I chatted with Kineon Walker today. He's the product marketing manager responsible for Citrix GoToWebinar. We were reviewing some of the product features and one of the things that stuck in my mind as an interesting and innovative approach was the way Citrix tries to help event organizers and presenters gauge audience interest and reaction.
Citrix has an instantaneous audience feedback indicator that works like a television focus group "dial." At any time during an event, each audience member can click on a green, yellow, or red dot with a teeny expression (smiling, flat mouth, or frowning). This is supposed to indicate satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the proceedings as you are going along. Audience members can keep changing their status as often as they wish. The presenter sees a running bar chart of percentage of audience with each mood selected.
The concept seems all right at first, but the more I think about it, the less satisfied I am with its practicality. The first problem is with the lack of information contained in the mood selector. If an audience member clicks on red, does that mean that she can't hear you? Or that she didn't like the joke you just made? Or that she's having a technical problem like slow bandwidth? Or that she disagrees with your position on a subject? As a presenter, I suddenly have anxiety with no ability to fix matters, since I don't know what's actually wrong!
The second problem is that an audience concentrating on flipping their satisfaction indicators back and forth is an audience not concentrating on your content. This is often brought up in the context of those aforementioned focus group feedback sessions. Are people viewing the material in the same way when they know you are watching their instantaneous behaviors? Probably not.
The third problem is that people have a natural tendency to give feedback more readily when something is wrong than when something is right. An attendee might be quick to flip his switch to red as soon as he is dissatisfied with something, but will typically wait longer (or simply forget) to reset it to green status as things "get better." Psychologically, we instantly know when something is wrong, but after that, we have to wait a while to see if they have improved enough to remove our concern. Satisfaction is an absence of wrongness, and it takes time to verify that the wrongness has really disappeared for good. So your instantaneous feedback indicator is unlikely to show rapid progress back towards a green state if you did something that annoyed your audience. Again, you may keep trying to fix something that is no longer broken.
I have to say that my favorite audience feedback indicator in a web conferencing product is still the old Placeware feature that remained after the conversion to Microsoft Live Meeting. You can set five color selections to your choice of feedback indicators and show the audience the definitions of each. I usually set them to: Okay/proceed. Speak Louder. Speed up. Slow down. Need assistance. You can see at a glance the status of lights across the entire audience in a visual format and look for specific problems that you can react to. Naturally, you still have the psychological problems of audience behavior to factor in.
Two other Citrix feedback features are more unusual and interesting to me. The first is an indicator of how many audience members have window focus on the Citrix browser window. If they click on another application to answer emails or play solitaire, you can see it as an overall percentage. Again, this can be misinterpreted. An audience member can click off your window by design or by accident and still be able to see your presentation just fine. There is no need to reclick on the window from their perspective. So they might be fully attentive to your material and yet you would see their lack of window focus as "losing your audience." Still, it's a piece of information I can't recall seeing from other vendors. And it's all the more impressive since there is no installed client software on the audience's machines. Just a Java application downloaded in the browser.
The final member of the Citrix feedback trio is a post-event report that attempts to assign an overall value to audience interest during your event. The software factors in things like response time to answer polls, total amount of window focus, and some other things to give you a score ranking on how well you kept them engaged. As a high-level coarse-grained indicator that can be compared from one session to another, this seems to me to be the most useful to event organizers. You can compare rankings for different speakers or for different versions of a slide deck and so on to help you figure out what works best for your audience. And that's a good thing.
I'm always happy to see vendors trying out new features that can help webinar producers. These are some interesting ones. They may or may not be important or useful to you in your events, but at least you have the option of trying them out. And if their presence in GoToWebinar spurs other vendors to respond with even better feedback functionality, we'll all benefit. So kudos to Citrix for issuing the challenge.