"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella


Women Writing for (a) Change, In a Circle


"A circle of women is a nurturing and sustaining resource that can become a spiritual and psychological wellspring tapped into whenever the circle meets."

~  Jean Shinoda Bolen, Urgent Message from Mother

A friend tells the story of a time when she was in college. Her male professor asked the class for the qualities of positive leadership. The standard answers came: Focused. Direct. Action-oriented. Authoritative. My friend, on the other hand, suggested that good leaders "allow." The professor thought about it, talked his way around it, and tossed it about, but, in the end, he never actually put the word on the board. In effect, she was silenced. Some 30 years later, it still rankles.

In a world where education, corporate and academic, is often dominated by male voices, where is it safe for women to gather, learn, and express their individual voices? Put another way, how can we create "safe containers" for learning and self expression for women, or anyone, for that matter? Where is it safe to learn?

One answer is: In a circle.

Since ancient times, at least as an archetype, the ritual of sitting around a fire and telling stories has been an effective way for cultures to teach their young, pass on cultural traditions, and make decisions of group conscience. The practice has many benefits. Using a "talking stone," or "talking stick," ensures that each individual is listened to, without interruption. Passing the stone in a circle gives each person a chance to speak and voice an opinion. In a circle, each person is equal to the next.

The rituals incorporated into this group process provide a discipline and a structure that ensures the circle is "held"; that it remains a "safe container." It enables the circle to be nurtured, cultivated, and sustained over time. It also acknowledges a simple truth: in a circle, all are equally important, and all "stories" can be told and heard.

Today's classrooms (and political systems) have typically used a very "masculine” model, emphasizing power, hierarchy, and authority over a more "feminine style" of equality, shared power, and focus on the learning process. One person is usually raised on a dais (the "professor” or "instructor”) and participants are lined up, theater style, and only allowed to speak if they are called upon.

As one example, my aunt often told the story of how, when she was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary during World War II, her professors regularly refused to call on her. One actually stated that she was taking up a seat where a man should be sitting.

This is how we silence the voice of the feminine.

At Women Writing for (a) Change,  a writing school in Cincinnati with affiliates sites around the country, these "circle practices" are being recreated, honored and ritualized. The circle is viewed as a "container” where the participants are safe to share, and various "care of the container" methods ensure that the circle is maintained in a healthy and self-sustaining way.

The Cincinnati site was started because of the failure of the patriarchal model to hold the capacity to hear women's voices. Founder Mary Pierce Brosmer established the school after she was told, as a high school English and writing teacher, that she could not use what was deemed as "feminist literature" as one of her classroom texts. This was in 1991, just 20-some years ago.

On October 9, 2013, Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, one of the two newest affiliate sites, completed its first "sample class" for local participants to experience the WWf(a)C methodology. The session was filled with insight, some tears, and wonderful writing. We used the "circle practices" of Women Writing for (a) Change, which are very specific and geared to create a safe place of expression.

This model is useful not only for women, but also for all learning experiences. Some of the key practices are:

  • Writing is the primary method of expression, allowing participants to access a deeper, more reflective level of awareness and insight.
  • Women are given equal time to write and read their writing out loud in the circle.
  • A talking stone is passed to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.
  • While one person reads, the group jots down key "read-back” lines that resonate for them, then reads them back to the writer after she's finished reading.
  • Read-backs let the writer know they were heard, appreciated, and honored.
  • Feedback is given in small groups, at the level requested by the writer: either “readbacks,” general feedback, or specific craft suggestions.
  • All feedback is geared to be supportive, empathetic, and helpful.
  • "Soul cards" passed at key intervals allow the group "vibes" to be brought forward and issues to be addressed.

This practice, which Brosmer also calls "Conscious Feminine Leadership," represents an opportunity to shift our learning culture from rigid rules and hierarchy to a more flexible, choice-oriented, respectful system that allows women — or anyone — to speak their truth.

