First off, what is a webjam? Webjams are virtual ‘gatherings’ and to a large extent are platform agnostic. I have predominantly used Yammer to run mine, but there’s no reason why IBM Connections, Saleforce Chatter, Jive or any other enterprise social network won’t cut it. Webjams can be a refreshing alternative to the tried and testing (and often ineffective) teleconference or group phone call.
This is principally because webjams are active formats as opposed to passive – webjams encourage you to participate by interacting, not purely listening. We all learn differently. Many of us find it hard to concentrate if one has to purely listen (me included). The webjam is a more exploratory way of learning.
So you’ve decided you want to try a webjam. Great. Your initial hurdle is going to be explaining what one is to your colleagues. Habit sticks, especially in the corporate world, and people are often perfectly happy with the existing way of things. Well, at least you may think they are.
In my experience many leaders are frustrated with how they reach out and communicate to their teams. So often the best way to get a leaders buy-in is to come out and say it: teleconference calls don’t work. Mention the awkward ‘any questions?’ silence at the end of them. Ask them if they wish their teams were more willing to voice their thoughts, opinions, objections. Most will say yes. Position a webjam as a way to bridge the communication gap.
Remember webjams are not necessarily a substitution for teleconference or any other meeting for that matter (although they can be). They are complimentary.
So we know what a webjam is. We’ve pitched it to management. They are interested. What next?
Ok, two things:
1. Purpose – what is your webjam about? If you aren’t clear no-one else will be either. The more concise the better. What is it about? What are people’s expectations? What learning outcomes do you have in mind?
Some ideas for purpose:
2. Process – these are the practicalities. who manages it? how do people know it’s even on? how should they behave once they join (the rules of engagement)?
Think of it like you’re organising a party. You’ll need to send invites, book a venue, work through the details so the ‘guests’ can enjoy themselves. That’s your job as webjam organizer, and the better job you make of this the better the outcome. Lets break it down for pre, during and after the webjam…
Before the webjam :
Announce the webjam with as much notice as possible (ideally 2 weeks prior to session) communicate the webjam on your social network (and any other channel for that matter, newsletters, posters, etc) and ask people to ‘like’ it – telling them you’ll send a calendar invite if they do. Below is the calendar invite I sent to all interested parties (I got around 30 likes from the post). I sent this as a calendar invite, not just an email. This is vital if you want people to remember to join. Make the invite informal, informative, tell them what a webjam is (stress its an online discussion, no phones), include webjam URL in ‘location’ field in the invite. Encourage people to forward on to other interested parties – word of mouth can be really effective here.
Pick up the stragglers. A lot of people may have missed the above, so go direct to them with a personal email asking for their support. Speak / message / cajole as many people as you can to agreeing to attend. Try approaching senior interested people and asking them personally to join.
Make sure you do ‘on the day’ comms (I pushed out a reminder announcement first thing in the morning and again an hour before)
Key to preparation is writing a conversation plan. This isn’t a script, more a flow of how you’d like the conversation to go. Your plan will differ according to the type of webjam you are running, but the basic premise is the same. How you start, moderate and finish the webjam, with timing, speaker notes, pre-prepared questions, etc. This may feel like you are ‘rigging’ the webjam. To that I’d say two things. One, any meeting of any value should have some structure going into it. Webjams are no different. Two, experience tells me its nigh on impossible to stick to the plan anyway, such is the nature of webjams in general, but the presence of a plan makes the moderators feel like they have structure to fall back on should they need it.
Identifying champions is another key element to a successful webjam. Your champions are your wingmen. In one webjam I ran the topic was how to drive the use of Yammer in the organisation (using Yammer to talk about Yammer – a good way incidentally to get your network fired up!). I asked three of our Yammer champions to talk about what they have done to drive the platform. I made sure they had prepped their words beforehand rather than hurriedly trying to write during the webjam. A good idea is to open up a private conversations with them during the Jam – so they can act as a your eyes and ears and advise if you need to quicken the pace, slow it down or do nothing!
Prepping your audience. Share some tips beforehand for how to webjam. I usually send around a 3 page PDF with some basic instructions on how to turn off notifications and other tricks that I’ve found work.
During the webjam : Kick off by introducing yourself as the moderator. Say something like “I’ll be facilitating todays session. This is the structure of today’s webjam….and would love your participation.” Cover some housekeeping. I always cover the basics of how to navigate the webjam. This obviously varies from platform to platform. For Yammer I use this line “You will see in the info box at the top right of this page I’ve put some tips for how to participate in the jam. Remember you can press the period key (.) to refresh your page. You can post in your own language if you wish (click on the translate button). And remember YamJams are all about participation, don’t be shy!”
Note the conversations feels like chaos at first. Unlike traditional meetings, people don’t wait to be brought in to the conversation to speak. They just start chiming in. At times you’ll have numerous conversation threads going on at the same time. Accept that, embrace it. And remind people you will be summarising key themes after the event.
Finish promptly, even if the conversation is still flowing (it will be). I like to use a poll to finish up. Remember to remind people the conversation will continue in the group beyond the webjam. That’s one of the main benefits of the webjam remember, to inject some energy into a community. As webjam organiser you are most akin to the host. Starting it, madly dashing about making sure conversations are flowing, then drawing a close to it all…and cleaning up!
After the webjam : Take a deep breath. It’s over, well done! Now the clear up begins… You now need to replay what’s happen back to the audience.
Do this by writing a summary deck. Don’t try the summary immediately after the event though. Give yourself time to distil what’s just happened, you’ll find you automatically start to group the key themes in your head. Take a mind management piece of software (I used mind manager) and start to collect all the comments from the Jam. This is time consuming so don’t expect to be done in an hour. We had 344 comments and within one comment alone could be several themes, so don’t expect it to be quick. As you start to group things you’ll see there are natural themes. Create the summary deck with a strong narrative telling the story of the what happened. The idea is you want the deck to get socialised as much as possible with as many people as possible. So having the deck telling a compelling story is important. Share this summary back with participants, ideally within two days of the event so it’s still fresh. You’ll find an interesting conversation may fire up off the back of the summary deck and that people are sharing it days and weeks after (which is what you want)
Wrap up There you have it, your first webjam in your enterprise social network. They are exhilarating to run and can be quite to begin with, but definitely worth it. Remember you are introducing a new way of communicating, so it’s bound to be tricky. Only good things will come from it though, and that can’t be a bad thing. What to do next? Rinse and repeat. You’ll get better in time and the organization with gradually become more networked as you go. Good luck, and please share your results with me would love to know how you got on.