Two articles caught my eye on Friday. Here’s a personal take on a social networking webinar written by Jaimy Marie. Check the first sentence of the article:
“I sat in on an ExactTarget Marketing Webinar earlier this week, and, although WebEx kept freezing my computer trying to get the audio to work (quite obnoxious), I thought there were a few good takeaways to share.”
The rest of her article talks about the content and value of the presented material. But she felt strongly enough about her technical experience to make it the lead sentence of her piece.
And in a California story written by Scott Sabatini in the Examiner, the technical difficulties are highlighted right in the title: “Schwarzenegger’s webcast technical difficulties don’t stop dissatisfaction from pouring in.”
The live webcast seems to have broken down and they couldn’t get it working even after 30 minutes. It looks like the technical platform was “CoverItLive,” which I am unfamiliar with.
I’m not pointing out these situations to embarrass the companies or to say that you shouldn’t use them. It was coincidence that I saw the articles on the same day. No webcasting technology is foolproof. There are too many variables outside of the control of the vendor. The quality of the experience is affected by local computer issues, network issues, conflicts with other software, and more.
What can you do as a host to help minimize frustration on a public event?
1) If webcasting your audio (streaming the audio over attendees’ computers), bridge in a telephone audioconference line and offer the number as a backup for attendees to use. You cannot diagnose attendee sound problems during an event. Don’t even try. Just tell them to call in on their telephone.
2) Plan to record and/or transcribe your event and make it available as quickly as possible. Your fallback position for attendees who tell you they couldn’t connect or couldn’t see/hear is to get them on-demand access ASAP. If it is critical information, you might want to consider two modes of recording. I have taken to using my audioconferencing vendor’s recording feature to record the audio separately from the main event audio/visual recording. If I need to, I can reconstruct an audio/video playback file using the original slides and the audio file.
3) Have multiple computers set up on the hosting side, all running as presenters. If one computer fails for whatever reason, you can switch to another one. In a “simulcast” where you are remote webcasting a local event this can be quite a technical challenge involving switches and patch cables. Get a professional involved.
4) Have a dedicated person assigned to answer attendee technical problems by email and telephone during the event. You can’t deal with problems if you are a presenter or on-air moderator. Make sure attendees have emergency contact information as part of their login instructions. If your vendor will cover this front-line support for connection problems, that’s great!
5) This is impractical for all but the largest and most critical events, but consider having an entirely separate technology set up to webcast the same meeting. If your first technology fails catastrophically (as in the Schwarzenegger webcast), tell people how to switch to the secondary login. I recognize that this is very hard to do… You have extra costs, extra technology licensing, and extra communication channels to support. It’s the equivalent of booking another convention center in case your primary building loses power!
I ended up using option number 5 recently myself, but I’m a special case… I have access to more webcasting technologies than the average corporate user. I gave a presentation to a room full of convention attendees in the Philippines via webinar. Their primary web conferencing technology wouldn’t work, so I pulled in a backup technology I had available. Then I couldn’t hear the sound from their side while I was talking, so we hooked in a Skype VoIP line on a second computer and I ran an earphone to it.
When I work as a guest speaker or moderator, I typically use two computers and two phone lines. It’s ridiculous overkill and seems silly… Right up until the first one fails. That doesn’t happen very often at all, but if you do enough webcasts, it eventually will.
Your goal is to make the technology transparent. If your audience is concentrating on technical problems instead of your wonderful content, you’ll hear about it. And so will many others.