Steps to Improve Audience Engagement in a Web Conference

by DarleneChristopher on September 10, 2010

Why is it sometimes so difficult to get participants engaged in a web conference?  Well, one obvious reason is that it’s a different environment for participants.  Just as facilitators need to get used to facilitating in a live virtual environment, so do participants.  We’ve all grown up learning in a traditional classroom environment where the social norms and etiquette are understood.  We know the cues to raise our hand to get the facilitator’s attention, when to jump in with a question, and other typically ways of interacting.

Even though delivering training through a web conference is not new, it’s not mainstream either, so facilitators need to be explicit about how they want participants to interact.  Facilitators need to tell participants to use the chat area, how to raise their hand virtually, how to respond to polls and other other new ways to interact in the virtual classroom.  And here’s another tip: you need to start the interaction early in a web conference – within the first few minutes.  If you engage the audience with interesting questions posed in the chat area, a poll and a fun exercise, you are off to a great start.  Alternatively, if you wait to engage the audience until you are done lecturing, then expect to turn on the engagement switch and have participants jump in and start asking questions verbally or begin typing interesting comments or questions in the chat area, you may be disappointed.

• Set the tone early in your session for a high level of audience engagement, explain to participants how to use the features of the web conference to interact, and you will likely get great results.  A few simple ways to do this:

• Greet each person in the chat area as they enter the virtual meeting room.  If participants don’t respond in the chat area, verbalize what you are doing and let them know that they can also type in the chat area now and throughout the session.

• Post a poll asking how much experience the audience has with the topic.  Comment on how many poll responses have come in and how many you are waiting for.  When everyone has responded, thank them for responding and comment on the results.

• If audio will be used, ask participants to introduce themselves and what they hope to gain from the session (size permitting).  If your session will be one-way audio, ask the question and request that participants type a response in the chat area.

• Ask participants to complete a pre-course survey.  Select a few interesting findings from the survey, share on a slide and ask people to react.  Tell them if you would like them to type in the chat area, vocalize their reactions, or both.

• Show a map of your country or the world and ask participants to use the whiteboard tools to show where they are from, or where they happen to be located on the day of your session

• These are just a few ways to encourage interaction as your session begins.  The key, of course, is to sustain the interaction by using all of the features available to you in your web conferencing tool.  Care to share an idea on how best engage the audience either at the beginning of or throughout a web conference?

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