What is it with webinars?
I attended a webinar the other day. Like the ones I’ve “been” to before, though, it wasn’t the most inspiring experience. That wasn’t because the subject matter was irrelevant to me. It was about the new version of my CAT tool, MemoQ, so it ought to have been important. It didn’t take long, though, before my attention started wandering.
I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast with the previous Friday, when I went to a training day organised by Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) in Barcelona. There, my attention hardly wavered throughout the entire day (for the final hour, it certainly couldn’t – I was giving a presentation on specialisation). So is it really that “being there” is so important when it comes to training?
It’s certainly a big part of it. Technology is both the great strength of the webinar – without computers it would be impossible – and its weakness, because a computer holds many other distractions should the live video presentation begin to flag. I admit that I find it hard to resist the temptation to have a quick look at my e-mails, or even start working, if a webinar fails to hold my attention. So my webinar experience quite often goes like this; “Oh, I’m looking forward to this…. Yes, I already knew that…. And that…. This isn’t as good as I expected…. Actually, it’s quite boring… I wonder if I’ve got any e-mails… Maybe, I could sort of half listen and get on with my work…. What did he just say? That sounded quite interesting…”
By contrast, if I’m actually in a room listening to a talk, it’s as much as I will do to furtively take my phone out of my pocket to check whether the vibration I’ve felt means there’s a possible job was coming in. It’s not so much that I’m worried about the reaction of the real live person in front of me giving the talk, it’s just I feel as if allowing myself to become distracted would be terribly rude. I’m happy to give my attention and I therefore get a lot more out of it.
But I don’t think that’s the whole story. Some might say, for example, that the fact I’d paid for the MET training day, and not for the webinar kindly provided free by MemoQ, was a factor. They might be right. But the truth is that the MET day wasn’t all that expensive and I certainly wasn’t thinking about the cost while I was there. Nor was I thinking about the webinar being free. It simply didn’t hold my attention. I might be able to test this further soon, as I’m considering attending an interesting-looking webinar run by eCPD on advanced translation techniques which would be paid for, but I have to say that my poor record with this form of training is making me think twice about it.
Subject matter is also important, of course. To continue with the examples I was using, perhaps learning about how to compete with agencies for direct clients, or about alternative ways to translate tricky expressions from Spanish at the MET event was more interesting than hearing about the finer details of version of a CAT tool which seems to be no great departure from the one before. But I don’t think it’s the whole story. I’ve often found, for example, at conferences, that talks which don’t look at all promising at first sight turn out to be among the best of the whole event. And at the MET training day I found Anne Murray’s account of analysing her own clients – something that didn’t always fit in with my experience and which I don’t necessarily intend to copy – didn’t lose my attention for a minute. I wonder if the reverse is also true: will a webinar on a subject I’m really keen on keep me riveted, or will my concentration inexorably drift again? I suppose the only way I’ll find out is to try the eCPD webinar I’ve already mentioned.
Maybe presentation is also relevant. Certainly at MET events, the standard of presentation is generally good, perhaps because many of those giving talks are connected with universities and have some sort of lecturing experience (I’m not the one to judge whether my own modest efforts are up to those high standards). On the other hand, MemoQ’s tend to be given by technical experts who perhaps aren’t the best at getting through to their audience. I have some sympathy, though, as I wonder how easy it is to present a webinar. When I’ve presented in person, I’ve been able to judge from my audience’s reaction when I might be losing them so I can get things back on track, or when I’m going too quickly or too slowly. But a webinar presenter doesn’t have that luxury. He or she is working entirely by guesswork. There might be a thousand people paying rapt attention, or there might be none at all, all the presenter can see is a microphone and a webcam.
Webinars are necessary, of course. Not everyone can travel to conferences or training days and not everyone can fit into one room on a particular day. Technology gives us a fantastic opportunity to shrink distances and bridge continents, as I found out last week in the first three-way transatlantic chat with my Revision Club partners, of which more in another blog post. But I think the art of presenting – and attending – webinars needs quite a bit of improvement before it can compete with face-to-face training methods.
Thanks to Kelly Dickeson for the photograph of the MET workshop in Barcelona