Pre-recorded vs. live webinars: Pros and cons

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Written by Julian Roche on 4 June 2018 in Opinion

Juian Roche asks: pre-recorded or live, how do you like your webinars?

So, you’re the lucky one, offered a ticket to see your favourite artist perform, best seat in the house. Which box do you tick: live or recorded? Live, of course, you say – but really? When it comes to training, are live webinars always a better deal – and for whom? Let’s compare the two under a series of headings – the six C’s of today’s webinars.

  • Cost. Traditionally, live webinars are much more expensive for viewers. For the seller, the cost is reduced to one recording session and then marketing, as opposed to paying the trainer each time, a huge saving.

Pre-recorded webinars are therefore often part of marketing campaigns, and so available free, or at least at a considerably reduced cost by comparison to their living, breathing brethren.  

  • Convenience. Obviously, pre-recorded wins here too. Viewers can access them at their own leisure – not just in terms of days, but in bite-sized chunks to fit in with a busy schedule. For longer webinars – a day, or more – this ability to divide up the content and learn at the viewer’s own pace is quite possibly decisive.

Critical questions can always be answered by email, social media or some other means. Trainers too can record at their leisure and not have to allocate specific days as with a traditional face-to-face course. Against all this, from the viewer’s employee’s standpoint, is the nagging doubt that the recorded webinar is never viewed at all. At the very least a mechanism is required to ensure that it is.


Is PowerPoint the only way to present?

  • Connections. Live webinars are still, unfortunately, sometimes beset by technical difficulties. Getting connections to work reliably and in real time, especially with multiple viewers across different time zones, using different technologies and with internet access that can be slow and drop, is a challenge.

Time can be wasted, and viewers can lose value for money in terms of their time spent. By contrast, the podcast or recorded webinar is virtually guaranteed to be accessible, as it can be downloaded. Another decade or two, and the live problem will gradually evaporate, but for the time being, it is very real.

  • Communication. This is where the hub of the debate lies. Most viewers would prefer to listen to, and see, the trainer in person.

Most would cite the ability to ask questions ‘off-piste’, get immediate answers to individual issues that arise during the webinar, engage with the personality of the trainer, and to sense and experience the reactions and questions of other viewers – and the trainer’s answers – as the biggest advantage of the live webinar.

This partly explains why pre-recorded webinars are less effective even as sales and marketing tools than live ones.  So even early systems that allowed for online questions to be submitted while the webinar is in progress are better, viewers will say, than no ability to ask anything at all.

Moreover, most trainers’ presentation techniques have been refined to manage live audiences. When it comes to recording, their presentation skills are not the same as those of an actor, but they do often value the opportunity to pre-record, to ensure that absolutely every key point on the subject is given its due, re-recording if necessary to achieve a finely-tuned result. It takes time.

  • Content. To some extent the choice will be influenced by the type of content. Pre-recorded webinars work well for teaching of basic techniques which change only slightly over time. ‘How to’ webinars, in other words. If the aim is a short, condensed version of the topic, then pre-recorded will probably work.

But live webinars work better with topics of the moment, and complex skill transfer.

  • Capture. Here the score is more even. Live webinars can themselves be recorded, either by the viewer or at the dispatcher. Recorded versions of live webinars can then be distributed through the same means as pre-recorded webinars. Viewers can choose which format suits them best.

Best of both worlds, surely?


About the author

Julian Roche is course director at Redcliffe Training 




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