Join Me and ReadyTalk – September 17, 11-12:30 Pacific Time

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Shawn Cardinal, from ReadyTalk, and I will be sharing strategies for gaining and maintaining participant attention, interaction, and engagement!  Come join us on the ReadyTalk platform…and be prepared to share your thoughts and ideas, too.




Silence: Rules of Thumb

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If silence is important to encourage engagement by participants in webinars and online meetings AND if facilitators/presenters cannot rely on visual cues like we do in face-to-face situations…how can we know how much time to allow for participants to respond?

There are several factors at play:

  • what type of response you want (a simple Yes/No, a simple choice between pre-determined options, a complex choice between pre-determined options, a one-word answer, a short written answer, vocal response, a complex comparison, etc.)
  • what tool you will use to gather those answers/responses (poll, chat, whiteboard, etc.)
  • participants’ familiarity with the online tools
  • participants’ familiarity with the content
  • how many individuals are participating

So what can you do to insure that everyone has a chance to get their two cents in without losing those who are quick on their feet to other distractions?  Consider the chart below (click to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.15.26 AM

CHECK IT OUT:  Do an experiment with some colleagues.  Have them participate in a webinar that includes a variety of activities.  Time how long it takes for them to respond to each activity and afterwards, ask for their subjective experience…how did it feel as a participant?  Was there enough time?  Did they feel rushed?  Was there too much time?  Did they find themselves drifting away from the webinar?  Did they need/want some clues about the timing (e.g., stating “90 more seconds”, a countdown timer)?

See Silence: What’s Going On?

UPDATE:  The more webinars I do the more I realize how little wait time I am actually providing the participants.  Recently I had the opportunity to use a platform which gave me a timer for polls.  I started noting how long it took participants to register their poll answers.  Consistently it took at least 30 seconds more than I typically have allotted for the first participants to provide their response!  For example, Yes/No response times were 60-90 seconds (instead of the 30 seconds I had been giving).  CHECK IT OUT:  Use a timer to track how quickly answers start coming in and how long it takes for a majority of the participants to respond.  Use those data to inform your practice for future webinars.

Silence: What’s Going On?

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If you are a teacher, a trainer, or facilitator you have learned the power of silence for learning and deepening dialogue.  When we have the visual cues of those sitting in front of us…a thoughtful look, a pencil scratching on paper, a shifting in seats…we can gauge when to break that silence.  However, in an online environment, there are very few of those cues to rely upon and you must learn to be comfortable with the silence and give participants plenty of time to think and respond.  What happens in those moments of silence?  Participants…


  • think about the question or concept before them.
  • formulate an answer or response.
  • relocate or refamiliarize themselves with the online tool being used.
  • type their responses into chat, on a whiteboard, or share their thoughts via a poll.
  • edit for typos and misspellings.
  • filter their responses based on who else is participating and who else might see their post.

That’s a lot of processing and yet most of the time we give 30 seconds or less for folks to respond.  So what might feel like an eternity of silence to the presenter or facilitator in a participatory webinar…is fleeting moment of time for the participants.

See Silence: Rules of Thumb

Participatory Webinars

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When people use the term webinar, they can mean a variety of things. I like to draw a very clear distinction between webcasts and webinars. As you can see in the below image, a webcast is usually a one-way flow of information. Webcasts can be attended by up to a few thousand individuals. The presenter – who is considered to be the font of all knowledge – talks about the topic of the webcast for an extended period of time, often between 50 and 75 minutes.

When attendees are invited to contribute to a webcast, it is usually in the form of a 10-15 minute Q & A session at the end of the webcast. There may be a Q & A chat feature that allows participants to comment or ask questions either throughout the webcast or at the end of the webcast. Sometimes the other attendees can see the questions and comments, but more often they are only visible to the host or the presenter. This prevents participants from building upon each other’s ideas.

Sometimes people call these type of information exchanges webinars.

In order to be clear about what I mean when I talk about webinars, I have chosen to insert the word participatory before the word webinar. This is because what I expect to happen in the online learning environment is more than a pouring of knowledge down upon attendees, it is a social learning process where the person convening the webinar builds the structure of the learning environment and then invites the participants to engage with the facilitator and each other. You can see the the idea and information flow of a participatory webinar in the graphic below.

You may have noticed that as I described webcasts I used the terms attendees and presenters [move words] and when I talked about webinars I used the terms participants and facilitators [move words]. This is not simply a distinction of semantics, it is a philosophical difference that informs every decision that is made in designing and facilitating an online learning experience.