Question Management In Webinars


Today I am integrating a collection of opinions and suggestions that I have sprinkled through various blog posts over the years. The topic is the way that webinar or webcast products handle typed questions (or audience chat) in their products.

The most recent design trend I have seen is for vendors to emulate the look and feel of mobile device instant messaging in their web conferencing products.


This does a disservice to participants, hosts, and administrators. The design is functional for a two-person conversation, but add more participants and you quickly lose track of conversational threads while wasting lots of screen space.

One of the Chat implementations I currently like is in Webinato. Each message line is treated as a controllable entity, with a checkbox next to it that allows for functions that presenters and hosts can carry out.

Webinato Chat Window

It is important to have control over individual submissions in this way. If we start with this basic concept of checkbox actions for each message, I can think of the following pieces of potential functionality that might be accessed by clicking a box and getting an action menu.


  1. Delete my selected submission (attendees cannot delete entries from other participants)
  2. Place a “Me Too” marker on a selected message (anybody’s) – The original message shows the cumulative number of “Me Too’s” associated with it
  3. Click “Thread” to submit a message as a follow-on in the same thread as the selected original message. The software assigns a Thread Number to messages: “T01, T02…”
  4. Change Chat display order:
    • By time
    • By person, then time
    • By thread, then time
    • By number of Me Too votes, then time

Maybe something along these lines (I just mocked this up as a rough concept picture in PowerPoint.):

Attendee chat mockup



  1. Delete a selected submission (may delete anybody’s)
  2. Place a “Me Too” marker on a message
  3. Click “Thread” to submit a message as a follow-on in the same thread as the original message
  4. Display to everyone (only useful in privatized/moderated Chat windows)
  5. Respond privately to original submitter
  6. Mark for handling:
    • Red
    • Yellow
    • Green
    • Blue
    • Remove color
  7. Change Chat display order:
    • By time
    • By person, then time
    • By thread, then time
    • By number of Me Too votes, then time
    • By color, then time

The use of colors is something that Webinato currently supports, and I like the flexibility. We on the presentation team can decide if we want colors to stand for priority or for who should take the question, needs follow up later, or some other administrative aid. We are not constrained by a text label that the vendor thought we should use. Presenters/hosts can change colors on the fly, so I can change a green “ask this question” to blue to indicate that we have answered it in session, as an example. Attendees do not see assigned colors… They are for use only by the presentation team.

Of course, standard group selection controls should work on sets of messages. So I can SHIFT-select a range of messages for a block delete (great for early “Can you hear me?” or “Type your name” interaction exercises) or I can CTRL-select arbitrary messages that should all get the same handling. I also need to be able to copy messages for pasting into another window or document.

Maybe presenter/host controls would operate something like this:

Presenter chat mockup

Being able to change sort order on the fly inside a session gives a level of convenience that is currently missing from most products. I can easily accept that you might not want to enable it for attendees, just to make the display easier and to reduce their learning curve. But for hosts, it gives a great way to easily see sub-threaded conversations by attendees, or see successive thoughts from one person, or see common problems to address in conversation, or see everything you have marked for action.



The chat log or question log should be available in spreadsheet format to allow arbitrary sorting by an analyst for their purposes. Every message is included in the spreadsheet, even if it was deleted during the session.

Chat Report Mockup

By including all the information in the mockups above, along with identifying information, stakeholders can sort to see what topics stimulated conversation, who needs attention, or how chat messages were dealt with.



It would be silly to say that my quick mockups are the perfect final design and implementation for all web conferencing products. I don’t believe that for a second. Providing the extra controls also adds complexity of use, and that’s a real concern. Think of my examples as an exhibit of concepts that might be incorporated in more subtle ways into consumer-ready products.

Every web conferencing product needs to design appropriately for their environment and their look and feel. The specific commands available to users will be different among vendors as well. But I hope the main point comes through… We can and should offer more control and more analytics for typed chat and questions. It benefits everyone. Let’s not fall prey to the simplistic paradigm of two-person texting as the industry design benchmark.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Additional functionality that would be useful to you as an attendee or as a host? Disagreements with things I have suggested? Let’s get some commentary going.



Online enterprenuer. Lean leadership consultant.

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