The webinar craze took off in the late 2000s, but Allyn Walker waited until September 2011 before deciding to use the internet-based communication method as a business tool.
Now, less than two years later, webinar-based training is one of the fastest growing segments of Dale Carnegie of Tennessee, Walker’s Nashville-based corporate training and coaching firm.
Though the bulk of revenue at Dale Carnegie of Tennessee still comes from traditional face-to-face classes, trainings and consultations, Walker expects webinars and live virtual learning will eventually represent 25-30 percent of revenue-producing products and services at Dale Carnegie.
“It’s still a fraction of our business, but its growing fast and the trending is huge,” Walker said.
“We waited until technology got to the point where it could deliver a very interactive experience.”
A webinar — the name is an abbreviated descriptor for a web-based seminar — is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar transmitted over the internet. Typically, a webinar is a live event, although a participant can usually listen to a rebroadcast.
When the webinar first hit the scene, it was most often used as a business-to-business tool. But in recent years, usage has spread to all types of organizations. Many industry analysts say the webinar trend hasn’t peaked because the viable audience for webinars continues to grow.
At Dale Carnegie of Tennessee, webinars are live three-hour events presented to 25-30 people by Dale Carnegie-trained instructors. Typically, they cover core business skills such as time management, stress reduction, customer service and public speaking. Walker says more and more clients are choosing webinar learning options because they are usually more economical than onsite trainings and because they typically are less complicated to organize.
“There are real cost savings,” Walker said. “There are no travel costs, no lodging costs and no expenses for meals.”
Walker points out that Dale Carnegie-run webinars are not one-way communication in which participants can be lured away by distractions such as cell phones and email during the event. In fact, they involve interaction with the facilitator and the other students.
“Our webinars are learning opportunities with feedback, peer involvement and accountability,” he said.
UL Workplace Health and Safety, a Franklin-based company that offers online safety training to thousands of workers worldwide, three years ago started integrating webinars into its standard mix of online classes and communication with clients.
“Customers have come to expect webinars,” said Holly Howell, UL Workplace Health and Safety director of content development. “They rely on us to get topics out.”
UL Workplace Health and Safety offers more than 750 e-classes and trainings online and also customizes online learning projects for clients. Most of those classes don’t happen in real time and, therefore, aren’t webinars. But the company uses live webinars in a variety of ways — as soft marketing sales tools for products and services, as internal education and training tools, and as a way to share information about timely issues and topics with clients and employees.
“Webinars are an excellent way to share knowledge quickly,” Howell said. “They aren’t so much about sales as they are about information exchange and sometimes soft marketing.”
The growth of webinar technology has been a major boon to 20/20 Research, a Nashville-based market research firm. In the mid-2000s, the company began transitioning from offering clients face-to-face training to conducting the training remotely with the use of technology.
Webinars made the difference.
“Webinars are utterly critical for us, and we rely on them more than we ever have before,” said Isaac Rogers, 20/20 Research chief innovation officer. “We invest tens of thousands of dollars a year in them. “They are such an integral part of the global business community. We can’t imagine life without them.”
Over the course of a year, 20/20 offers hundreds of webinar trainings to clients seeking to learn the ins and outs of the company’s qualitative research methods. Its in-house technology tool, called QualBoard, is available in more than 20 languages and has been used in 90 countries.
“We’ve trained researches are all over the world [using webinars],” Rogers said. “It doesn’t matter what continent you’re on. We can reach a client.”
Margaret Morford, president of The HR Edge, a Brentwood-based human resources consulting firm, believes the webinar trend will continue to grow, especially when it comes to technical and compliance topics.
She also warns against webinar overload.
“Webinars can be a great way for passing information along,” Morford said. “But a webinar isn’t necessarily appropriate for teaching communication skills. You don’t have the same physical queues that you would in person.”
“I think at some point there might be a pulling back,” Morford added. “They are an important tool but at some point I think people are going to figure out you can’t do everything by webinar. They run the danger of being a one-way teaching.”
Regardless, webinar burnout might not happen anytime soon.
ON24, a San Francisco-based national virtual events firm, recently projected a 20 percent market growth rate for the virtual communications industry in the next five years. The firm also found that 91 percent of HR and training professionals plan to increase virtual training in 2013.
If anything, webinars can be useful in a very specific manner, according to UL Workplace Health and Safety’s Howell.
“They are a great way,” she said, “to share timely information at the last minute.”