Webinars: Engaging Audiences Through Storytelling

A Message from the Director of the Center for Sharing Public Health Services

Who doesn’t love a good story? Entertaining and inspiring, stories can facilitate learning by sparking emotion and being memorable. They also can create a sense of community and trust among listeners.

The Center for Sharing Public Health Services has long recognized the power of storytelling. One way we disseminate learnings is by sharing stories from our grantees and other public health professionals who have worked on cross-jurisdictional sharing (CJS) initiatives. And an effective way to share their stories is through webinars.

Our approach to webinars has evolved over the years. In the past, we followed the conventional format where a presenter uses a PowerPoint to describe a concept. While informative, these passive learning sessions were not very engaging.

Now, we weave stories and interactive elements into our webinars to make them resonate with our stakeholders. Recently, we’ve begun using an interview format to draw out those stories. The new format has resulted in a more conversational tone that allows the speaker and the host to naturally progress from one topic to the next and allows them to cover things that may not have come out during a standard webinar presentation.

The new format also allows for more audience interaction. Webinar participants can ask questions via chat as the interview progresses, thus giving them an opportunity to help steer the conversation and to engage with the speaker, Center staff and other public health professionals from around the country. This close interaction allows attendees to receive valuable information and to build connections with other public health professionals. It also helps us to collect input and suggestions from our stakeholders.

The new format is an example of how we are continually changing and innovating our approach to meet the needs of our target audiences.

People often ask me how we select the topics for our webinars. We do that in several ways. Some are reactive — where we respond to a need we have uncovered during interaction with our grantees, from technical assistance requests, or via the questions asked during a webinar. Others are proactive — for example, we develop a tool that assists with cross-jurisdictional sharing and we hold a webinar to showcase its use.

We also receive a lot of guidance from our advisory group, Recently, they observed that an important and well-received webinar topic should be considered for the new refreshed webinar format as it likely will meet the needs of our growing audience. That is exactly what we’ve done with our next webinar. The topic is change management, first presented via webinar circa 2013 and now updated with fresh material and the new format that incorporates storytelling and audience interactivity.

That next webinar takes place on January 24 at noon Central Time (1 p.m. Eastern / 11 a.m. Mountain / 10 a.m. Pacific). During the webinar, Heather Weir, Director of the Office of Planning, Partnerships and Improvement in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, will discuss change management, because we understand that public health professionals can sometimes become so consumed with the details of implementing a CJS arrangement, they sometimes forget to consider the people side of change. Heather will discuss how to incorporate change management techniques to pave the way for a smooth transition to the new CJS arrangement. Register now for this important webinar.

Do you have ideas on how to make webinars more engaging? What topics would you like to learn more about? Would you like us to refresh any of our past webinars? Some that were particularly successful are:

  • Sharing Resources Across Jurisdictions: A Roadmap for Success.
  • Determining and Distributing the Costs of Shared Services.
  • Accreditation: How CJS Fits into the Picture.

Please let me know your thoughts on webinars by emailing me at phsharing@khi.org.

— Gianfranco Pezzino, Director