We’ve discussed the importance of facilitation before, but what happens when you don’t have everyone in the same room? Tele-working and virtually working with colleagues has become the norm thanks to improvements in technologies making it easier and cheaper to support virtual work environments. In fact, hosting a web-based meeting has become the default choice for many people when a group needs to collaborate on an issue.
In addition to helping you broadcast information when participants can’t all be in the same room, you can typically record a webinar session. This can broaden the reach of the initial webinar by allowing additional participants to view the information at a later date. Other benefits include hosting a large number of people, eliminating travel requirements, and reducing cost. Training sessions often work great in this format.
While webinars are easy to schedule and can accommodate a large number of participants, they are difficult to use when group collaboration is required, especially when participants don’t know one another. Similar to conference calls, webinars hide the majority of non-verbal communication. This makes it difficult for participants to pick up on the social queues that indicate when they can break into the conversation (remember when people announced themselves during your last conference call?).
Facilitators also have the added challenge of trying to manage discussion between people who are not in the same room. To get around that, the “chat” function is often used to write in comments or questions, but this presents its own challenges for the meeting facilitator. I’ve found that active participation in webinars becomes increasingly difficult to manage once more than 15 people are on the line.
To top it off, it is often very difficult for participants to give their full attention to a webinar. While at their desk, participants are susceptible to multitasking and interruptions that are absent in in-person meetings.
When to use webinars
Webinars are most effective when it is difficult to get all of the participants in the same room AND the objective of the meeting is to broadcast information. However, if you need to manage group discussion and get the participants to collaborate, use webinars only if in-person meetings are not possible and keep the number of participants under 15, if possible.