Category Archives: Web training

What’s That Behind You?

Distracting Background - Office

Just what DO they put in those botanical shampoos?

In last night’s “Facilitating Over the Web” session, the discussion migrated to best use of webcams. While I was extolling the virtues of using webcams, someone in the chat box piped up: “I’d have to clean up the disaster area that’s behind me first.” Which was a very astute observation. I had taken a few moments to clean up my office space a little before the webinar began.  It’s likely the first time in months that my desk has had that much open space.

Even after a little tidying up, it’s valuable to check your background to make sure that what your learners see doesn’t distract from you, and your message. The image to the left, of course, is an example that’s easily fixed. Move the vase, or move yourself.

But what if your entire background is distracting, and something that you cannot move? And what if you don’t have the option of going elsewhere? How can you ensure that the webinar you’re facilitating remains professional, and your learners stay on task?

These folks came up with a solution:

It’s pretty basic, and reminiscent of those pop-up car screen shades. But they do a remarkable job of blocking out the background, allowing you to facilitate from wherever you may have placed your home office: the kitchen, a corner of your garage, wherever you’ve got a desk and a chair.

The WebAround comes in three colours, and frankly, I’m eyeing the green one, wondering if I can treat it as a “green screen” for my eLearning video recordings.

If you find yourself facilitating webinars, but are concerned about the professional image you’ll project if folks can see the space behind your smiling face, this product may be a decent investment.

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Enhance Virtual Training Engagement With Hashtags

“Oh, my goodness, I think there’s a chat box blowout going on here!”


Image from, #hashtagyourlife

I can hear David H. through the thin walls of our offices, and can’t help but smile. Just a few weeks earlier, he’d shared with a group of Total Trainer participants a technique for engaging his virtual audience that he just stumbled upon one day – hashtags.

A hashtag is a word or phrase, preceded by the “#” symbol, used to “tag” a longer comment – a form of metadata. It was popularized in Twitter to help users of that social media tool to search for comments by a specific topic. #learning, for example. Or #FF.

“I was watching the chat during one of my webinars and noticed that a lot of folks were talking about the same topic,” David shared. “So I said: ‘Looks like there’s a topic trending in the chat box.’ and typed #listen (that was the trending topic). And the chat box just blew up.” He splayed his hands out to illustrate.  “I thought that was pretty cool, so I tried it again.”

Now, the #chatboxblowout, as David calls the practice, is a standard facilitation technique for his webinars.

Sometimes David will comment: “I see a topic trending in the chat box…” and participants will start adding hashtags to their comments.  Sometimes the participants – particularly the Millenials – will add hashtags without any prompting. Either way, adding hashtags to the chat spurs conversation and engagement with the majority of those on the call.

An added benefit:  just as hashtags were created as a grouping/search tool in Twitter, so can David search for content in his webinar chat, by topic, should he later want to refer to a specific comment someone had made.  Being able to recognize a participant’s comments as relevant to a subsequent topic can boost morale as well as engagement, indicating to the learners that the facilitator is actually paying attention to their contributions, and prompting more meaningful dialogue.

Back in today’s training session, David is narrating the comments that are filling up his chatbox with the fervor of a soccer announcer. There’s no denying that a simple “#” has provided a great deal of excitement in his classes.  #somethingtoconsider

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Automating Your Webinar Introduction


Photo Credit: H is for Home via Compfight cc

I was attending a webinar facilitated by the talented Geri Lopker, during which she impressed some of the attendees with break slides that included a timer. This wasn’t a separate program, but a series of slides that transitioned automatically as break time elapsed.

This was a nifty tool. I have never been successful in transitioning my slides automatically within WebEx, even after using PowerPoint’s “rehearse timings” feature, even after importing said slides into WebEx’s .ucf format.* As a result, my break slides tended to be a kludge of deftly timed animations.

I concluded that a gap exists between PowerPoint’s abilities and WebEx’s. But it could be overcome. How?

A little bit of research turned up this feature hidden under WebEx’s “View” menu: “Automatically Advance Pages.” Here’s how:

  1. Import the file into WebEx.**
  2. From the menu bar, select “View.”
  3. Then select “Automatically advance pages.”
  4. You’ll be able to change how frequently the pages advance, along with if you want the slides to repeat. If you’re doing a break timer, I’d suggest not repeating your slides.
  5. Click “Start” to automatically advance your slides.

How else could we use this feature? Having numbers change on a screen is one thing, but to quote Ted Arroway, “…seems like an awful waste of space.”

What if we used it to train our attendees? Not on course objectives, but on the web tool itself?

How much time do we spend in our webinars introducing people to the tools we use? Probably not a lot, but it cuts into the webinar time. If you’ve got an hour-long session, that introductory 5 minutes took up more than 10% of your class.

An alternative solution that we’ve implemented, with limited success, is to deliver an “Introduction to WebEx” in advance.  But what if we were to provide this “how to” information as a pre-show, for attendees to view as they log in to the webinar? That might work.

Here’s a slide deck that I created to try that technique. It’s both a timer to let people know how soon class will begin, and a quick introduction to WebEx participant tools – 60 seconds for each tool. The slides are designed to be advanced every 30 seconds; the first slide introduces the tool while the second slide encourages participants to try out the tools in a “safe zone,” before the real business of the webinar takes place.

If you use it, let me know how it works for you!

*yes, I know that you can share your PowerPoint application in WebEx, and I know that if you run that show, your transitions will work. I find that this reduces audience participation, because the chat box and participant windows “disappear.”
** it’s up to you how you import the file. I’ve started converting my slide decks into the .ucf format to help transition much of the fancy stuff I do in PowerPoint.

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