I just attended an online event webcast from London. The event producer was kind enough to invite me and I'm not going to mention their name because this was one of those cases where things didn't go exceptionally smoothly. I'll give them another chance before descending into public excoriation. Still, I thought I'd go through some of my thoughts on the event and see if we can glean some lessons.
1) The online conferencing software loaded in a browser window very quickly without a client-side install. Kudos. As with many browser-based products, the initial launch window spawned a new viewing window. In this case, the original window did not tell the user whether they could safely close it, resize it, or navigate away from it. Vendors, if you are going to create several open windows on the user's desktop, give them some indication of what they can and can't do with them.
2) This conferencing software provided a single audience-wide chat window. When we logged in at event time, we could see messages from the pre-conference session, such as the fact that they were starting the live web stream a half hour before show time. It's nice to have the ability to clear the chat window to get rid of things that are no longer apropos for the audience. If you can't, try to remember that every message you type will be available to all audience members until the end of the event. Keep chitchat to a minimum.
3) Several users had technical problems seeing the event. Because it was an open chat session, other users started offering advice and comparing their connection problems. This pulled focus from the speakers and their content. I am a huge fan of moderated chat windows where the audience writes only to an event host. The host can then choose to keep the conversation private or display it to all.
4) The format of this particular event was audio-driven. The panelists engaged in a conversation with each other and the video display window just showed a couple of generic placeholder slides. That's okay... it makes for a good podcast recording later. But the audience should know that the content is mainly audio. At least one audience member publicly announced that he was leaving because he couldn't see the display window. That's a pity... He probably would have stayed if he had been told that the information value was contained in the audio stream (which he could still hear).
5) The company that hosted the discussion panel inserted prerecorded advertisements for their upcoming events at two points in the presentation. The switch from the live conversation to a professional recording was jarring and made it seem much more like an intrusive advertisement than if the panel host had mentioned the same information as part of his presentation. In this Tivo generation, people are programmed to tune out obvious breaks from program content for packaged advertisements.
6) With five panelists sharing the audio space, it becomes very important to identify them clearly as they speak. One audience member had to type in and ask who was speaking at one point. The host was pretty good about saying the name of the person he was calling on, but it was easy to forget their title or company. The visual space could have been well used to keep up a reminder of the panelists and perhaps an administrator could have highlighted the current speaker with a pointer or other visual indicator.
Your takeaway... If you produce or speak on web events, take a look at those from other companies and note what works and what doesn't. Seeing it from the audience perspective gives you excellent lessons on things you will want to concentrate on, and helps you choose or use your technology features more effectively.
Of course if you're looking for upcoming webinars and webcasts, don't forget to use the WebEventSearch.com webinar search engine!