The Webinar Manifesto

Live blogging from Learning 2012

I had the opportunity to hear from Matthew Murdoch and Treion Muller,  the authors of The Webinar Manifesto. We definitely play for the same team when it comes to doing interactive live virtual training. You can join their revolution by signing the Manifesto.

Matthew and Treion covered 3 of the topics in the book during the session. Here are my notes with additional resources that I think support their points.

Don’t Default
Don’t simply use the default settings in your platform. Learn about all of tools available to make the session come alive. Think about how you could use them to to allow for maximum participation.

  1. Read the manual
  2. Apply the Manual
  3. Write your own manual

Shut Down the Ugly
Channel your inner marketer. Learn some basic graphic design rules and apply them to your communications and visuals.

  1. Email Invitations: Your invitations should look as good as your visuals for the presentation. Include a value proposition so learners know what they will get out of it. “The words you use should be just as beautiful as the graphics you use.” 9 Must-Have Components of Compelling Email Copy.
  2. Social Media: This is just as important as email. Again, don’t default. Make sure that you use a relevant branding image for the account and include links to make it easy for participants to register. Don’t post more than 3-4 times per week or it becomes noise. Try different benefit messages for wider appeal.
  3. Ban Ugly Slides: Limit the amount of text to a powerful phrase or two. Use relevant, teachable graphics. Here is an example of a PowerPoint makeover by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen.

Captivate or Alienate
Your visuals and the flow of your session must be dynamic. You are competing with email, texts, and Sudoku. These distractions will always be there, but you can create anticipation by using powerful images and well planned activities. I write about this in Is “Webinar a Dirty Word?

  1. Create Virtually Accountability:  Set the expectation for participating verbally, visually, and kinesthetically. Begin the session with a highly interactive inclusion activity and let participants know they will use chat or annotation tools to participate.
  2. Don’t Mute: Don’t silence participants. Invite verbal participation throughout the session.
  3. Set the stage: Let participants know that this is not your usual webinar. Participants may be called upon by name.
  4. Hang 10… count to ten after asking a question. Say out loud, “I’ll give you some time to think about it.”
  5. Visual: Open their eyes. Map it… where we are, where we are going… use graphics.
  6. Kinesthetic–Push: use the mouse, move around, Pull: Download. Play: Scavenger hunt. Come back and contribute. Never break for more than 5 minutes for an activity.
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Please Use Both Hands


When I look at this photo two things come to mind:

  1. How nice to have a job aid when and where you need it to help you figure out what you are doing wrong so you can do it right.
  2. How lame to use a job aid to compensate for the fact that you have a crappy design. The designer thinks the real problem is that people only use one hand. Let’s use a job aid to change everyone’s behavior instead of adapting the design to real human behavior.

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve witnessed this kind of behavior in the learning profession. We try to force behavior patterns that aren’t natural so that the great learning activity we designed will work properly. When we try to do this we are wasting everyone’s time, and unnecessarily stressing out the poor facilitator who is trying to make it work.

So what does this have to do with virtual learning? Everything.

I teach a virtual class at work called Interactive Virtual Facilitation. In the class we discuss the challenges of transitioning from the physical classroom to virtual. Overwhelmingly, participants are highly concerned about participants multitasking during the session. They want to know how to stop them. You can’t really.

There are elements you can incorporate into your design to make it “must-see-TV” so they don’t want to multitask:

  1. Make sure that your visuals are dynamic from the beginning. If the visual flow is quick and interesting they will be reluctant to switch screens because they might miss something. Don’t spend five minutes on your first visual. (Or any visual.) It’s boring. It sets the expectation of a visually static experience for the next 60-90 minutes.
  2. Use and vary the channels of participation early and often. Find a way to involve the audience immediately by having them physically manipulate the tools. Do this as people are logging into the platform. Ask everyone to answer a poll question, or draw a picture. This is a great way to capture information about the audience before the session begins. (Place an X on your location on the map. Put a check mark on the topic you are most excited about today. Place an X on the scale to show how you would rate you expertise in this area.) This also sets an expectation of participation from the very beginning.
  3. Harness their need to wander by asking them to do a quick Google search to find resources to share and paste the URLs in the chat channel.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the chat channel, and for goodness sake, don’t turn it off. If they are chatting about the content, they aren’t checking email or finishing a Sudoku. Sure, it’s the digital equivalent of passing notes in class, but it is also a great way for them to spontaneously share resources with each other and network. You can also ask them to answer a question in chat, take a pulse to see if the pacing is good, or anything else you can imagine.
  5. Create activities that allow audience members to share expertise and compare different ways of thinking or doing things.
  6. Don’t show bulleted lists for a topic. They will read the bullets and not listen to you. Or worse, they will think “This is ridiculous, I’ll just read the slides later when they are posted. What’s in my inbox?” Show the topic and ask the audience to write what they think should be on the list. You can guide the conversation to include items that were not added.

What other ways can you think of to harness the learner’s natural behavior and make it work for you in the Virtual Learning Space?