The awe with which the Jacksonville participants held the process is reflected in the "Soul Cards" they wrote at the end of the two-hour session:


  • Surprisingly fun! I really enjoyed my time and all the people.
  • Time to concentrate on something for myself.
  • New connections were made. Foundations of trust being established.
  • Graceful space.
  • The safe place to share, though it is hard to trust it just yet.
  • The gift of the circle is the beauty in honesty. Words from the heart are always right.
  • Enjoyed the safe structure and welcoming atmosphere. Enjoyed being encouraged in this space.
  • Enjoyed the synchronicity of the randomness of women.
  • Meeting new friends. Welcoming [us] where we are.
  • The opportunity to get to know the other ladies in the group through their participation.
  • Amazing talent. Safe. Fun.
  • What a blessing — these wonderful women, each a gift to be tenderly unwrapped and opened.


  • It's kind of scary to write.
  • All new for me, down to trying not to write too personally.
  • Killing the critic: learning feedback that is not in judgment. Saying what you hear instead of what you think you hear.
  • To leave a space open for all to share and not get so excited about my process I forget it is ALL of our process.
  • The challenge is to free up what is hiding...get out of its way!
  • So far so good! I'm open to these challenges.
  • Time...the press of time!

Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote the book, The Millionth Circle, to encourage women to create more "circles" until we reach a point where the old system no longer holds power, and the new way — which is a very old way — rises up. Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, is one of those million circles. Perhaps there are lessons here that the Global Learning Community might find valuable and aligned with their own learning practices, as we create new circles and shift to a new era of more consciously feminine learning and leadership.

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Meta–Culture: Talking for Understanding, Listening for Change


(Note from GLP:  We hope you enjoy learning a bit about our friends at Meta-Culture in India!)

How do you get people to listen to each other’s side of the story when, because of a number of social, cultural, and historic reasons, different groups have been more averse to fighting each other than understanding? For the past 9 years, Meta–Culture has been doing just that—and succeeding. Founded in 2005 by University of Massachusetts-Boston alumnus, Ashok Panikkar, and based in Bangalore, India, Meta–Culture is South Asia’s first specialized organization dedicated to the field and practice of conflict resolution, consensus building, relationship management, and dialogue.

Although establishing the field in India has been fraught with challenges, Meta–Culture is steadfast in its endeavor to fulfill its mission: build sustainable communities by changing how people address conflict and make decisions. Its aim is to assist conflicting stakeholders first understand and respect each other’s perspectives, and then apply their diverse thinking to joint problem solving. The result is better decision–making, more sustainable agreements, smarter policies, and stronger and more peaceable communities. This is done, in part, through creating more robust processes for dialogue throughout India, South Asia, and beyond in order to fundamentally change both society as well as how it addresses conflict.

Dialogue is not just any conversation. It is an uncommon conversation!

Dialogue is a methodology that focuses on the skill and process of having critical conversations, and is used to help individuals or groups with differing views and beliefs to engage in focused and productive conversation so that they deepen their understanding of each other. Dialogue is not debate! With the help of an impartial “third party” facilitator, participants in a dialogue process agree to cease rhetoric and argument, and instead strive to communicate respectfully, listen to each other, and ask questions to improve their understanding. They talk about their experiences and values, and the why behind what they believe. Perhaps most important, dialogue challenges participants to suspend judgment of their counterparts, dispel stereotypes, and enable openness to perspectives different from their own.

The goal of dialogue is not to solve problems or create agreements. Although dialogue may lead to opportunities for collaborative action, the process aims to help people learn about each other and discover common concerns. Dialogue is also a necessary process for creating and enhancing participatory democracy in society. Dialogue is, in part, at the core of participatory mechanisms, and when coupled with civic engagement, makes for vibrant and peaceable communities.

In the mid–1900s, the Russian philosopher and semiotician, Mikhail Bakhtin, developed a theory of “dialogue” that highlighted the power of discourse to enhance individuals’ understanding of multiple perspectives and create a range of synergistic possibilities. Later, David Bohm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a practical form of “dialogue” where, in a conversation facilitated by an impartial third party, groups explore their assumptions and the social effects of these assumptions. In Bohm’s dialogue, participants agree to cease debate and persuasion. Instead, they speak from their own experience on topics presented to them by the facilitator and other participants. Through its evolution as a form of dispute transformation, dialogue has come to be recognized as a structured process for helping groups share perspectives, resolve conflicts, and achieve sustainable change.

