The other day I got an email from Christopher Dean over at KRM Information Services. He was browsing through some past posts where I talked about capabilities and functionality I wished for in commercial webinar/webcast products. The posts were pretty old and he wondered if I had updated my opinions on the most critical lacks in the marketplace these days.
For reference, the older posts are:
- A Few Random Wishes For Webinar Features (April 2010)
- Conversion Features For Webinar Technologies (May 2011)
I thought it would be easy to crank out a quick update to my "wish list," but the more I tried to formalize it, the more difficulty I had in creating a summary. To the casual observer, the web conferencing market has matured and stabilized a great deal in the last four years. Web conferencing is often treated as a commodity by purchasers, where the operative thought process is: "Every product has the ability to show content to a bunch of people over the web and get their feedback, so why not just pick the lowest priced offering?"
The truth is that there are lots of subtle differences in the way vendors approach the core capabilities of web conferencing. For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on "web events" (webinars and webcasts) rather than "peer collaboration" (web conferences) because of the additional administrative needs, more advanced capabilities, and larger audience sizes encountered when producing and delivering web events.
In looking over my older posts, I am pleased to see that many of my requests have been addressed by technology vendors. The problem is that they haven't all been addressed by the same vendors! So you can get feature A from one product, but it doesn't include Feature B, which shows up in another product, but then you lose out on Feature C. So your purchase decision needs to be driven very strongly by a sense of conscious compromise, where you establish priorities for what aspects are the most critical for the success of your web events and the efficiency of your webinar team.
For my updated list, I am going to concentrate on issues that I see as being a widespread user need but not yet handled appropriately by MOST products. When I can think of a product that bucks the trend and manages the functionality well, I will try to give it a shout-out. I am also referring to Do It Yourself capabilities. Some vendors support things such as registration page customization as a turnkey value-add service, but I am looking for it as something I can control myself and change repeatedly.
1) Audio Quality. This should be a constant area of R&D and improvement for every vendor. Audio quality seriously affects the user experience. Keep working on higher quality compression, better bandwidth monitoring and allocation, etc. Attendees on lousy, slow, wireless internet connections still expect clean and clear audio. Provide a lossless audio track recording to the host for editing and repurposing. Stop compressing the audio on webinar recordings down to a narrow bandwidth "tin can."
2) Synchronized Video Clip Viewing. There is huge demand for this from my clients. Ability to show a prerecorded video clip to all attendees and know that everyone will see it start/pause/end at the same time so you can narrate over it in real time and continue your live presentation smoothly after the video. omNovia does this well.
3) Registration Page/Login Page/Landing Page Customization. Adobe Connect is just about the only product that has really provided complete control over the web pages that users see. Everybody else gives hosts minimal or constrained ability to add certain content pieces in certain places to the product's standard template.
4) Email Customization. Same concern as #3… Get your product's name, font, disclaimer, and sales link out of my emails! We should have complete, unfettered control over everything the recipient sees in an email coming from our organization.
5) Comment/Question Reporting. Treat every attendee interaction as a data element to be included in a fully sortable spreadsheet. I want the in-session option to label comments with “Answered in session”, “High priority followup”, “Low priority followup”, “Answered privately”. I want a spreadsheet-formatted report that I can open in Excel and sort by time, by attendee, by status label. I want the contact email to be associated with every comment. Stop giving me just a big text document log showing name and comments, or grouped comments per person without time stamps, or reports formatted for easy reading rather than sorting and analysis. Include all comments typed in, including those that were deleted during the session. Just add a field showing “Deleted”.
6) Attendance Reporting. Most vendors have difficulty figuring out how to report attendance details when people come and go or have connection difficulties. We probably need two reports: One showing each connection attempt and enter/exit time, while the other shows one record per person, with earliest entrance / latest exit, and cumulative time in session for all connections.
7) Level One Connection Support. Vendors need the capability to offer immediate support to attendees having problems with basic login, connection, or audio/video difficulties at the beginning of an event. This is when the moderator is busiest starting the event and doing introductions, and cannot spend time on individual technical problems. I think it is reasonable to charge for the service, but there should be telephone and live chat support lines that can be distributed as part of the login instructions. This must be available 24x7, globally.
8) Partitioned Chat. In a large audience webinar/webcast, you sometimes want to encourage participation with an unimportant interaction like "Type your first name" or "How's the weather where you are?" If you have hundreds of answers coming in, it can overload your chat stream both for handling during the live event and afterwards during reporting/analysis. Presenters should be able to designate a way to discard everything that comes in during that trivial response exercise. Adobe Connect can do this by using a dedicated Chat Pod in the layout that is separate from the more formal question/comment Chat Pod.
9) Last Minute Slide Changes. Products that upload PowerPoint slides for cached display to attendees still generally have problems with last-minute changes. In most cases if you want to make a minor change to one slide you have to reload the entire presentation and convert everything again in a long, slow process. I run into many cases where presenters spot a typo or have new breaking information they want to include right before show time. Screen-share technologies don't face this problem because you can always change the presentation desk you plan to share. WebEx may be the best compromise technology here, as they do a very fast "load and go" of slide decks that doesn't suffer from the performance drawbacks of a true screen-sharing slide display.
10) Task-Oriented Annotations. Annotation functionality in most products still seems like random "Etch-A-Sketch" features included because they were fun and pretty. This needs more paring down and intentional design. Examples: Easy add for bold and visible empty frames to highlight items that scale with scaled slide displays on all attendee screens. Mode toggle between "add an annotation" and "replace an annotation" for the two main needs of presenters. Remove "laser pointer" functionality if it doesn't display smoothly for all attendees (or fix the display performance).
11) Feedback Summaries. I still can't think of a product that shows a presenter numeric summaries for how many "hands are raised" or "happy faces" were selected. If your product allows ad-hoc feedback indicators, you need to give better consolidated information to presenters about what is coming in. Nobody has time to scroll through 200 names in an attendee list to check for happy/frowny faces.
12) Expose Registration Reports. Allow hosts to distribute a link to team members and stakeholders so they can check on current registration details at any time without having to ask the host to download and email a report. ON24 has this feature, but I can't think of anyone else who has implemented it.
13) Presenter Warnings. As a professional moderator working with inexperienced guest speakers, I find that they often do not look at the private chat area during their presentation. I need a way to privately display something big and obvious in their field of vision with key phrases like "LOUDER", "SPEED UP", "SLOW DOWN", "FIVE MINUTES".
I encourage and solicit your comments. If you are an end user, what is a capability you have looked for but not found when selecting or using webinar software? If you are a vendor, feel free to trumpet the fact that your product handles some of the things I talked about. I am not always up to date on the latest version of every product, and sometimes I just forget about a specific capability when thinking about dozens of technologies in the abstract!
I am not going to cross-post this article on the various LinkedIn groups dealing with webinar technology and best practices, but feel free to spread it around with your thoughts if you would like.
If you are reading this offline or on a secondary site, please go to http://wsuccess.typepad.com/webinarblog/2014/07/the-state-of-webinar-technology.html to see the latest comments or add your own.