In the early 1900s, children were seen as ’empty vessels’ to be filled with knowledge. It was assumed they brought nothing into the classroom, they were like clean slates, ready to be written on by teachers. Of course, this was a massive misconception. In fact, everything which happens in a classroom is filtered through a child’s own experiences, previous knowledge, background, attitudes, desires and personality.
This was made clear to me when I tried to teach science to my class in a tiny, rural school. The children had a huge amount of experience of and practical knowledge in open-air activities such as farming and hunting. They knew a lot more than I did about wildlife, the environment and ecology.
This resulted in the children picking holes in my lessons and exposing my ignorance. This, as you can imagine, was rather uncomfortable.
Your Webinar audience might not pick holes in your Webinars directly but if we are not careful, we can still can see our audience as passive recipients, waiting to be filled up with all the amazing things we are presenting. We can plan Webinars where the audience are prohibited from questioning, challenging and interacting. I dislike that kind of Webinar.
What’s the answer?
We should realise that our audience is a fantastic resource – a fount of practical, real-world wisdom. If we can harness this, we can deliver much more effective Webinars.
Of course, this is also very risky. We need better hosting skills to cope with a truly engaged and active audience.
So think about how you can stimulate the involvement of your Webinar audience.
For example, you could ask the audience how many of them have experienced the problem you are trying to address in the Webinar. This might give you the opportunity to use members of the audience as ‘live case studies’. Where this is too risky to do live, you could possibly ask for a volunteer before the event. As long as it doesn’t come over as fake, you could try to seed text discussions with a few of your champion users or clients, asking them to lead discussions around the topic of the Webinar.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to use your audience as a Webinar resource.
Be prepared for difficult questions
This kind of open attitude towards your Webinar can be uncomfortable and requires you to think on your feet. You definitely need to plan how to answer difficult questions if they arise, using all your knowledge of your product, service or tool. If dealing with a particular person or problem is going to derail the whole session, you could find a way of answering later – ‘take it offline’. Make sure you do follow up, though and don’t make promises you can’t fulfil!
…if carefully and appropriately managed and hosted, your audience can be the best possible resource for your Webinar. Using your audience as a resource can make your purpose feel much more personal and give it greater impact, when the rest of the audience feel they can connect directly wiht the examples or case studies mentioned. Also, this gives you a great insight into the real needs and desires of your audience and therefore helps you to give them what they need, in Webinars and in all your interaction with them.