An effective dialogue process requires the skilled facilitation of an impartial “third party,” someone with no direct stake in the issues or any bias towards any of the participating stakeholders. The role of a dialogue facilitator differs from that of a moderator, whose aim it is merely to organize discussion and ensure that those who wish to speak get a chance to do so. In contrast, the role of the dialogue facilitator is to:

  • Plan and structure the process with an awareness of participants’ desires and concerns;
  • Create a safe space for discussion by ensuring and maintaining communication agreements;
  • Design the process so that participants are encouraged to reflect and ask questions;
  • Use effective inquiry so that participants explore their belief systems in the context of their behaviours towards “the other;” and
  • Be aware of and respond to participants’ needs throughout the process.

The Role of Dialogue in India and South Asia

With over 1.25 billion people, and more religious, linguistic, caste, and sub nationalities than Europe, India is a country that desperately needs expanded processes for dialogue. Over the past nine years, Meta–Culture has focused its attention on bringing collaborative processes such as dialogue to areas as diverse as communities, interreligious disputes, and multi–stakeholder disputes.

Community dialogue refers to providing a facilitated platform for residents to voice their concerns and engage with each other. Over a one–year period from June 2008, Meta–Culture organized and facilitated community dialogues open to individuals living and working in the Bangalore metro area. The series, entitled Bengaluru Speaks, created a space for residents of Bangalore to engage in focused and productive conversation about issues that matter to them but which were difficult to address, rarely spoken of in a public setting or have yet to be resolved by Bangalore’s public officials. After five years, it is now being restarted in the summer of 2014.

Meta–Culture’s interreligious dialogue stems from the growing divide between Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other faith groups. Tensions between these groups have often erupted into inter–religious conflict and rioting, and Meta–Culture is taking a proactive step in helping to address these differences in constructive ways. In 2007, Meta-Culture launched the Inter-Religious Dialogue, a 12–session dialogue process between leaders from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist communities. Later in 2012, Meta–Culture founded the Karnataka Hindu–Christian Inter–faith Dialogues in response to attacks on churches in the city of Mangalore, which is currently in its second year. It involved designing and developing a process to create a safe space for key representatives of both communities to engage in honest discussions about contentious communal issues, build relationships based on understanding, trust and respect and enhance local capacity for peaceful conflict resolution, community building, and consensus building. A project that has now developed, in part, to the success of the Hindu–Christians dialogue, is a new dialogue series between Hindu and Muslim community leaders currently being developed, and started March 22nd, 2014.

Engaging in Multi–stakeholder dialogue is the third key area of Meta–Culture’s work. Two examples of successful projects include the Bangladesh Brick Manufacturing Stakeholder Dialogue and the Garment Sector Roundtable. Held in 2013, the primary issue of focus of the Brick Manufacturing Stakeholder dialogue was the increasing pollution caused by the brick kilns in Bangladesh and the consequences of this on public health. The participants included representatives of government agencies, brick kiln owners, brick dealers, international funding agencies, academic institutions, and non–governmental organizations. This was the first time that a multi–stakeholder dialogue of this kind had been conducted in Bangladesh. Stakeholders who were unable to communicate with each other earlier came together to brainstorm issues of common concerns and agree on a set of issues to be of collective priority.

The Garment Sector Roundtable was a two and a half year dialogue process that brought together various stakeholders in the garment sector with historically competing interests and adversarial relationships. Launched in 2011, Meta–Culture acted as a third–party convener and facilitator of this process in order to create a multi–stakeholder group capable of discussing differences, identify common interests and taking collaborative action to initiate systemic changes within the industry. Stakeholders acknowledged that, in the absence of this dialogue process, primary operations in the sector faced the threat of being outsourced to other regions in South Asia. The stakeholders included multi–national brands, domestic manufacturers, industry associations, government, trade unions, NGOs (international and domestic), and research institutions. Over a period of two and a half years, the Roundtable participants dealt in depth with three key issues of the garment sector through, collaborative brainstorming, and consensus building. Also, two work groups were formed to conduct primary research and take outcome–oriented actions on specific issues, both of which are ongoing projects. Learn more about the GSR in these videos and case study.

Facilitating Dialogue: Internationally and Beyond

Meta–Culture’s experience with dialogue extends beyond borders and processes. For instance, Meta–Culture was asked in early 2013 by Mediators Beyond Borders–International to assist with a dialogue initiative to design, organize, and conduct dialogues to address migration issues in Athens, Greece. The increasing numbers of migrants to Greece who come in search of better opportunities has led to violence, hatred and political turmoil, fracturing communities in the country. This dialogue initiative aimed to address this sensitive issue by engaging key stakeholders in structured dialogue sessions. The participants included representatives of migrant organizations and communities, government officials, political and community leaders, religious organizations and police officials.

