How to Take a Training Webinar and Actually Learn From It

In the Age of Zoom, live training is taking a backseat to online learning.

Posted May 28, 2020

In the pre-pandemic era, the usual approach to workplace training has always been to “round up the usual suspects, put them in a conference or training room, and throw some information at them.” Now it’s all about the "online experience." As someone who has facilitated over 250 training webinars, I try not to mind too much when I hear through the office grapevine that someone told a co-worker, “Yeah, he was pretty good. He talked fast and covered a lot of content, but I don’t know how much of it I actually remembered.” I realize a lot of people will do anything during an online presentation to avoid having to pay attention—including checking emails, listening to voicemails, scheduling a root canal, or getting a head start on their 2021 taxes—everything but focusing on the ideas, messages, lessons, and stories.

Too many training programs—live or online—are simply yet another example of "Death By PowerPoint." The slides have little power and not much point. I have the benefit that some of the subjects I teach are more exciting than others. I get a lot more audience for my workplace violence and active shooter programs than I do for my team conflict resolution sessions. Certain topics have a kind of dullness built into them, and the presenter’s choice of title or subtitle doesn’t help create much excitement. “Financial Reporting Strategies” might sound better if it was called, “Let’s Have Fun With Other People’s Money!”

To get the best benefit for your training time online, consider the following pre, during, and post-session steps:

Download the slides. Decide if you need to create a file folder for them for later review. After the session, review them and any notes you took before or after. Many times, I will just keep the slides I need and toss the rest. Not every slide will have the same value.

Review the slides. Take notes before the session, asking yourself, “What key questions do I want to be answered by the end? What are my top three takeaways? Do I need to apply this information to my current projects, or is it just general job knowledge?”

Decide if the subject is a compliance issue. It can help to read your company or agency’s written policies first.

Do a dry run with your technology. Most webinar platforms, like Zoom, GoToMeeting, GotoWebinar, or Adobe, have fairly easy push to play accessibility. Figure out the sound issues—can you dial in with your computer audio, or do you need to dial in with your phone? Most people using their phone to hear the session will use the landline phone on their desks, but if you choose your smartphone, make certain it’s charged enough to last for the duration of the meeting.

Note the length of the session. Prepare your coffee or bathroom needs accordingly. There is a sweet spot for the allotted time span for webinars. For most people, 30 minutes works if the subject is straightforward, and the participants know it. One hour to 90 minutes seems to be the best length for new content.

At least for me, having to talk the whole time, two hours seems to be the length of human endurance for a webinar. If I go for two hours, we always take a 15-minute break at the midpoint. I have never taught an online program longer than two hours and hope I don’t have to. Tying people to their chairs in their home offices or regular offices for longer is a form of specialized torture.

Take what you need. As a fast talker, I can cover 35 slides in an hour. I don’t read every word, thankfully, but I hit the high points. Some of what is discussed in a webinar is “Need-to-Know Information,” and some of it is “Nice-to-Know Information.” Put a big checkmark by the slides that give you need-to-know stuff to review later and just absorb the rest of the nice-to-know extras.

Wait to ask your questions until near the end. Some participants get wicked impatient and ask about topics in the first five minutes that I plan to cover in detail later on. Let the session play out.

Don’t ask compound, multi-part questions. These are hard to answer with much clarity. Don’t ask complex questions with a layered story built around them. This bores other people and ties up the training time. Email the presenter or ask to speak to him or her by phone to get help. Pay attention to the chatbox or the question box, and don’t repeat what has been asked.

Give polite feedback. Don’t be mean; presenters can have thin skin. Tell your training manager, boss, and/or the presenter about what worked for you and what didn’t.