The wacky world of webinars

I’ve done a few webinars now with the Learning Pool posse and am planning to do a lot more as both a marketing thing for Kind of Digital and as a part of the training work we do.

Webinars are going to be a really important part of the training and communications mix, as they provide a lot of the benefits of face to face learning without the travel expense and time lost of traditional events. The only thing that really sucks about webinars is the name, but I guess we’re stuck with it.

Here’s some lessons I’ve learned from my experiences of running a webinar.

1. Have a wingman

By this I mean someone sat behind the scenes, not talking but just keeping a watching brief over what’s happening. Someone to ping the odd message out to the chatroom, help manage the questions, and to remind you to do and say stuff.

Presenting a webinar can be a bewildering business and having someone to keep you on track is vital.

2. Have a co-presenter

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it turns out people don’t want to sit and listen to me talk at them for an hour down the phone. Madness!

Having somebody else involved can make a real difference to the dynamic of the webinar, especially if it brings multiple perspectives to the session. Also, it means that witty banter is on the cards, which improves things for delegates no end.

3. Practice

Always have a run through an hour or so before the actual performance. It improves flow, points out any obvious problems that might happen and gives everyone a chance to rehearse what they will say.

Never skimp on practice!

4. Keep talking

As I found out when doing  webinar this morning, stuff either goes wrong, or at least goes slowly – especially when you are demonstrating a website or online service. If you’re waiting for something to happen, or if you are having to have multiple goes at getting something to work, don’t go quiet!

Keep chuntering on – not just moaning about how the technology never seems to work, but go over some of the stuff you’ve already said, which will probably be a fairly useful refresher to the attendees. Not saying anything can make attendees think that everything has broken, including the sound, so even if you aren’t exactly setting the world alight with your commentary, keep it coming.

5. Interact

Webinars without audience participation can be pretty dull. Set up a couple of polls to run during the event. One great feature of GoToWebinar, the software both Learning Pool and Kind of Digital use, is that it shows you who is paying attention – ie those who have the webinar window in focus on their desktop.

If someone has flicked to check their emails while you are talking, you know about it, and that’s always a good time to launch a poll! You can also get people to type in questions and comments throughout the webinar which keeps participation up and people concentrating.

6. Follow up

When people register for the webinar, they leave their email address – so use it! Send them a link to a recording of the webinar so they can share it with their colleagues and other resources. You can also get attendees to fill in a quick survey at the end which is another great way of grabbing a bit more information from delegates.

Do you have any tips or experiences to share about webinars? Leave them in the comments!

Everything you ever need to know about the internet

John NaughtonJohn Naughton is consistently one of the – if not the – best writers we have about technology. His A Brief History Of The Future is a simply fantastic introduction to the internet: why and how it came about, from Vannevar Bush‘s vision of the Memex through Douglas Englebart‘s ‘Mother of all demos‘ to Arpanet and Tim Berners-Lee‘s use of HTTP and HTML to form the world wide web. It was the first book I thought to lend Breda when she joined my little team at Learning Pool.

His blog and Observer column are well worth regularly checking too. Occasionally I am lucky enough to meet up with John, along with that other titan of technology, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, for lunch in Cambridge. It’s difficult not to feel utterly fraudulent during these conversations, but I do my best.

John’s name has been punted all round Twitter during the last couple of days thanks to a feature article that appeared in the Observer on Sunday, called Everything you ever need to know about the internet. It’s a great context-setting piece, reminding us all how new this stuff is – and yet, at the same time, that many of the issues involved are as old as time.

This ties in with some of what I have been thinking and writing recently about people’s attitudes to the internet – such as the fact that it shouldn’t be viewed as just another channel, and that it is a profoundly creative space. I suspect a lot of this comes down to a lack of real understanding of what the net is about.

So, go read the article. Then print it out and put it in your boss’s in-tray. The world will be a better place.

A digital engagement glossary

DictionaryThis glossary of social media and digital engagement terms comes from a recent piece of my strategy work. It’s skewed towards the government sector, in terms of language and examples. Feel free to use any of this that might be useful for other purposes. Or to challenge my definitions. Or, perhaps, to add glaring things I’ve missed. There are probably no definitive answers to some of these, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Blog: Derived from “Web log” – originally a regularly-updated journal on which visitors (and the original author) could leave comments. Now generally used for a site (or section of a larger site) where text-based content can be created in the form of short articles, almost always open for comments to be posted. These comments may be subject to some degree of moderation.

Campaign site: Website created in association with a specific promotional campaign; usually for a defined period of time; may include facilities to receive user feedback and present an opportunity for engagement.

Commentable document: A facility for hosting a document under review, usually divided into manageable sections, and permitting comments to be left for the author – and to permit dialogue between commenters. Combines some of the features of a wiki for collaborative working, but retaining an initial document structure throughout. Has been used on a number of government policy documents made available for digital consultation. One tool that delivers this functionality (an implementation of WordPress) is Commentariat. e.g. http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon

Content-based networking sites: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, TripAdvisor – sites based on content of a certain type (e.g. video, images, reviews) with a strong element of user feedback, user-generated content (UGC) and elements of social networking (e.g. ability to create groups, forums, favourites, peer-to-peer relationships etc.)

Crowdsourcing: The use of digital (or other) media to allow the contribution of information or ideas from a wide range of people, usually around a topic, a question, or a request for innovative suggestions.

Dashboard: a utility that searches and aggregates information from many channels across the internet, and displays it all in one place, in real time, for management, monitoring or consumption purposes. Example: http://www.netvibes.com/socialcare

Digital engagement: The use of interactive techniques to improve service delivery and information provision via digital media technology.