Aside from this, Meta-Culture hosts a 4–day residential workshop called Ah!Wake to learn creative and effective mechanisms to manage complexity, diversity, conflict, and change. This experiential and unique program is, in equal measure, philosophy, critical thinking, creative problem solving, self–reflection, and skill building. Participants emerge with a wholly unique way of understanding themselves, others, community building, participative democracy, and what it takes to manage differences through dialogue and collaborative problem solving.

Lastly, Meta–Culture recently launched the Public Intelligence Project—an initiative that seeks to better manage diversity and reduce conflict through more effective participatory democratic methods, and by giving voice to the voiceless. Established in 2013, the Public Intelligence Project is an independent, non–partisan, not–for–profit organization that seeks to promote more proactive ways to manage diversity, mainly by advocating for better methods of addressing public differences and empowering silenced voices. We believe that by creating a “culture of democracy”—a social and political environment that is marked by strong civic and community engagement and public participation in the decision–making processes—governance can be significantly improved, and conflict can be prevented. The foundations of that culture are built on dialogue, critical thinking, diversity of thought, perspective, and opinion, and freedom of expression and dissent, and the Project seeks to develop these capabilities through research, education, and advocacy.

To find our more about Meta–Culture’s work, check out our case studies, watch the videos on our YouTube Channel, or e–mail us at: info@meta-culture.in!

In recognition of Meta–Culture’s efforts in India and the region, Meta–Culture was the 2010 recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Award of the International Committee of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR).

Guest blogger Michael Oghia is Research and Advocacy Consultant for Meta-Culture.


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An Interview with Michael Culliton, GLP Partner


This is the third in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. Today's interview is with GLP Partner, Michael Culliton.

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Michael Culliton (Michael): “The learning is in the doing and the deciding.” In James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain he notes that we can’t say that people have truly learned anything until they engage in “active testing” of the content. This is not just philosophical, it is biological! We actually need to do something.

Joan:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Michael:  Pay attention to the physical “geography” of the learning environment. For example, in the circle, have just the right number of chairs (one for each, no extras; it says, “I know how many folks are in this group--and it cues the group if someone is missing); keep the circle in shape (so everyone is “in” and each can see all). To me, this says so much about the “intention” of the time and the process.

Monitor for visual noise: on the walls, only keep up the charts and visuals that are still needed. I have been to events where facilitators just keep adding more and more visuals  to the room that are not ever referenced again. For me--and some other visual folks, this creates the equivalent of a room full of “screaming monkeys.”

Remember: it is possible to sit and teach. I was so habituated to standing. When the setting and size of the group allows, sitting for me signals so much about dialogue, power, roles.

Joan:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Michael:  1)  Congruence - Knowing the principles of DE is not enough: I must put them into practice in a way that brings each to life: in the design, in the learning event;  with the learners and with us as facilitators. 2) Autonomy - Questions of power and agency abound in the design and facilitation of learning. The principle of autonomy demands that I be aware and intentional as I design and facilitate: recognizing, honoring and celebrating the power of learners to do and decide for themselves.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Michael:  That often I am in a room with other participants who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and yet there is no structure or time to share any of our energy and knowledge with one another.

I once took a history of modern art class with 70 other people. For weeks, we listened to lectures. Not  once were we invited to share any of our own passion or knowledge.

Imagine if the teacher had asked: “Turn to the person next to you and tell about one of your favorite paintings. What do you like about the work? What does the work elicit for you?"

Michael with Teryn Jones, who recently co-taught with him as part of the GLP certification process

Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Michael:  To me the principles are not just about learning, but about life. The principles and practice serve the building of respectful, collaborative relationships and offer tools for creating processes that harvest shared wisdom in service of repairing the world and shaping interactions and structures that are more life-affirming, sustainable and responsive.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Michael:  Over a decade ago, I helped design and lead a two-year program to support community leaders in developing local legislative advocacy programs. Most of the programs are still going and report success in influencing policy. In addition, several participants still talk about change in both personal and communal confidence and skills. This shows the power of DE in developing individual leaders and organizations; in making a difference for individuals and for communities.

