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.