Email subscription: Although not ‘social’ in terms of community formation and peer-to-peer interaction, allowing users to register email addresses to receive personal(ised) updates represents a form of digital engagement. Digital tools build a two-way relationship: the user receiving content, and also experiencing some sense of being part of a community, even as information recipient.

Forum: Area for registered members to discuss specific topics. Can form part of a wider overall site. Characterised by a core user base making multiple contributions and often sharing relationships or culture. Forum content may or not be moderated.

Group: A type of forum generated by users within a social networking or similar type of site. Shares many of the characteristics of a forum, but can be more volatile. Members (who are a subset of the members of a larger form or social network) will typically interact for a shorter period of time, usually around a specific single issue. Creation of fan pages (or similar designations) also effectively forms a Group.

Metadata: Information about information. Often invisible to the user, metadata allows content to be classified, structured and sorted. Tags represent a use of metadata.

Microblogging: e.g. Twitter, Identi.ca, Yammer (the latter within corporate environments). Member communities sharing short message content, openly and by direct peer-to-peer message. Highly flexible in their use, and prone to rapid escalation of issues: creation of “a Twittermob”.

Moderation: Editorial judgement over or control of user-generated online content. Numerous varieties exist, from moderation by peers or by the site owner/author, to outsourced arrangements where professional moderators assess and process comments on a larger scale.

Post: To publish content to a blog, micro-blog, forum or website, either as a new topic or as a comment on existing content. Also, as a noun, to describe the content posted (synonymous with ‘blog post’, ‘forum post’ etc.).

Private social networking site: A social network intended for a specific community of interest. Offers similar features to an open social networking site, but almost always sets conditions and controls over entry and participation. E.g. sites set up using Ning.

User-generated content: Any content provided by users, rather than the owners of an online environment. May or may not be moderated (see above)

User feedback: A specific type of user-generated content: that created as a response to provided informational content. Can take the form of freeform text comments, ‘votes’, likes/dislikes, or more detailed survey-type information.

Social bookmarking: A method by which people can store, organize, search and share articles, blog posts and other information. There are many different libraries, each with their own bookmark, including Digg, de.lici.ous and Reddit. Increasingly, posting content links as tweets or to Facebook profiles provides a common form of bookmarking.

Social marketing: The use of marketing techniques to achieve desired social outcomes (e.g. behaviour change). May or may not involve the use of social media. Included here to avoid confusion with social media marketing.

Social media: Digital tools that permit people and organisations to interact freely with low (or no) barriers to entering a conversation. The nature of the relationships between social media users is often as important as the content they share – the ‘social’ aspect is very important.

Social media marketing: The use of social media to promote a particular cause or product. May or may not have social marketing implications. Included here to avoid confusion with social marketing.

Social networking site: A website offering general-purpose networking features to all who may want to join. Facebook dominates the adult market; Bebo has a focus on a younger/teenage audience; MySpace is now focused on music/video content and may be regarded as a content-based networking site, albeit one with a high membership.

Tags: Keywords describing online information that allow other users to search for relevant information.

Twitter: The best known of the micro-blogging platforms. Users contribute short messages, either on the twitter.com website, or using a number of third-party ‘client’ applications: whatever the route, interaction happens in a consistent and open way. Terms include:
Tweet: to post content (short messages up to 140 characters long)
Re-tweet: to republish another’s post. Good for spreading messages widely, or adding commentary to them
Hashtags: words or phrases preceded by ‘#’. This allows them to be grouped together and easily searched.

Webchat: A structured discussion using instant messaging to a host, who then responds. Usually moderated.
Example: http://webchat.number10.gov.uk

Wiki: An open collaboration environment in which users may freely (or with some controls) create and modify content as a community. The best known example is Wikipedia, where an open community collaborates to create an encyclopaedia, but wikis can be used for tasks as varied as communal creation of a policy document, or managing the names and interests of attendees to an event.


Dave writes… Paul Clarke is a very nice man who is also very clever and good at lots of things. He blogs at honestlyreal where a version of this post previously appeared. You’ll find him on Twitter – @paul_clarke. He’ll also be coming to the Learning Pool conference on 12th May to take a few photos and join in the conversations.

Bookmarks for March 16th through March 18th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

A quick start guide to Twitter

Twitter Guide You will all be delighted to know that I have written a handy quick-start guide to Twitter for people who work in and around government!

I have had loads of requests for this, from people who can see that Twitter is taking off in a big way, but who also just can’t quite make their way around the service enough to make the most of it.

The guide takes absolute beginners to Twitter right from the start – explaining what Twitter is, and how to sign up – right through to replying, retweeting, hashtagging and using tools to measure success.

It’s free to download, just click the cover graphic or the text link below!

Download Learning Pool’s Twitter Guide

I’d love to know what you make of it, and if you have any suggestions for an updated version. Maybe you have an idea for another subject crying out for the Briggs treatment. Drop me your comments using dave@learningpool.com or send them via Twitter to @davebriggs.

And don’t forget, you can follow Learning Pool on Twitter too – @learningpool.

ICELE eDemocracy Guides

Alastair Smith at Newcastle City Council today brought my attention to the fact that the ICELE eDemocracy guides were no longer available. Effectively, the link to the page where they were distributed via the Lulu website no longer works.

Luckily for Alastair, and perhaps others, I saved the downloadable PDFs of the guides a while ago, and so now am happy to make them available here on DavePress for folk that want them:

I think I have them all, although four doesn’t seem that many. If you have any others I have missed, do let me know.