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Michael:  When people leave a DE event, they have actually practiced DOING whatever it is they are learning. (As opposed to just “hosing people down” with lots of information, which is the MO of a lot of learning, be it lecture or webinar.)

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Michael:  Team up with another dedicated practitioner to study, design or teach together. I am consistently delighted and deeply influenced by what I learn from others who work out of the DE approach.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Michael:  The use of Open Space Technology within multi-day DE-designed events is something I find powerful: it provides a vehicle for emergent conversations and creative explorations.

When there is pattern of tension between two deeply held values within a group or organization, I have found polarity mapping to be a powerful and instructive tool.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?
Michael:  As a practitioner of DE, I don’t think I ever “arrive”: there is always more to learn, re-learn, explore, and research. It’s a courageous, exciting, and very satisfying journey!

Michael will be teaching the following courses in 2014 - join him!

Foundations of Dialogue Education, Sept 22-25, 2014  |  Anchorage, Alaska

Foundations of Dialogue Education, October 6-9, 2014  |  San Diego, California

SURE-Fire Meetings, October 23-23, 2014  |  Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota

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How to Evaluate a Training


Evaluation Checklist

Do you ever get emails asking you to spend a few minutes sharing your thoughts about evaluating a training? I do. And I'm always a little torn because I know whoever asks is eager for a few crisp tips. Instead, I grill them with questions!

The rest of this short blog post is about questions:  questions to ask somebody if they ask you about how to evaluate a training.

Question #1 - When you say evaluate, are you looking for feedback (i.e. how people perceived their experience) or learning (i.e. how well people grasped the skills/ knowledge/ attitudes being "taught") or something more (see Q4 below on the topic of something more)?

Question #2 - If you are looking for feedback, is it primarily on the design of the training (i.e. course content, structure, sequence, relevance) or on the facilitation (i.e. the way the facilitator listened, guided the dialogue, posed questions, etc)? What kind of feedback will you be able to make use of in the future?

Question #3 -  If you are looking to evaluate learning, have you set clear objectives against which to evaluate?  Are those objectives written in such a way that you - and the learner - will KNOW when they've been achieved?

Side bar:  I just watched a presentation by Dr. James Zull, author of "The Art of Changing the Brain." His words echoed those of our very own Dr. Jane Vella when he said "The way we know we know is if our back cortex (area of sensory input) senses an action we initiate with our front cortex (area of motor skills)."  I loved hearing that because it made the biology of learning evaluation so crystal clear. We know it was learned when we did something with it. That's what achievement-based objectives set us up for!

Question #4 - (With this question I draw a little diagram showing how learning leads to transfer, and transfer leads to impact.) If you are looking for something more, then you probably want to evaluate "transfer" (i.e. how learners use what they got in the learning) or "impact" (i.e. what difference it made to them or those around them). If so, have you set up a plan to capture evidence of learning and then track what happens after the training ends?

By the time I hit question #4, the caller usually pauses their note-taking and says something like "Hmmm. I guess I have to think this through a bit more.” And that's when I feel like I've done my work for the day.

What do you say when a colleague asks you to spend a few minutes talking to them about training evaluation? Share it with us in the comments section.

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12 Detailed Tips for Wondrous Webinars


Webinars offer a great alternative to holding face-to-face workshops as they save the costs and carbon associated with travel. However, they can easily become a sleep-inducing monologue in which a disembodied voice drones over a hypnotic barrage of never-ending PowerPoint slides. 

Meanwhile, the participants, their identities hidden by their remote connection, may be tempted to check out, finish that email (“clackity clackity clack!”) and/or update their Facebook status.

So to make your next webinar a wondrous learning experience, try incorporating these 12 Tips for Wondrous Webinars:

1.  Understand What Your Webinar Platform Can (and Can’t) Do

Before you get started, be sure to understand what your particular webinar platform can and can’t do.

Currently, all webinar platforms should allow you to share online visuals like PowerPoint presentations, and audio feeds via an integrated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or over a separate phone line. Some webinar platforms also allow you to broadcast a live video feed of the presenters, and perhaps even video of the learners. But in many cases you may find that the bandwidth restrictions of your participants’ connections will limit the quality of the picture.

