Thursday, March 11, 2010

A New Blog Home

March is here, and as the old saying goes, 'in like a lamb, out like a lion.' After two years of blogging on this site, I've decided to move to a new platform. Please visit

Friday, February 19, 2010

Using Your “Peripherals” When You Facilitate a Web Conference

In one scene in the movie The 40-Year Old Virgin, Jay (Romany Malco) gives advice to Andy (Steve Carell) about spotting women in a bar. He starts by explaining that you have to “use your peripherals” by looking straight ahead, yet observing what is going on all around. He describes this subtle, yet important technique that allows you to spot interesting women in the bar on either side of you, in addition to women right in front of you.

What in the world does this advice have to do with a web conference? As Jay explains in the movie, if you are only focused on what’s directly in front of you, you may miss something important on either side of you. Similarly, if you are presenting material in a web conference, there’s a tendency to focus intently on your slides or whatever is showing on the main part of the screen. Meanwhile on other parts of the screen, participants may be asking questions in the chat area, changing their status to indicate they have a question or responding to a poll. Therefore, it’s important to continuously scan the screen and take in the entire landscape of the meeting room throughout a web conference.

At first, it will take practice to move your eyes away from the material you are presenting. You may need to write reminders in your notes. Initially, you will need to pause, scan your screen, address chat comments or other relevant participant interactions, then pick up where you left off. Eventually, this technique of scanning the room will become much more natural and you’ll be able to simultaneously present your material and notice chat texts and other interactions by participants. A skilled web conferencing facilitator can weave in chat comments, poll results and other participant interactions seamlessly into a presentation at the appropriate moments. This skill is the result of continuously monitoring the entire screen. Just as Andy learns in the bar scene in the movie, when you start using your peripherals, you increase your chances of more interactions and it will make you look like a pro!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How to Gather Participant Feedback in a Web Conference

Gathering evaluation feedback from participants in a web conference can be easily done through an online evaluation conducted at the conclusion of your training. The importance of soliciting feedback and making adjustments cannot be understated: since we cannot see our participants, their evaluation of the training is critical.

Just as in a physical classroom, it’s important to leave few minutes at the end of your session to conduct an evaluation. Participants in a physical classroom generally tend to scoot out the door quickly when a session ends, and this holds true in a virtual classroom as well, so build in time for your evaluation. As the session concludes announce that you would like feedback from participants, then describe what you would like participants to do and approximately how long the evaluation will take. For example, “We would like to know what you thought about this session. Please take a few moments to complete an anonymous 10-question survey. It should only take you about 5 minutes and that’s how much time we have left before the conclusion of today’s session. To access the evaluation go to…”

Some web conferencing tools have an evaluation tool built into the system that lets you pre-load questions and presents them to participants at the moment of your choosing, or as participants exit . If your web conferencing tool does not include a built-in feedback mechanism, you can build an online evaluation on a web based tool (such as SurveyMonkey, Question Pro, etc) and send the link to participants by posting in the chat box or “pushing” the link to participants which will open a new browser on their screens.

An evaluation of a training course delivered via web conference is very similar to an evaluation of a course delivered in a physical classroom. However in addition to the questions you typically include in your course evaluation for training in a face-to-face session, consider including questions that will provide feedback on:

  • Pace of session
  • Facilitator’s skill
  • The level of engagement/interactivity of the session
  • Effectiveness of delivering [your course name] in a virtual classroom
  • Interest in receiving more training in a virtual classroom

Once you’ve gathered feedback from participants, share it with the facilitation team and see what you can learn from the evaluation. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by the ratings and comments. You may even be able to pick out a testimonial or two to help you attract participants for your next web conference.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The iPad’s "Disruption" Potential for Virtual Learning

All eyes were on Apple this week with the release of the iPad, the new tablet PC. Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the iPad will be ideal for watching video, reading newspapers, browsing photos. "It's so much more intimate than a laptop."

Chadwick Matlin of wrote an interesting article that focuses on the “disruption potential” of the iPad and how this new device will affect various industries. Since virtual learning such as self-paced e-learning and learning delivered via web conference often takes place on a laptop, I’m wondering what iPad will mean for the world of virtual learning? Right now it’s difficult to tell what the iPad will do to e-learning industry, and any seismic changes to the industry are a long way off for many reasons. First, the iPad does not currently support Flash. Many self-paced e-learning programs are built with Flash and Adobe Connect Pro, a leading web conferencing tool, runs on Flash. It also lacks a webcam and only runs on AT&T’s network, so its web reach is limited right now.

The device is currently marketed as a consumer product, which means that workplace learning programs will not be affected by the iPad for the time being. Right now, a crowd of early adopters is busy trying out this new device and it has a long way to go before becoming mainstream. However, the iPad and similar tablet PCs are definitely devices to keep an eye on. With e-learning courses (mobile learning) and training delivered via web conference (such as WebEx) quickly moving onto iPhones and smartphones – just imagine what that experience would be like on a tablet PC like the iPad.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ten Resolutions for Webinar Instructors

It’s January so it must be resolution time. Here are ten ideas to think about as you get ready to facilitate webinars and other online events this year.

1. Focus on your voice: The facilitator’s voice carries extra weight in a virtual environment, so focus on inflections, pace and rhythm. Speak clearly and purposefully. No slang or muttering allowed.

2. Engage your audience early: Set the tone for an interactive session by engaging your audience early. Weave early interaction into the first few minutes of your session by asking participants to type their location into chat, respond to a poll about their background, and “raise” their hand if they can hear the audio clearly.

