The chat box backchannel. Even better than a stuffed elephant.

I’ve just completed a webinar for Cambridge University Press. My first webinar. Talking about digital projects, 21st Century Skills and global awareness.

It really is quite a strange experience. I’m sitting in my living room, talking to myself (with my baby son’s enormous stuffed elephant looking at me, coincidentally), yet also talking to an audience of a hundred plus teachers around the globe.

As it happened, I had the Adobe Connect presentation running on my laptop, while reading from the PowerPoint notes on my iPad. Trying to keep the slides in sync on both was a little bit of a challenge, but I think I managed that OK. My dual-monitor desktop set up would have been better, but I needed (wanted) a more reliable (ethernet) internet connection and a quieter environment than my office space can usually offer.

I was nervous before starting, but settled into it quite quickly. I think the fact that I knew that the the presentation was being recorded was the most off-putting thing. Knowing that whatever nonsense I might accidentally spout would (will) be there on YouTube for EVER! When it’s there I’ll add a link here, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch it. Does anyone watch their webinar presentations afterwards?!

Occasionally this fact popped up in my head as I spoke. I had part scripted the talk, so it was occasional ad-libbed moments that had me wincing at how I had stumbled over my words. Those people who just talk so fluently without getting confused, backtracking, or repeating themselves are really quite special. Or are they just extremely well prepared? Or both?

One of the first things I realised was that following the chat box while doing the presentation was not going to be an easy task. A few times, I asked the audience to interact, by adding comments to the chat box. The speed at which the comments whizzed past was faster than even the most interactive #eltchat twitter discussion I’ve ever been part of, so I’m not sure to what extent that was useful to the assembled participants. Probably at least to the extent that most teachers I’ve met like to tell people what they think! So at least they all had a chance to get something out there.

In actual fact, what I realised about the chat box is that it is tremendously important in a webinar, even if it’s difficult to follow. It’s the only audience feedback you get as a presenter. Sometimes it’s off-putting, as people comment on the fact they can’t see the slides properly, that there’s an audio delay, that they can’t hear me, or whatever (usually a problem with their technology). But when you see the occasional comment saying ‘I agree with you’, ‘that’s a good idea’, or something, it reassures you that firstly people are there and listening, and that what you’re saying is at least being received positively by some of the audience!

Thinking about, these comments, I suppose, are like the nods of agreement you get when presenting live. A quiet chat box would be like a tough room of stern-faced attendees looking like you’d taken them away from something WAY more interesting!

The best bit, of course, is the comments at the end. The ‘thank you’, ‘that was useful’, ‘I have learned a lot’. That’s fabulous, because I spent bloody ages preparing the damned thing and really wanted it to go well. I hope it did. I think it did. Without the chat box, I wouldn’t have clue what anyone thought.

So let’s hear it for the chat box, more of an audience than a stuffed elephant can ever hope to be!

If you’re reading this and you attended, many, many thanks. I hope it was useful for you. I will be sharing the slides, as requested and promised, via this blog, Twitter and LinkedIn at some point soon.

Thanks for reading. Ever done a webinar? What have your experiences been like? Let me know below.

Image by MirelaSchenk on Pixabay

2 thoughts on “The chat box backchannel. Even better than a stuffed elephant.”

  1. Thanks for the webinar and your honest opinions here. I agree entirely about the chat box, otherwise you feel like you’re talking into a void, very disconcerting. I can’t watch my own webinars back, but I do like to have the opportunity to see other people’s on subjects I’m interested in that I’ve missed. People do make a huge effort in their preparation, and it can be quite daunting sitting at home alone. Thanks.

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