Webinars have become an increasingly popular platform for all sorts of educational events, from competency training to new product launches. But can they really replace live meetings—whether face-to-face or by telephone or video conference—where project teams interact with sponsors, end users, and other stakeholders? The answer: It depends.
Where webinars work well
When you have interesting visuals to share, such as a video walk-through of a newly updated workspace or diagrams that highlight the expected results of an upcoming phase in the project, a webinar may be a good vehicle. One benefit of this format is that stakeholders don’t need to worry about being too far from the front of the room to be able to see your visuals well. Another plus—which sets webinars apart from most video conferences—is that the project team can often make this kind of presentation available on demand, giving stakeholders the opportunity to view your material at their leisure rather than worrying about getting everyone together at a specified time. It’s also a bonus that webinars can later be shared online with a wider audience, such as the public, because the content is more tightly controlled at the presenter level.
Where webinars often fall short
Webinars, by their very nature, are less interactive than conventional video conferencing events. Two-way dialogue isn’t typically emphasized and it may be difficult for participants to interrupt the session to ask an important question or to offer feedback or other input. Information transfers that require comments or expertise from multiple people can also be tough to orchestrate, as some webinar software suites only support a single presenter or administrator. True meetings, where several participants are likely to share information, may be better served by a conventional video conference event.
Making the best use of webinars for stakeholder meetings
There are a few guidelines that may help your team better leverage the webinar platform for project meetings with end users, sponsors, executives, and other business collaborators.
1 – Keep it short. Because webinars don’t provide the level of interactive discussion many stakeholders desire, it’s often best to use the platform for brief information sessions only. The agenda should be limited, covering only a few points in each webinar, so the questions don’t pile up too much.
2 – Extend Q&A time. Soliciting questions and feedback from stakeholders is usually a good thing, but it’s not a function webinars do particularly well. Rather than focus on the presentation portion of the event, instead plan to dedicate increased time to the Q&A period where participants are able to ask questions and team members can engage in real-time dialogue.
3 – Keep it interesting. You’ll quickly lose your audience if you bore them with project minutia or data dumps that are outside their area of focus. Break multiple topics into individual webinars when possible, or at least provide participants with a timed agenda so they can join the webinar for those issues that interest them the most.
Bonus tip: Stick to your agenda’s schedule! You’ll have trouble luring stakeholders into future webinars if you aren’t mindful of their time commitments.
4 – Provide an easy way to send comments or questions. For on-demand webinars, be sure to include a button that launches a comment form or automatically addresses a new e-mail to the project team. This gives stakeholders a simple method for making inquiries or providing feedback and ensures that the communication channels remain open. It’s also an excellent way to keep track of which questions have been asked and answered, as these messages can also be automatically added to the team’s project database.