Also be sure to see if your webinar platform lets you:

  • use on-screen collaborative tools like whiteboards, chat boxes and polling tools;
  • install third-party “apps” to incorporate additional features like interactive-maps, Twitter feeds, and external web pages; and/or
  • assign participants to breakout groups with their own video and audio feeds – perfect for small group work.

2.  Do Your Homework Before the Webinar

Before you get started, be sure to conduct a basic survey with the participants who will be in your webinar, their prior experience with the topic, and what they need to learn. At Global Learning Partners, we call this conducting a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) to determine what the participants already know and what they need to learn. For a webinar, an LNRA can include asking a few questions on the registration form, or visiting the websites of the participants’ organizations. Look for any “generative themes” or ideas and challenges that come up frequently that might create energy or engagement for the participants. However, keep the number of questions in proportion to the length of the webinar or course.

Remember that the motivation levels of the participants in webinars can sometimes be lower than in face-to-face learning situations since their investment to attend is low (and perhaps because their expectations of learning during webinars are also low). As well, the anonymity of the experience means that people may multi-task during the webinar and not devote their full attention to what you are saying

If you can't conduct a full LNRA, at least review the registration list beforehand so you can get a sense of who is taking part in the webinar. Share this list with the presenters. Check out their organization’s websites or their blogs to see what they do. Choose examples and stories that speak to their sector or where they work. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

The LNRA is also a great time to invite the learners to do some advance preparations. When you send out the webinar log-in details, consider sending to the participants a short pre-webinar reading (e.g. a short article, a link to a website they might review) so those who are keen can work ahead.

Provide a couple of good open questions for them to consider and revisit these questions during the webinar (but do so in a way that doesn’t exclude those who didn’t do the pre-work).

3.  Create a Well-Structured Learning Design for Your Webinar

Too often I see webinar presenters being lazy and just crafting a PowerPoint slide deck without thinking about all of the parameters that frame the choice of content and activities. At Global Learning Partners, we like to think of this as 8  Steps of Design. Instead, be sure to:

  • Define the People, Purpose, Place, and Time (Steps 1-5) for your webinars. Review this with the participants at the outset in order to keep you, your co-presenters and the participants on track.  
  • Include a Reasonable Amount ("just enough") of Content (Step 6). As with PowerPoint, it is tempting to "dump" too much data into the slides and overwhelm your participants. Keep it simple and not too full. (Download a free chapter about choosing just the right content - from the e-book Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.)
  • Keep your Presentations Short. Don’t go for more than 5 minutes at a stretch without asking for questions or asking the participants a question. Breaking a longer presentation into smaller chunks with breaks will help to revitalize the group energy, check for understanding and allow more voices to be heard. It will also allow you to pause and recharge, since presenting to silence can be de-energizing.
  • Create Achievement-Based Objectives (Step 7) that describe what the participants will do during the webinar beyond just "listening" and "watching". Think of ways that they can be more active participants to deepen their own learning (e.g. analyze, name, suggest, reflect, tweet…).
  • Create a Series of Learning Tasks (Step 8) or instructions that describe how the participants can engage with the content to meet each objective.

Build in opportunities for interaction as permitted by the size of the group and the technology. These can include:

  • Preceding every presentation with an open question to the participants. Post this question on a slide. For example, “As you listen to this short presentation on <your topic>, consider how you’ve seen these principles in action.” Be sure to ask them for a sample of their ideas after your presentation.
  • Taking a poll or a multiple choice quiz.
  • Asking participants to “raise their hands” in response to a question using the “raise hands” tool on the webinar platform.
  • Soliciting their questions for clarification, and their comments. 
  • Asking open questions to the group and hearing a sample of their responses (e.g. "How have you seen this problem play out in your situation?"). 
  • Using the platform’s whiteboard and inviting them to add their answers on screen. 
  • Incorporating an interactive map where the participants can show their location.

4.  Assemble a Webinar Team

As they say, there is no ‘I’ in Team but there certainly is a WE in Webinar.

If possible, never webinar alone! 

