Should you deliver the audio for your webinar over the telephone or over your audience's computer speakers? This is a fundamental decision that is surprisingly complex.
For years I relied on telephone-based audio with my corporate webinars. I liked to use live question and answer sessions that allowed spontaneity and confirmation that I had adequately answered my audience's questions. Not enough people had broadband connections and computer sound to make it practical to rely on internet-delivered audio. However, I had to put up with confusion over dial-in numbers and passcodes, delays on getting operators to answer the incoming lines, and occasional dropped connections. Working with a phone conference and a web conference usually means dealing with separate providers and sometimes separate contracts or billing structures. Recording the session may be more of a challenge with certain vendors (one of the big players still requires the use of a physical patch box on someone's phone, which is a royal pain in the behind). And if you are trying to enable free access to a widely dispersed audience, setting up and paying for toll-free numbers in multiple countries is a nightmare.
Today in the corporate world most users have the technical capacity to receive the webinar audio over their computer speakers. But there can be drawbacks to this technology as well. Firstly, internet audio eats up a significant amount of bandwidth on a network and can contribute to performance problems if you are working with a large audience coming through a bottlenecked network. Second, people working in public areas or cubicle environments often don't have headphones and are not keen on playing your audio throughout their work area for 45-60 minutes. Third, some percentage of your audience still won't have computer sound at all for one reason or another. Fourth, audio through many computer systems comes out sounding tinny and weak, reducing the professional impact of your presentation.
How about combining the two and offering an option to your audience members? I usually recommend this approach when possible. But again, problems can occur. The most common is for the telephone and internet audio to be offset, so you are not sure which of your audience members are with you and which are ahead or behind. Synchronizing the audio with slide advances or live demonstrations then becomes difficult. Accounting often gets complicated, with most vendors asking you to estimate ahead of time the number of telephone lines versus internet lines you expect to use and basing the cost structure on your guess. I hate this pricing strategy so much I think I'll save a rant for a later blog entry. Your instruction set to the audience also gets more complicated, since you have to cover two potential connection methods.
It's far from a perfect world, but if you'd like some help in finding the best planning, pricing, and strategy for your webinars, call on Webinar Success for assistance.