Jewish Journal

Wobbly Webinars

by Susan Esther Barnes

April 9, 2014 | 1:30 am

Photo from Wikimedia/Federlight

Webinars are all the rage these days. It seems like every institution I run into that has anything to do with education wants to use webinars in some way. Which would be great, but for some of them, it appears they’re just trying to jump on the bandwagon without understanding the technology. They seem to want to use them to be cool or one of the “in” crowd, but they don’t seem to have any idea of how to determine under what circumstances it make sense to use them, or when they should be avoided.

Take, for example, a webinar put on recently by a large and well-respected Jewish organization I won’t name here, hosted by two people whose work I also respect, so I won’t name them, either.

The webinar consisted of these two people speaking, while a still picture of each of them was displayed on the screen. That’s it. Even though they referred to a draft brochure in their presentation, no pictures of the brochure were shown. We didn’t get to see them talking and moving. We didn’t see any slides of information.

What I described above is not a suitable presentation for a webinar. It would have been equally effective as a simple conference call, while requiring less bandwidth. It made the presenters and the presenting organization appear clueless and incapable. Which is a shame, because I know this organization and these presenters to be quite capable in their own areas of expertise. Clearly, effective webinar use is not one of those areas.

Unfortunately, a desire to look cool by adopting the latest technology can end up leaving a bad impression regarding both the organization and the presenters. A word to the wise: don’t do a webinar unless you understand the advantages of one, and plan to make use of those advantages. Don’t put on a webinar when a simple conference call will do.

Another common problem I’ve seen with webinars occurs when they show live shots of the presenters, and there is more than one of them. Usually, the person who is talking looks fine, but the other presenter(s) often seem to forget they are still on camera, and apparently have no idea what they look like.

They end up making strange faces, or they look bored, or they fidget. It can be quite distracting. So, tip number two: If you’re on a webinar and you don’t know with absolute certainty that you are no longer on screen, act as if you are on screen. Look interested in what the other person has to say. From time to time, smile or nod in agreement, but otherwise, sit still. Watch the webinar afterward, to see what you look like, so you can make adjustments next time.

Probably the best example of a webinar I’ve attended recently was one put on by Kavod v’Nichum. During part of the webinar we could see the presenters live, and they also used the technology to show us PowerPoint slides. In addition, at set points during the presentation they showed us a multiple choice question, and allowed each of us to type in what we thought the correct answer was.

They then told us the correct answer, and were able to use our responses interactively to talk about common misunderstandings or misconceptions. They also asked for questions, so they could clarify as needed, before moving on.

It’s this kind of webinar use that makes the tool so powerful, not the “let’s jump on the bandwagon without understanding the technology” approach I’ve seen so frequently elsewhere.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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