November 3, 2009

The Rise of Webinars - Too Many, Too Fast?

Ok, I get it... Webinars are the new fad in education, both within specific associations and across industries. They seem to be a cost effective alternative to in person meetings, and provide an opportunity for more regular and frequent education for people who are often spread across many different time zones and areas of the country/world. They are really a positive when done correctly, but I have a question for all you association folks out there...

Are you getting a little webinared-out (i.e. worn out by webinars)?

In watching Twitter regularly and seeing the promotions, it seems as though if I really wanted to, I could sit in on an hour webinar each hour during an eight hour day about say, social media...

Some of these webinars might be from people who legitimately can do a great job in educating people about certain things in the industry - industry experts so to speak. However, I often see promotion for webinars that are nothing more than veiled sales pitches for a specific company trying to get into the association space, thus just causing cyber noise for me.

Am I the only one who is seeing this trend, and beginning to get a little tired of all of the webinars? How do you make your decisions about which webinars you sit in on? Have you personally sat in on any really bad webinars? If so, tell us about it...

Again, I'm not against webinars per se if they're done correctly by a respected professional, but this incessant rise in the frequency of webinars seems to be getting under my skin for some reason...


Ellen said...

Bruce -- Kudos for calling asking where the emperor's clothes are!!

I've blogged about weak Webinars for a long time (see in particular "When a Webinar is a Bad Idea" at the aLearning Blog.

Seems to me some organizations are using Webinars much the way they use white papers -- thinly disguised (or not so thinly nor disguised) sales pitches.

If you look hard at who started to promote Webinars as a great educational delivery mode, you'll find Web conferencing companies hawking the value of their platforms as a way of training large, dispersed sales forces and other employee and customer segments.

Ah! It's like getting to the fine print of a recent medical study on the benefits of eating or drinking X and finding out the study was funded by the leading producer of X.

Well-constructed and well-delivered Webinars are another story. The format can work well when correctly matched to the best content (it's an information delivery device, remember), and when that happens, successful events can be had.

Thanks for the post!!

Elise said...

Bruce & Ellen - excellent points. I wonder if the value of the presentation goes up with the price? I.e., do those companies (or associations) that charge a higher premium for their product work harder to ensure a better product? Have you noticed a difference in the quality of, say, a free webinar vs. a $150 webinar?

Ellen said...

Elise -- We offered two Webinars when I was with an assocation as education director (their first) and we charged a registration fee for both of them, then charged for the one we provided on CD.

Whether to charge for an event in an association is an important question because members are already paying dues. It was critical that whatever we charged money for deliver on its promise.

We did that by making sure the presenters were prepped and provided content -- information and trends -- that attendees were willing to dip into their wallets for.

We were also able to charge per computer rather than per person (because of the institutional status of our members), which also meant we could promote the event by saying something like -- "$99 for unlimited number of attendees. So if you have 10 in the room, that's less than $10/per person!"

So great content, respected presenters, and good marketing all help!

Elise said...

Ellen - thanks for the clarification. That's interesting - I agree that extensive prep work and clarity (and usefulness) of content are key to providing a product that members want, and will pay for.

I like the idea of being able to market the value of having one price for many participants - the one computer, 10 people on it idea.

Maggie McGary said...

Now that you mention it, there are a lot of webinars out there! I personally like webinars--particularly free ones--because I don't get to go to a lot of in-person events. I like hearing a voice for a change--as opposed to reading blogs.

Not being one to commit to times/places easily, I would like to see more podcasts that I can listen to on my iphone rather than webinars that run right smack in the middle of the day and require me to balance the phone between my ear and my shoulder for an hour. I could do without the visuals of webinars--I'm almost always doing something else while I'm listening so I'm not following the visual part anyway. A podcast with maybe an emailed link at the end to the slideshow would be fine with me, or even just an url given at the end.

Too often webinars are derailed by technology, much time have we collectively wasted while the presenters scramble to figure out some technical glitch, or struggle to get that one person who's not paying attention to mute his/her phone so we all don't have to listen to his/her conversation?

That said, I have learned a lot from webinars and gotten to put a voice with a face, which is nice.

Kivi Leroux Miller said...

As someone who runs a weekly webinar series for nonprofits, here's my two cents:

1) Always be clear about exactly what you are providing - and your motivation. For us, the webinar is the product we are selling. It's not a lead generator. So we come at it very differently than someone who is really selling consulting services, but is using webinars as lead generators.

2) Use the right tool. I've just signed up with an interactive conference call service so I can use that instead of the webinar provider when I think small group discussion is more relevant to the topic than visuals. I'm really excited about it because it gives me the choice as the trainer which technology to use given the topic. I've fallen into the trap of serving the technology rather than the technology serving me, and I think this will help me fix that.

3) Webinars (online/phone training in general) can't be beat for tiny organizations who don't have the time or money to travel to training. Most of the people who attend our trainings are from small groups and this is the only way they can get this kind of expert advice.

Bottom line: Choice your webinars carefully!

Bruce Hammond said...

All great insights. Thanks so much for all of your comments. I enjoyed reading them all, and appreciate you reading the blog!