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Interview: Flipping the Webinar with KnowledgeVision's Michael Kolowich

On the Red Carpet at Streaming Media East, Streaming Media Producer editor Steve Nathans-Kelly interviews Michael Kolowich, CEO of KnowledgeVision Systems, about a new approach to webinars--known variously as "flipped" or "instant"--that delivers a traditional webinar's video presentation component to attendees on-demand, as soon as they sign up, and then devotes the entire live webinar session to interactive Q & A.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: We're here at the Streaming Media East conference with Michael Kolowich, founder and CEO of KnowledgeVision Systems, a flexible and versatile platform for online presentations. And today we're going to be talking to Michael about a concept called "Flipping the Webinar." One of the things that KnowledgeVision is about is taking what we know, both intuitively and based on the research that we have, about how people watch and use and absorb online video--and particularly online video presentations--and adapting the way we present presentations online to match that. And there was actually an announcement today from KnowledgeVision about how that's really going to play into KnowledgeVision's product line and approach, going forward.

Michael Kolowich: As I've talked to people who produce a lot of webinars, what they're observing is a number of things. Number one is that the yield on the invitations-the number of people who accept the invitations-is steadily going down over time. Second, of those who accept an invitation to a webinar, fewer and fewer of them are actually showing up. Some marketers are cavalier and jaded enough to say, "That's fine; all I wanted was the lead, anyway." But if you're serious about the content that is conveyed by the webinar--that this is not just about lead generation, but also about advancing people's knowledge about the subject--then you should care that attendance at webinars is starting to slip.

So, we looked at that webinar format, and we said, "Okay, how can we improve it?" I wrote an article this past January for the Content Marketing Institute, right at New Year's that said, "It's time to reinvent the webinar for 2012." And I basically said, "Let's apply some of the principles that are evolving in education about how to deliver content."

In education, there is a concept called "the flipped classroom." And that comes from the fact that most teaching, traditionally, especially at the college level, works like this: You come into the lecture hall, and the professor stands up, and he talks for 53 minutes, with the PowerPoint slides behind him. And then you go away, and maybe do some reading, and then you come back and see another lecture. But, the question is: Why don't you spend the time that you have together as a class with this eminent professor and these really smart people talking about material? Why should the lecture be delivered while you're all together and live? Why shouldn't that be on-demand?

A flipped webinar-or "instant webinar," as we call it--applies the flipped classroom model. With a flipped or instant webinar, as soon as you get the invitation to pursue the subject, you get a 10- or 20-minute presentation of the webinar material that you can watch right away. And you get an invitation to participate in a more interactive, group discussion at a certain date in the future.

So it's instant gratification, using online presentations, using all the power of synchronized video, and PowerPoint, and Just-In-Time footnotes, and other devices to really get into the material. And then you use your time together for interactive Q & A with the guests.

Our instant webinars follow that format. The event that we have two or three weeks from now is an interactive event, not the initial presentation, which you can get right now.

But then, in the webinar itself, you go directly to the Q & A.

MEK: Exactly. And maybe do a little recap, maybe kind of a three- to four-minute refresher, at most; but now, you're into Q & A. And we just did one of those recently. I already have a lot of the questions that we're going to tackle in the Q & A session; they've already been sent to me. I can prepare for them, and people are viewing this webinar on an ongoing, rolling-thunder basis, over a three-week period. And then, next Wednesday, my host and I will sit down, and we'll have a wide-open discussion, and invite more questions.

SNK: If my company were to present such a webinar--or try to sell one to a client--would we be able to offer the analytics, and a good sense of how many people were actually watching the instant material, right away? Could we show how deep they were getting into it? And could we demonstrate that most attendees would be coming to the webinar at the same level of preparation? What would we be able to show a client about how prepared people were for this webinar?

MEK: We use KnowledgeVision for these instant webinars. And we have just recently announced KnowledgeVision 2.0, which has advanced analytics built in. When you register for a webinar, we can track when you watch it, how long you watch it, how deep you get into it--which is different from how long you watch it. Sometimes you can kind of skip around in a 60-minute webinar, and spend either more than 60 minutes or less than 60 minutes. We can see what sections you went over and reviewed, because they were particularly interesting. We can see what links that you clicked out on. All of these can actually contribute to evaluating how interested or involved somebody is with the material.

Going back to the purpose of most webinars' being for marketing purposes, as well as educational purposes, it's really, really easy to tell who the most involved people are in that group. They pop right out of the analytics. When you wire up really good, high-quality analytics to a webinar, you can tell exactly whether they were interested. You can tell the difference between somebody who started watching, and clicked off 10 seconds later, and said, "Not for me, not interested"; and distinguish them from somebody who watched the whole 20 minutes, and then went back over this section again, and clicked through all the links. You can score them a lot higher. And that's the brilliance of this kind of analytic experience, and hooking that up to video.

SNK: It's going to be fascinating to see how this evolves over time, how many people begin to move in this direction. It's a great interpretation of how webinars should be working, and of what we should be learning about what's not working about webinars.

MEK: Here's the secret, too: Most people who put on webinars are scared to death, as the clock comes up to the time. Doing a live webinar is a white knuckle-type experience; doing the presentation part on-demand actually lowers the risk. So, we find people who are doing this are a lot calmer. They can control the presentation very, very well. So, it probably sounds like a radical idea right now, and that's the way it was intended: to mix things up and get people thinking. But I think that more and more webinars will and should be done that way.

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