Have you ever attended an online webinar that required zero participation from you? If yes, how long was it before you stopped paying attention and got distracted by emails or social media? Probably not long. It’s hard enough to keep people interested in training when they’re right in front of you, nevermind when they’re  out of your sight, with access to a bevy of distractions.

So when you’re hosting a webinar or a virtual classroom session, what’s the trick to keeping learners involved and engaged? This was a topic recently in the E-Learning Heroes community (How to make a webinar engaging?) and, as usual, produced a great many ideas and suggestions to liven and improve any webinar.

Poll your participants

Imran Abbasi suggests polling your learners on things like typical challenges encountered in the workplace. Bob S brings this suggestion a step further by recommending we give learners control and let them decide what content gets covered, or in what order, through polls. New community member Amy Lyons (Welcome to the community, Amy!) chimed in with a few great ideas for polling: find out how comfortable they are with the content, or why they are attending the training. Great tips!

Ask questions

Tim Slade points out that asking questions is a straightforward but critical way of getting learners involved. Community member Kai suggests you go no more than 2-3 slides without asking questions, and when learners answer, ask them to share their name first. This creates a more intimate feel and helps learners get to know each other.

Answer questions proactively

Asking questions is a two-way street! Keep in mind your learners likely have questions for you as well. Allison LaMotte and Tim Slade both agree that proactively answering questions as they come through (as opposed to waiting until the end of a session) can help learners feel heard and engaged. Answering incoming questions can be difficult when you’re presenting a webinar solo, and that’s when the next point comes in handy.

Enlist a producers' help

Ashley Chiasson points out that a producer is helpful when a presenter becomes inundated by chat comments. A producer can respond to these messages, ensuring learners don’t feel left out or ignored. Additionally, Owen Holt brought up that a producer can scan the group while you’re presenting and identify if anyone needs helps or has any questions.

Pick on participants

A debate arose from the following engagement idea: pick on specific participants and ask them direct questions during the webinar. Ashley Chiasson and Allison LaMotte pointed out that this method can potentially make people feel uncomfortable and singled out. Community members agreed this method is most useful if participants are warned ahead of time that this will happen, and, as Simon Blair pointed out, it also helps when learners know each other and the presenter. All that to say, use this particular strategy with caution!

Use social media

Kai mentioned that using social media, for example Twitter, is a great way to let people stay in touch after the webinar, and a way to ask follow-up questions. Nicole Legault (that’s me!) chimed in with the idea to create a hashtag for your webinar, to make it even easier for people to track tweets related to your training session.

Encourage chatting

Another form of socializing is online chatting. Imran Abbasi, Amy Lyons and Owen Holt all brought up the fact that chat is a great way to get people engaged with each other. It opens up another channel of communication between participants and the presenter and/or producer.

A few more fun tips I really like: Kai uses a placeholder slide with music and a countdown timer during breaks. It’s fun, lighthearted, and lets your learners know exactly when they need to be back from their break! Amy Lyons provides helpful downloads to her learners after-the-fact, to help transfer the new skills to the job.

Thanks to all of our amazing community members for participating in this discussion and sharing these awesome tips. If all the webinars we attended incorporated these features, we would be much less likely to be distracted and much more likely to participate.

Do you have any other ideas we didn’t mention for adding engagement to webinars? Please leave a comment below. And follow us on Twitter for more e-learning tips and tricks every day!

Want to try something you learned here, but don't have Articulate software? Download a free 30-day trialand come back to E-learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any comments, please share them below.

Jonathon Miller
Bernd Mittmann

Discovered your site and blog only today. I have done some virtual class room training and webinars over the past months and relized opportunities for improvement thus i am searching the net. I found your blog and I am seeing some nice ideas what to inmprove in the future. One aspect though hasn't been discussed in Detail: what is the number of participants and do they know each other (and the presenter) or not. If you have let's say 10 People that know each other the presenter can act differently and use different techniques than in a session where you have 100 people distributed over 2 or 3 continents and People don't know each other. I had a session more of the 2nd type but I knew a few individuals and i could pose (prepared) questions to them. It was almost a Play, just to get more tha... Expand