-- its also about this question of whether we participants are ready to engage through technology?

Is the Problem the Technology?
People often say, "participation isn't about the technology" but sometimes it IS about the technology. When participants are not ready e.g., comfortable with the platform or willing to jump in and use the tools, then the problem isn't with the technology but with our capacity to use the technology to learn.  In my mind this means the technology is both a barrier and an enabler.  It can get in the way of us engaging and keep us from learning or it can facilitate participation and learning. Some platforms are difficult or complicated, others don't afford much in the way of interactive tools.  The role of the moderator/presenter is to make the experience engaging by using whatever technology is available and making it as easy as possible (more on this later). Easy is not the same as familiar or comfortable. 

What about our Expectations?
After years of passive webinars we've all become accustomed to being talked at so it is easy (and understandable) to adopt the attitude and behavior ...  "I can just listen" ... (and perhaps multitask) and still learn.  I confess, I've been guilty of this too.  But since then I've learned that our brain doesn't work like that.  According to Dr. John Medina of Brain Rules fame, our brain isn't really multitasking -- it's simply switching from task to task to task very quickly.  So we miss out on a lot when we try to multitask.  Sadly, when we sign up for "webinars" we have this expectation (built on previous experiences) that we'll be talked at and not expected to actually do anything until the very end.  sigh.  How do we break this expectation?  I think my friend and colleague nailed it -- we figure out the readiness level of our potential participants and create a webinar that taps into their comfort and then stretch just a little bit into greater levels of participation.

So, what questions will help us understand readiness in this context? Here's my first thoughts, do chime in with more (please).
  • Experience/Reflection: How often have you participated in webinars in the past? What worked really well?  What didn't work? Where did you feel challenged to participate?
  • Tools: Which interactive tools do you feel most confident using? [list: chat, polling, whiteboard, annotations, emoticons, audio, video, web tour, application sharing]. 
  • Conditions: Do you participate individually or as a group in a conference room?
  • Comfort: How would you describe your level of comfort using interactive webinar tools? 
  • Structure: How well are you set up to participate in an interactive webinar (e.g., computer headset with a microphone, keyboard)?  

What did I miss? What else enables participation or gets in the way of it?  What questions help us understand how ready people are to participate and get the most from webinars and online events?

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Bruce Waltuck said...

I have personally organized and hosted more than 50 webinars. What seems to drive attendance and participation is the topic, and its brief description. People will tune in for ideas and topics that matter to them. Other factors that make a difference include the day of the week, and time of day; and the ease of logging in and using whatever webinar system you have chosen. I have had very good success with Go To Meeting. I have also enjoyed being a participant on collaborative teleconferences using Maestro Conference call, and simultaneously using Google Docs. Maestro allows participants to be assigned to virtual breakout groups. Each group can be given its own Google Document to capture the small group's ideas on discussion questions. It is a great way to combine and leverage technologies for dialogue and leading ideas to action.

Susan Stewart said...

LaDonna...a few clarifying questions: How big is the group? Is this a one-off training or a series with the same participants over time? Is it required, an option, or an opportunity?