  • Try to have a moderator, facilitator and a presenter on the call. The moderator can focus on the technology, the facilitator on the flow, time, questions, etc. and the presenter on the content.  
  • Meet as a team before the webinar to discuss what you’re expecting in terms of amount of content, duration of presentations, transitions between sections, participant interaction, slide quality, etc. Also, make sure that everyone is comfortable with the webinar platform technology before the session begins.
  • Practice your presentations ahead of time on the webinar platform to make sure that any transitions between presenters are smooth. You’d be surprised by how many kinks there can be, and how many things change after you’ve tried them out once. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

5.  Technology: Be Prepared

Unlike in most face-to-face learning situations, managing the technology in a webinar can be a major pre-occupation for the learners and the presenters. Too often, too much time is wasted trying to resolve one person’s audio or computer problems while the others wait on the line. Instead:

  • Test out the technology ahead of time to make sure that it is working well. Be aware the same webinar platform can work quite differently each time and with different internet connections.
  • Provide clear instructions to the participants and any offsite presenters before hand in an email on:
    • testing their computer for compatibility – most webinar platforms provide this capability
    • how to use the webinar technology
    • how to contact you via a separate phone line or text message 
    • how to log in again if they get bumped off for some reason.  
  • Be “on the line” and platform early to make sure it works, and to greet those participants who come on line early.
  • Include a series of preliminary slides with instructions on setting the sound, any other programs they may need to run, and how they can ask questions.

6.  Prepare Vivid Visuals

In an online setting where the participants may not be able to see the presenter or have an opportunity to interact, the visuals become critical. (Check out our 6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue.)

  • Invest more time than usual in creating high-quality presentation materials, even more than you might in a live setting where participants have other people to engage with. Choose compelling images, keep the text clear and minimal, and make sure that the formatting (titles, headers, spacing, etc) is flawless. 
  • Use on-screen slides with basic visuals and little or no animation so that people with slower bandwidth connections won’t experience a delay in the transitions. Alternatively, you can simulate animation by repeating key graphics on distinct slides and adding in changes on each slide.
  • If possible, have a separate display where you can see what the participants are seeing. (Source: Levey) This will let you know if the slides are running more slowly on participants’ machines or if they can’t see a feature you assume they can see (e.g. questions box). I like to log in to a participant account on my iPad so I can see what participants are seeing. 
  • Consider an alternative to using PowerPoint slides  (e.g. Prezi Meeting now allows multiple participants to follow and modify a Prezi online). There are also online mind-mapping tools and other data visualization platforms that you can use as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. Just be aware that bandwidth limits may make the animation run more slowly than you'd like.   
  • If you do have a webcam for the presenters, be sure to stay in frame, still and in focus! Test out the “depth of field” or range of focus for your webcam, as well as how far you can move from side to side before you’re out of the frame. Check out the background to eliminate distractions (e.g. people walking past your cubicle, visual clutter, bright windows that will backlight you).
  • Change slides frequently to keep the visuals moving and fresh.

7.  Get Off to A Good Start

The first few moments of a webinar can make or break it for the participants. So be sure to:

  • Assume that you may start a few minutes late as some participants may come in gradually (Source: Stephen Boyd).
  • In the meantime, you can use the time to chat with the participants (i.e. to get to know them and maybe even conduct a mini-LNRA) or address any administrative issues.
  • Include a slide that has a picture of the presenters, facilitators and moderators, along with their contact information. This will give them an image to keep in mind when listening to your voice. 
  • For smaller groups (< 10), start with a quick go-round or roll call to introduce the participants to each other. But – very important! -- be sure to set clear guidelines for how (and thus how long) participants should introduce themselves. For example, “Please share your name, and where you’re calling from” and then model it yourself “My name is Dwayne and I’m calling from Ottawa”. 
  • For larger groups (> 10), spoken introductions may not be practical, but you may be able to circulate a participant list by email in advance of the webinar.
  • Refer to your guests as “participants” to set the tone that they are there to actively be involved in the learning, not to veg out.
  • Provide a simple outline of the webinar at the beginning of the presentation that shows the topical program of learning tasks. Refer to this outline repeatedly during the session so that people can check their progress. Consider using a graphic (e.g. a “you are here” arrow) that marks where you are in the program and show a slide that indicates that progress periodically throughout the webinar. 

