Webinars and Multitasking Go Together – Unfortunately!

boring webinars
Bored by a webinar?

Be honest now!  How often do you multitask while you’re watching or listening to a webinar?

In over-busy culture, even when we really want to attend a particular webinar, we often find ourselves feeling pressured to get some other work done while we listen to the webinar.  As we get momentarily involved in responding to an email or paying a bill online, we miss part of what the presenter said and, even if we do bring our attention back to the webinar, it can be hard for us to fully grasp the rest of the content because of what we missed in those few minutes.

Unfortunately many webinar presenters are also partly to blame for not keeping their audience engaged enough that they are riveted to the webinar screen and wouldn’t think of jumping over to the email or to browse the internet.

You may be wondering what’s wrong with multitasking while on a webinar.  You may feel confident in your own ability to listen to the presenter and check your email at the same time.

Let’s make a distinction between background multitasking, like listening to music while driving or studying, and switch-tasking, which involves trying to focus on multiple activities at the same time, all of which require attention.

Most people are able to handle background multitasking pretty comfortable most of the time.  However, even that can vary depending on the situation and the person’s mental state at the time.   For example, I notice that I instinctively reach to turn off the radio or CD player in my car when I need to focus on a particular challenging highway interchange with a heavy volume of traffic.

By contrast, switch-tasking is a completely different matter.  Recently quite a few research studies have shown that switch-tasking actually causes you to complete tasks more slowly and with a higher error rate, even if you think you’re really good at multitasking!

If you’re one of those who still believes you can get more done by multi-tasking, see what results you get on the free exercise at http://davecrenshaw.com/exercise — or better yet, read his book, “The Myth of Multitasking”.

So why do we feel so compelled to multitask, or switch-task, while participating in webinars?

One reason I already mentioned above:  the pressure to get more done and not waste time.

Other powerful de-motivators include:

  • Visually boring slides that give us no reason to watch in addition to listening
  • Presenters who speak too slowly, lack vocal enthusiasm, or drag out their verbal explanations for too long
  • Too little engagement for the audience to participate actively instead of being passive listeners
  • Poorly structured presentations that don’t keep the audience excited to see what is coming next
  • Explaining ideas that are too complex for the restraints of virtual presentation and that leave the audience listening on a surface level because they can’t really follow the details at the deeper level
  • Assuming that the audience will simply absorb everything that is presented verbally and visually, without developing tools (like handouts) and structure (story) to help them process the information

Fortunately, all of these problems can be easily overcome with guidance and practice and a shift of perspective to focus more on the needs of the audience to help you really get your message into their brains!

Do any of these issues resonate for you as a webinar participant?  Can you see how you are contributing to these problems as a webinar presenter?  Are you interested in learning how to improve your audience’s experience of your webinars?

Please share your comments below and share these ideas with friends and followers.   Thank you!

4 Responses to “Webinars and Multitasking Go Together – Unfortunately!”

  1. The problem with webinars is the speaker speaks too slowly. I prefer to read the items. It’s like listening to the State of the Union address- it takes 60 to 70 minutes- and 7 to read it… What a waste of 53 minutes or more.

    • You’re right, Roy. Participants can read much faster much faster than presenters can speak. That makes it hard to keep the 2 channels of information in synch and viewers often get frustrated. Of course, there are other social goals behind some presentations; the State of the Union address is a good example of that. Spoken words may not be the most efficient way to share information, but they can often be better at arousing emotion than written words. It all comes down to the goals of the presenter AND the goals of the listener, which don’t always match!

  2. Deidra Miller says:

    Hi Susan,

    I often multi-task while attending a webinar so I can justify the time. I usually tune out when they’re not giving real content I can use. Telling me their background doesn’t really appeal to me; I’m already on the webinar, they don’t need to sell me about themselves. But the webinar you did where attendees had to be very interactive kept me very focused and it was fun!

    • Deidra, thanks for your comment — and for the complement about my webinar! I also get frustrated with webinar presenters (or live presenters) who go on and on about themeselves and how they got to where they are today! I always feel like ‘just get on with what we came here to learn!’