What Everyone Gets Wrong About Webinar Engagement

I just read yet another blog post with someone’s tips for making your webinars more engaging. And it made the same mistake I see over and over again: Confusing “engagement” with “interaction.”

Webinar vendors are particularly prone to mixing up the two concepts. They constantly urge presenters to add polls and quizzes, ask for virtual hand-raises, open microphones, use group chat, and so on as a way to increase audience engagement.

Now look… There’s nothing wrong with using any of those tools and features. I believe in them as well. But you should be very clear in your mind that those are ways to increase audience INTERACTION – not ENGAGEMENT.

Consider the following tweet I happened to stumble across:

I so dislike polls in mass webinars. It does not connect the attendee to anyone.

But… but… it’s interactive! You HAVE to feel more engaged!

Let’s take it from the opposite perspective. I’m sure you have seen pictures like this one from ye olden days:

Little girl listening to old-time console radio

Zero interaction, total engagement.

But… but… That’s all she had! She didn’t know any better. Nowadays people have to interact in order to be engaged!

Oh really? Is that why people today get invested in TV shows? Movies? Podcasts? Because they are interacting with the content? Is that why this TED Talk has received more than 69 million views to date?

No, obviously not. Interaction is NOT engagement and engagement is NOT interaction.

So if interaction is not the key to audience engagement, what is? Why are people willing to sit and spend time with passive media like movies and podcasts?

You know the answer. I’m not going to astonish you with a surprise here. We are willing to invest time and attention with things that we find entertaining, interesting, and personally relevant.

Are your business webinars entertaining, interesting, and personally relevant for your audience? I’ll bet they aren’t. At least not as much as they could be with a little conscious attention to those aspects.

If you read bullet points (or worse, full sentences) off your slides, you aren’t interesting or entertaining. If you deliver your presentation in a monotone, you aren’t interesting or entertaining. If you start with an overview of your company when people showed up to hear about a specific solution, you aren’t being personally relevant. If you recite a fixed speech that ignores your attendees, you aren’t being personally relevant.

You can deliver a very engaging webinar without using a single interactivity feature of your web conferencing technology. And you can use all those nifty features and still leave your audience feeling unsatisfied and disconnected from the material.

If you show a poll during your webinar, frame it so that participation benefits the attendee rather than yourself. If you ask for comments or questions, keep an eye on what’s coming in and work them into your talk to be more conversational and less pedantic.

Interactivity will never overcome poor presentation skills and uninteresting content. Your first order of business as a presenter is to be interesting, entertaining, relevant, and engaging. That’s on you. If you want to incorporate audience interactions as a part of the experience, great. Just make sure that they serve the goal of building engagement rather than acting as a stand-in for engagement.


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