29 Replies
Tim Slade

This is a great question, and one I've been exploring myself. Since I teach Storyline/Studio via webinar on a regular basis, I'm challenged to find ways to make the sessions interactive. 

Besides having the "breakout sessions," which let the learners practice a given skills, here are a few other ways I've made my webinars more interactive:

  • Ask questions. Sometimes I'll pause to ask a "food for thought" question. This is usually a question about general e-learning design or a pro/con type question to get the participants thinking like e-learning designers. This usually gets them discussing the topic as a group. I ultimately use this as a method to reach my teaching point.
  • Breakdown an e-learning example. After teaching a specific set of features, I'll sometimes show the learners an advanced e-learning example using those features. I'll then ask the learners to breakdown the features and techniques being used to create that example. Again, this gets them thinking like a developer and helps them to see the mechanics of the course. 
  • Share a participant's screen. Sometimes when a particular learner is struggling with a given feature, I'll ask them to share their screen. This lets the entire class see what issues they are facing. I'll often have the class "crowdsource" the solution for the other participant, rather than me just giving out the answer. As before, this gets them thinking like developers, builds their confidence and encourages them to reach out to the "community" for help.

I hope this is what you were looking for!

Allison LaMotte

Nicola and I participated in an extremely interactive webinar last week about mobile learning. The person presenting basically told everyone to type any comments they had into the chat throughout the webinar.

Then, throughout the webinar he would read some of the comments aloud and respond to them. This seemed to encourage other people to participate, as they felt like they were being listened/responded to.

Kai ...

This is what works for me and have actually improved my team's current virtual environment:

  • housekeeping in the beginning of the webinar - I make this a game whereby the folks can select content on the white board the dos/dont's
  • Include polls to ask questions
  • Depending on your webinar app, I use the hand raise, chat to send info
  • Ask questions every 2-3 slides. 
  • Ask the users to say their name when asking or answering a question. this helps t create a familiarity and personable nature
  • I like to add break music with a placeholder slide with a timer for folks to know when to get back (we do 4 hr webinars x3/week)
  • Use twitter or any other social media feed after each session for folks to stay connected during the training sessions (this can be made private)

If I think of more, I will add later. These are just the top of my current revamp of our programs


Bob S

So here's one that takes a bit of "courage" but can dramatically improve the sense of interactivity and buy-in from the webinar audience.... give them control.

All too often, we make webinar sessions quite linear and control the pacing. Instead, try breaking up the content into smaller chunks and let the audience vote on the ones they are most interested in exploring! Polling features work great here. This does mean you will probably need to have a few more content chunks than can possibly get covered, and that's ok. The sense of buy in and interactivity will be worth it.

Similarly, let them give control the pacing. Try using feedback features to let the group vote on speeding up or slowing down a bit. If most are in agreement, great. If you find one or two want more clarity, you might want to use that opportunity to identify your follow-on training support.

Takes some courage and some work for sure, but can take your webinars to the next level!


+1 for using "chat". I will frequently use something like the following as a format:

1) Instruct users to "think about a time when...."

2) Ask them to A) listen to my experience and B) type in what was similar/different to their own experience

3) follow up by asking several participants to "tell me more about...." based on what they have typed in. 

Also, I will use my meeting "producer" to scan for participants who are not participating and have them reach out privately to these individuals to see if they need help/support or to make sure they are gaining what they need to from the discussion.

Nicole Legault

Wow - As always, blown away by quality of suggestions and ideas. The talk about social media also gave me this idea: create a hashtag for your session or webinar and share it with the group at the start of the webinar. If you have a producer, they can also monitor Twitter for feedback or questions with the hashtag and people can keep using it after the event itself. 

Imran Abbasi

Great discussions so far - I second polling and chat interactions! I facilitate webinars with SMEs on a weekly basis and here is how we keep our audience engaged:

  • Polls - create a poll at the beginning of the webinar that is easy and will engage the audience as soon as the webinar starts (i.e. what type of job role best describes you?).  Then have 3-4 polls throughout the webinar that are specific to your presentation (i.e. what challenges have you encountered with method x in your role?)
  • Chat - make it a point encourage the audience to utilize the chat function.  In order to increase participation, you can give a disclaimer that all questions asked via chat will remain anonymous.  This eliminates the initial fear your audience has of asking a "stupid" question. 
  • Pick on People - you know that awkward silence when you ask a question and NO ONE responds and, worse, it sets a tone for your entire webinar? In these cases, we actually pick on our audience members and ask them specific questions! (i.e. "Scott, in your role, do you think this solution would work?  Do you see an alternatives you might try instead?")
  • Create your own questions to spur interaction - this works best if you have a colleague, SME, or some other partner working with you on the same webinar.  Depending on the length of your presentation, create 2-3 breaks for Q and A.  Start by asking your partner a common question that is easy to answer but still insightful for the audience.  This will spur follow-up questions from your audience members or at least give them courage to asks questions of their own.  You set the tone for questions!

Hope this helps!

Ashley Chiasson

Allison/Tim - I agree; I think the key to succeeding with this approach is to be good at multitasking. Right now I have some faculty members teaching hybrid courses, and they get really flustered when they're inundated with comments from the distance students (which I think can be one of the major pitfalls with the hybrid structure). And when they can't stay on top of distance student comments, this contributes to a decreased sense of involvement (from the distance students' perspective).