3. Annotate while you speak: Most web conferencing tools include a pointer as well as annotation tools like a highlighter and other writing tools. Use these annotation tools generously but wisely as you speak to emphasize key information. Bob Mosher from LearningGuide Solutions is a master of this technique. You can feel Bob gesture as he uses the annotation tools to circle or highlight parts of the screen while speaking. I highly recommend observing Bob deliver an online session if you ever have the chance.

4. Use interesting slides: Add images and color to your slides to make them visually appealing. As a rule of thumb I like to cover one concept per slide. This means that you may increase the number of slides as you spread out your content over more slides, but not increase the amount of content.

5. Rehearse your session: Practice your session with a mock audience to fine tune the timing and flow of your material. Try recording your session and listening to yourself if you cannot rehearse with others.

6. Know your audience: Learn as much as you can about your audience before you begin your webinar. Information such as their experience level with the topic, native language and experience with webinars will help you shape how you deliver your information. If you can’t find out this information ahead of time, run polls at the beginning of the session or post questions in chat.

7. Start and end on time: Most of us are working on overdrive these days so respect your participants' time. Plan to start and end your session on time and think about the factors that will allow this to happen. For example, send clear instructions and reminder emails to participants, join the session early to get everything prepared and rehearse so that you can ensure the material + interactions can covered in the time allotted.

8. Observe other facilitators: Whenever possible, observe other online facilitators and note what you like and don’t like about their facilitation technique. Note how they engage the audience, how they present information on the screen and what they do in general to maintain your interest. I’ve also gathered many great ideas from in-person presenters who use techniques that can be translated to the virtual meeting room.

9. Try something new: By observing other facilitators you will undoubtedly come across new ideas and techniques. Take a chance and try something new in your next session. If it works, you’ve added a new idea to your toolkit. If it didn’t work as planned, gather feedback on what happened and how to improve next time.

10. Celebrate your successes: Just like traditional classroom facilitation, mastering the art of online facilitation is a continuous process. Sometimes it may feel that participants don’t appreciate all of the planning and behind the scenes work that goes on to design and deliver a successful webinar. Celebrate your successes by reviewing the positive feedback participants may have posted in the chat area or in the session evaluation and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Webinar Case Study: Meeting a Urgent Need in the Pharmaceutical Industry

I recently interviewed a colleague who designed and delivered a webinar to meet an urgent training need. She works for a Boston pharmaceutical start up of 20 employees and used GoTo Meeting to deliver training to nurses in a call center in Dallas.

The purpose of the webinar was to train the call center nurses to answer questions about a new cancer drug developed by my colleague’s company. If you’ve ever read the package insert on prescription medicine, you’ll notice a phone number to call with questions, which is required by the FDA of pharmaceutical companies. Small pharmaceutical companies typically outsource this work to a call center.

To help develop the training, my colleague interviewed the manager at the call center for two hours. Using this information she developed a 90-minute session with 25 slides. The slides included a large number of patient photos to illustrate before and after affects of the medicine. A journal article about the disease that the drug treats was sent as pre-reading to participants to help provide context for the presentation and maximize the time spent during the session. After the presentation the senior medical advisor from the pharmaceutical company (who is based in North Carolina and joined virtually) reviewed an FAQ and answered additional questions.

The result was an efficient training session delivered in real time, plus a recording made available to those who could not attend. Had this training been delivered the traditional way, my colleague and the senior medical advisor would have flown to Dallas to deliver two sessions (since some nurses needed to staff the call center). Additionally, a secondary audience in the Boston office (employees and contractors) attended the webinar and learned first-hand from company experts and from the questions raised by the nurses.

In total, 3 sessions (2 sessions for nurses and 1 for staff/contractors totaling 4.5 hours) were consolidated into 1 session (1.5 hours) and several hours of travel time were eliminated. In a small organization where resources are stretched thin and staff are in various locations, replacing face-to-face training with training delivered via web cast is a great way to save time and gain efficiencies.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How to Keep Your Cool Online

Picture this: A project manager with a geographically dispersed team, who was somewhat new to conducting meetings via web conference, decided to facilitate a project kick-off meeting using a web conference. Her goal was to get the team on the same page and make a good first impression. As the meeting started, she lost her Internet connection and lost her virtual meeting room. In a panic, the project manager blurted out that “I guess we won’t have a meeting. Why do these things always happen to ME?” in an exasperated tone. Sound familiar?

A skilled online facilitator knows that from time to time, there will be technology glitches, and she knows how to keep her cool and deal with these issues with confidence. Ideally, you should partner with someone when facilitating an online meeting so that one person can run the meeting and a second person can handle technical issues. I also always make sure I can access the meeting agenda and handouts outside of the meeting room (either printed copies or a copy on my computer) so that I can continue the meeting on a phone line if needed. Even better if you can email all meeting documents to participants as a back-up.

In this case, the project manager was using a separate phone connection, and everyone was still connected to the audio bridge. She also had a second person helping with the technical issues. Instead of panicking she could have muted the phone, told her partner that she would start the meeting without the visual and request a signal or a note to her to let her know the status of the virtual meeting room. A comment such as “We are working to restore the meeting room and can actually start without it by introducing the agenda and first topic, etc.” would have appeased her audience.

As it turned out, in this meeting the internet connection was restored within minutes. The project manager lost credibility with her team by sounding the alarm bells and losing control of the situation. If she had been better prepared and planned with her co-facilitator, she could have seamlessly shifted from plan “a” to plan “b.” The participants would have certainly noticed that things weren’t going exactly as planned, but they would have also observed a professional who was well prepared, confident and kept her cool in a difficult situation.