8.  Sound Advice: Get the Audio Right

  • Encourage everyone to use a headset  to avoid feedback and to prevent their microphones from capturing ambient noise (e.g. keyboard clatter, ticking clocks, Farmville chickens clucking).
  • Ask people to switch their microphones or phone lines to mute when not speaking. In some cases you can do this for them via a setting in the webinar program. 
  • Vary your tone of voice and enunciate a bit more than you might in a face-to-face situation.  As Stephen Boyd writes, "Your voice is everything with the webinar. Show enthusiasm in your voice from the very beginning. Punch out key words, pause for effect, create variety in vocal quality, speed up, slow down, and don’t speak too rapidly.” (Source: Stephen Boyd)
  • Be careful not to use “pause words” like um, like or you know.  When people can’t see you in person, these phrases become even more noticeable and annoying. Similarly, pay attention to whether you have any unusual vocal inflections (e.g. mumbling, speaking too quickly, raising your voice like everything is a question). Listening to a recording of yourself can be quite instructive (and frightening).
  • Do not read your slides verbatim. People tend to read faster than you can speak, and they will wonder why they had to attend if all you’re doing is reading the slides. Two exceptions:
  1. It is all right to read a definition or a quote for effect.
  2. If you are setting a learning task, keep your verbal instructions closely related to any text on the screen so as not to confuse the participants.  

9.  Share the Airspace: Giving Voice to Learners

Webinars can be so much more than PowerPoint on the phone. Where you can, try to build in opportunities for genuine interaction and dialogue:

  • Design opportunities for large group discussions, small group work (if possible), and individual reflection (great for introverts!).
  • Frame each mini-presentation with an open question that invites the learners to listen and watch more deeply. 
  • Leave enough time for questions throughout the webinar, rather than cramming in a few token questions at the end. 

If letting the participants use their audio line is too complicated (i.e. for larger groups, or if there is simultaneous interpretation), consider using a parallel communication channel to solicit questions and their comments (e.g. the chat box, or Twitter).

10.  Build in Movement 

As more and more webinar platforms start producing apps for smartphones, the potential for mobile webinar learning is growing. (Check out 35 Ways to Use an iPhone in a Workshop.) Consider inviting the learners who are mobile to engage in a more kinesthetic, or active-movement task:

  • Stretch at the half-time point to get the blood flowing again -- maybe a little yoga to get the energy back up. 
  • Take a walk while listening and watching the webinar on their phones.
  • Go out and find an object that symbolizes their involvement with the topic and share that with the group (perhaps via a photo on their smartphone).

Any opportunity to get their "bums out of their seats" will also be appreciated by those who are participating on a computer or laptop.

11.  End Well

Time for the Big Finish!

  • Design your webinar to use less than 100% of the time you have in case something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. But always finish on time so that people can leave gracefully. (Levine)
  • At the end of the webinar, invite the learners to name what they will apply to their work situation after the seminar. For example, “Use the chat line and name one thing that you’ve seen or heard today that you’ll apply to your work soon.” This encourages them to synthesize what they've seen and heard with their real world context. 
  • Design any feedback questionnaire to be proportionate to the length of the session and the depth of engagement (i.e. don’t send a questionnaire with 10 questions for a 1-hour webinar).  You can either send a short online survey as part of your follow-up materials or, better yet, conduct a very short anonymous poll about the webinar at the end of the session before they sign off.
  • If some participants want to stay on the line to chat, great, but also consider calling them back after the webinar (to save money and to keep their conversation private). You can also help them connect with each other if they want to continue a conversation offline later.

12.  Follow-Up Afterwards

But wait! there’s more! The webinar doesn't end when the last person hangs up. Consider what you can do afterwards to support their learning: 

  • Follow-up with supplemental material (via an individual or group email) immediately after the webinar (or at least by the next day) before the participants turn their attentions elsewhere. Send them some additional resources via email to respond to any emergent learning needs. 
  • Assign a follow-up task via an asynchronous platform. Invite them to participate in a follow-up forum discussion after the webinar via an online platform.  
  • Post a recording of the audio and visuals of the webinar online for them to review later. 
  • Remind them of the next webinar that you're providing. 

Your Thoughts

What would you add to this list of tips? What challenges do you foresee in applying any of these ideas in your context? Drop us a line and feel free to ask us about how GLP can help you design wondrous webinars using a Dialogue Education approach to learning.

Consider joining us for Dialogue Education Online, September 11 - November 12, 2014.


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