Ashley Chiasson

Eeep. Not so sure I'm fond of the 'pick on people' approach :P As someone who's been picked upon haha. I've seen some great use of polls in webinars recently, so I think I'd stand behind that suggestion. 

I also like do do demo/discussion, because it really applies context to the content, and allows individuals to generate questions in a practical format.

Allison LaMotte

I totally agree with you on this Ashley. It is risky to "pick on people" as some people may feel uncomfortable being singled out like that.

I'll play Devil's Advocate here as sometimes the "stick" approach over the carrot can be the right method. My organization has developed a culture of "multi-taskers" who routinely use webinars and on-line meetings as an opportunity to catch up on email and other work; as if showing up in the attendee pod is the only requirement. Once they know that they might be called upon, the temptation to multi-task diminishes significantly.

I've even used a harsher approach judiciously in the past. Using a meeting producer, I will stop and ask that everyone who is still paying attention virtually raise their hands. The producer than contacts anyone who has not raised their hand directly to see if they are 1) not familiar with the meeting interface and need help, 2) didn't understand the instructions, or 3) are not paying attention. If it is #3, the producer may (at their discretion and based on their conversation with the participant), remove them from the meeting.

Tim Slade

You have some interesting and valid points Owen. It can be difficult, especially when you have participants who are attending webinars "against their will." In my case, people pay/choose to attend some of my webinars, so they are more invested in the content. 

This might be a good discussion as well. For those of you who have attendees who aren't paying OR are being forced to attend, how do you make them more invested in the content?

Imran Abbasi

Regarding the "pick on people approach":

Oops, I should mention that we have some repeat audience members who
contribute regularly and are well-known business leaders. We "pick" on
those individuals only because we know they have great insight and
industry knowledge. We also get their consent prior to the webinar and they
are more than happy to contribute.

Sorry for the confusion..we rarely pick on random people. That kind of
awkwardness might make people run in the other direction! :/

Amy Lyons

This is a fun topic because you can get really creative depending on the meeting vendor you use. The best advise I have is to know the platform you're using. 

Set the stage: From the time people register, to the calendar hold, to prework, to the opening of the call. At every step you should be letting them know that it is going to be interactive. If you can, even find ways to make the things I just listed interactive (feedback forms, questionnaires, etc). Make it clear that this will not be just another "stare at the screen and listen" session. For one of the most interactive sessions I attended, the host emailed everyone a workbook PDF document to print out before the session. Not everything he discussed was on the screen, much of it was in the workbook with a lot of room for notes and some fill in the blank areas.


Chat: As many people have mentioned, chat can be great. Ask a lot of open ended questions, give people a chance to contribute. Even give them a chance to change the direction of the content. 

Annotations: If you have the opportunity to let them draw or type on  your screen, let them do it. I once attended a webinar where they asked everyone to highlight on a map where they were from, but never used the tool again. I often put up a topic list and ask people to mark an x over what they want to cover, or to number the items in order of interest. I also will put up a line on the screen from 0 to 10 and ask them to mark along the line how relevant the information is to their job.

Polling: Great option, but again, think outside the box. Don't just quiz on information, learn about their background, how comfortable they are with the material, why they are attending.

Downloads for later: Many vendors have a file download option built into the system. Give people an opportunity to download job files or anything that might be too cumbersome to discuss during a session.

I could go on and on, but I hope this helps!


Allison LaMotte

@Owen: I can see your point about people that are not paying attention, but I don't think that non-participators are always multi-taskers. They are perhaps not very familiar with the topic (which is why they are attending the webinar) and feel uncomfortable asking questions/voicing their opinions. 

Simon Blair

In a previous role, I used to do a lot of remote training (about 50% of my sessions). Here are some things I've found which really helped:

  • Keep it short: I aimed for no more than 90 minutes at a time. For longer courses, this meant we'd spread it over multiple sessions. It's hard to stay engaged during a 3 hour webinar.
  • Pick on people: as previously mentioned, use this with caution. Often, I knew my participants, and frequently they knew each other well (e.g. on the same team), which made it easier.
  • Get them working: my sessions were technical ones (e.g. how to use a particular piece of software) and I'd share control of my computer with the learners and have them work through the tasks. This accomplished two goals; it lightened the load on me as facilitator (and producer) and it gave them hands-on practice with the tools.
  • Pay attention to your voice: it's all they "see" of you. Monotony is murder. Try to speak in an animated manner (but don't overdo it).
  • Give them a face: I liked to start by showing them a picture of myself. I felt that personal touch helped them see me as a little more than just a voice on the line (Turing Test, anyone?).
Allison LaMotte

I don't think that non-participators are always multi-taskers.

Agreed. I never want to assume that someone is multi-tasking, even though it seems to be a part of my company's culture. That is why I always use at least 1 (if not 2) meeting "producers" whose job it is to check in with these participants to ensure that there are no technical roadblocks and that they are getting the information that they need. In a classroom setting, you can see confusion and comprehension. In a web setting without video, sometimes you need someone to reach out and ask.