Friday, April 11, 2014

Are random webinars worth it?

What's a random webinar you might ask?  As you progress through your career different organizations that offer training are going to add you politely to their mailing lists.  (and politely i mean whether you want them to or not).  

A common practice amongst these organizations is to have lost leader training webinars.  They generally fall into one of two categories;  The first is from an organization shilling a product that relates to the subject that they are teaching about.  The model is generally to have an 'independent' expert talk about the product for approximately half of the time, how to approach it, recognize it, deal with it, etc and then the second half is reserved for a discussion of how their product could help you with the topic at hand.  Understanding the adage that you don't get anything for free, myself and my team have sat through a fair number of these webinars trying to learn something new and different about topics that we encounter on a regular basis. 

Generally we get a firmer understanding of the topic that we're looking into; system monitoring, performance testing, mobile testing, etc but rarely do we truly learn something new and interesting.  It's good, perhaps that we learn what kind of tools are out there and can help us with our tasks.  Generally the tools offered by the vendors hosting these talks are pretty expensive and won't be something that make the business case for us but not always and we have at least been lured into a free trial or two to experiment with the tools.  It's also good to round out your knowledge in a specific area to give you a better understanding of standards on a more industry-wide basis. 

The second type is an organization that specializes in training.  Their goal is generally to find a topic that is interesting and most importantly topical (or filled with buzzwords) such that you're going to be interested in logging in to listen.  They will generally have a 'guest' expert that will walk you through the topic.  for the most part the webinars that i've attended have been interesting but too general and cerebral to be of real practical use.  And there's a reason for this as well, they're running a business and want you to come to them to take a day's training on the subject to really understand.  They might show you the tip of the iceberg of a tool that can help you to cope with the issue at hand but there isn't really time to understand the tool or have practical implementation steps for it. 

In effect they are using the lure of education to put your butt in a seat to get you to absorb the marketing that is throughout these presentations.  To be fair, it's pretty subtle marketing.  They get to plaster their company name and logo all over the place and mention themselves a few times throughout as well as talk about the possible avenues for further training in the subject that can be taken.   The problem is they can't load very much content into an hour while showing you all that you could possible learn in a day's session (or longer) of training and without giving away the core lessons that you would be gaining in a paid session.  So while it isn't exactly practical and useful training it generally brings you a good solid grounding in the subject and if you've had some thoughts and were doubting them it can bring them into focus.  

On the other hand, if you want to learn things you can use...put into action as soon as the webinar is finished, they're pretty much not the place to be.  I've seen the faces of many a participant glaze over and they start reading their email on their phone, hoping not to miss it if the presentation turns 'good.'  they rarely do that, they rarely start super slow and suddenly become filled with practically useful knowledge. 

So why do i keep sitting through them?  Am i just a glutton for fluff?  I maybe see one a month.  I get the advisory, put it in my calendar, invite other potentially interested parties to join me  and then wander off to watch it when it happens.  I generally learn something.  But it's not like it changes my world, rather it just adds to the knowledge base that i work with. 

And sometimes i'll watch something that isn't really in my bailey wick and have more to learn.  For instance this week i sat through, 'Assertiveness for Women - Finding the Right Balance' not so much because i want to be an assertive woman (ie, i'm a guy) but because i have female reports and i work with other female managers and i want to understand enough of their situation to interact well.  I learn some things but yeah, mostly fluff to me. 

To make a solid statement as an answer to the question i posed in my subject - they're only worth it if you can spare the time and you are willing to not have immediately implementable practical solutions. 

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