Text chat is such a simple, yet powerful tool.
So I am always amazed to see that some Webinar hosts restrict the text chat in their sessions, or even turn it off. For me, this is like a teacher who discourages discussion in a classroom. It reminds me of a model of learning sometimes referred to as ‘the sage on the stage’. There is an ‘expert’ at the front who pours knowledge into a passive and receptive audience.
Webinar hosts who restrict text chat clearly don’t want to have a conversation with the audience. They don’t want to form a relationship.
However, we know that social media is the biggest thing on the planet and there’s a reason for that – humans are social beings.
When I first started doing Webinars with large numbers of adults, I noticed that something odd was happening in the text chat. Attendees weren’t just saying hello, they were starting to provide technical support for each other. They were helping out the moderator, especially as they started to come back to more Webinars.
In a way this was not surprising as these adults were all professional educators but things became even more interesting when the presentation was going on…
Attendees started making comments in the text chat – nothing new there – but then they started suggesting links to supporting materials which had not been mentioned by the presenter.
Next, they started to have side conversations about the topic – or even topics which were related but not exactly the same as the presenter’s. They began to fill in details, give alternative views and mention their own experiences.
The audience enriched and extended the session by adding their own voices in the text chat.
What we ended up with was a much more useful, rich experience than we could have had if the text chat had been restricted – and, excitingly, the session turned out to be much better than we could have achieved face-to-face,thanks to the text chat back-channel.
So as a Webinar host you can…
…actively encourage and promote the use of text chat for conversation – not just for questions and comments.
If you have a moderator, they can keep the conversation going in the text chat as part of their role. They could:
- ask for more detail
- collect web links to the items mentioned
- collate important parts of the text chat
- curate the text conversation for distribution after the session
I took part in some research about the use of text chat in webinars which has been published – take a look if you’d like to.
What about audience and purpose?
Obviously, you will want to think about the audience and purpose pillars of the Webinar Quick Tips Four Pillars of Webinar Effectiveness – this kind of interaction might not fit either of these for you but if you are interested in improving interaction with your audience, getting a much richer, more useful, more effective webinar, I’m sure you’ll want to harness the power of text chat.
After all, Webinars can be a meeting of minds, a chance to interact with your audience and to co-create an experience. If this is your purpose, then harnessing the power of text chat will inevitably lead to more effective Webinars.