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—never mind 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? Here are some ideas and suggestions.

Poll your participants

Polling your learners on things like typical challenges encountered in the workplace can be a good way to get them involved. If you want to take this a step further, you could give learners control and let them decide what content gets covered, or in what order, through polls. If you’re not sure what to ask your learners in your poll, try asking how comfortable they are with the content or why they are attending the training.

Ask questions

Asking questions is a straightforward but effective way of getting learners involved. As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to go over more than two or three slides without asking questions. 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 that your learners likely have questions for you as well. Proactively answering questions as they come through (as opposed to waiting until the end of a session) can help learners feel heard and engaged. But answering incoming questions can be difficult when you’re presenting a webinar solo, which is when the next point comes in handy.

Enlist a producer’s help

It can be helpful to enlist the help of another person, often referred to as a producer, when giving a webinar. That way, when the presenter becomes inundated by chat comments or questions, the producer can respond so learners don’t feel left out or ignored. If the learners are all on webcam, the producer can also scan the group while you’re presenting and identify if anyone needs help or has questions.

Pick on participants

Some presenters also like to pick on specific participants and ask them direct questions during the webinar. While this can be an effective way to increase participation, it also has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable and singled out. For this reason, you might want to warn learners ahead of time if you plan to go this route. Picking on participants also tends to be more well received in groups where learners know each other and the presenter. All that to say, use this particular strategy with caution!

Use social media

Using social media, for example Twitter, is a great way to encourage people to stay in touch after the webinar and ask follow-up questions. You could create a hashtag for your webinar, to make it even easier for people to track tweets related to your training session.

Encourage chatting

Many webinar tools have a chat feature, which can be a great way to get people to engage with each other. It opens up another channel of communication between participants and the presenter and/or producer. At the beginning of the webinar, you could mention that learners are free to chat amongst themselves during the presentation—provided it’s not off topic, of course!

Other Tips

Before we wrap up, I want to share a couple more tips for pulling off great webinars:

  • Use 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!
  • Provide helpful downloads to your learners after the fact, to help transfer the new skills to the job.

If all webinars adopted the tips outlined above, learners 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. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-learning Heroes regularly for more e-learning tips and tricks.

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