The Training Webinar is Dead

Dear Corporate Training Departments,

It’s time to kill the training webinar. For years your employees have put up with tech checks (“Can you see the Ask a Question button?”), suffered through background noise (“Would you put your mics on MUTE please?”) and feigned interest in PowerPoint presentations passed off as training. I am declaring the webinar for training dead; it is time to bury it and replace it with a more engaging education experience.

What could be more engaging than a webinar, you ask? You use survey questions, and have that cool text-chat window going, and sometimes people applaud you with little virtual clapping hands, right? Isn’t that interactive and engaging?

Go back to listen again to the last few webinars you have attended. How much time was spent delivering information – i. e., someone providing information the rest of the groups needs to know – versus applying any learnings? Who is doing most (all?) of the talking? Based on the last few webinars I have attended, about 80% of the time a talking-head (or voice-from-beyond) presenter is speaking TO the audience, whereas 20% or less is spent hearing from the participants about their real-world challenges. You wouldn’t design classroom training this way, so why do it for virtual training?

What can you do to mix it up? How do replace the old, tired, worn-out webinar for virtual training?

  • Provide context-setting information ahead of time. Push it out via video hosted on your intranet, on the Internet (YouTube perhaps?) or through a video delivery tool like Brainshark. Sharing the background information in a video format allows your audience to absorb it on their schedule – not squeezed in between other meetings and calls – and eliminates many of the pain points of a webinar, such as global scheduling, background noise, and thick accents, to name a few.
  • Break it up. “One and done” training doesn’t allow learnings to sink in, especially when the information is competing for mindspace with busy calendars, back-to-back calls and meetings, and multitasking. Twitter is conditioning all of us to absorb information in bite-sized nuggets, so why can’t training departments use Twitter to solve age-old dilemmas like “How do we keep this information fresh and front-of-mind for people?” #trainingtipstogo anyone?
  • Provide point-in-time coaching. One in-person training program I am associated with provides group coaching, where learning coaches facilitate small-group discussions to help training participants discuss and apply new skills and information in real-work situations. This approach can be applied to a virtual environment as well and is probably one of the best uses of bringing people together real-time via technology. I am working with one group to coordinate a “Virtual Office Hours” program where experienced employees will make themselves available in pre-scheduled calls to coach employees who are interested in ways to prepare for an upcoming program. The concept is modeled after university professor office hours and open door policies. Use your time together wisely by having participants share their ideas, challenges and input – and learning from each other.
  • Keep it short; after all, brevity is the soul of wit. Pre-reads (or pre-watches, as suggested above), practical exercises, virtual coaching and follow-on suggestions for applying learnings can be used as a package to reinforce training and engage participants in behavior change. When they are well-planned and communicated, they can be included without adding to overall training length. In fact, given today’s social media environment, moving content to different vehicles will force more concise messages and content. 60-slide training decks and aids are going out of style. Good riddance, I say!

HR departments love to check off accomplishments like “deliver training on X” in their annual objectives. In reality, however, delivering training should never be a one-time event. HR has been asking for years for the opportunity to make training an ongoing experience for people. There are cool ideas and technologies out there – but first, you are going to have to kill the webinar.

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.