Given a large enough, diverse enough audience or a sufficient number of webinars, you can count on encountering technical problems at some point. It is not a question of whether, just a question of when. This is not a condemnation of the technology, just an acknowledgement that you are relying on a bunchload of highly complex hardware, software, and infrastructure pieces that can interact in sometimes surprising ways.
You know that sometimes your car has mechanical problems, you can get a ticket, or you may encounter idiots on the road, yet you keep driving because it’s the best way to get from here to there in many situations. That’s how I view web seminars.
I thought it would be instructive to make a list of situations that can cause you headaches, either as a webinar host or participant. The odds of any one of these happening to you on any given web meeting are very small. But the odds of them happening to somebody over the course of many user-hours of web conferencing are extremely high. Some apply only to certain types of web conferencing software or hardware setups. Some are avoidable through proper advance testing, some can be minimized by putting backup procedures in place. And some are just low-probability catastrophes that you have to cross your fingers won’t happen to you!
1) Communication emails won’t go through. These may be the invitations you send out to your prospective audience, they may be the confirmation messages the software sends to new registrants, they may be special instructions to your presentation team. Email filters are so convoluted that you can’t tell from day to day what will make it to an inbox. Microsoft Outlook gets a lot of hate about this.
2) Participants can’t install the conferencing software. If your web conferencing program downloads and installs software on each participant’s machine, you will eventually encounter someone at a company that prevents automatic software installation, or somebody working on a computer without sufficient user privileges to perform the task.
3) Participants can’t install supporting software. If your web conferencing software relies on Flash or Java or some other third-party platform, you will eventually encounter someone at a company that prevents employees from loading/running that platform. Or a user will have an obsolete, non-supported version of the platform software with no idea how to upgrade it.
4) Participants see/hear poor performance. Screen sharing, video playback, and streaming audio require a lot of network bandwidth and processing power to create a smooth viewing experience for the audience. Participants will complain about “your lousy conferencing software” when they have: A slow internet connection; An overloaded network hub; An old and slow computer; A computer running on minimal RAM; A computer with many active processes running.
5) Presenters can’t supply good clean audio. Telephone and computer microphones that are “good enough” for casual conversations may not be good enough to give a clean audio signal for your event. Cell phones will drop their connection or lose battery power. Speakerphones will pick up distracting background noises. A loose wire on a headset will produce fuzz and crackling. A headset plugged into a laptop audio jack will not suppress the audio coming out of the laptop speakers, creating a feedback loop. A USB-connected headset will not have an updated driver, creating connection problems. A mobile internet device (like a Blackberry) will create interference that gets picked up on the audio line.
6) A presenter’s computer will crash during the presentation. It might not be the entire computer. Their browser might crash. Maybe they will simply hit the “close window” icon on the conferencing application by accident. Or maybe their office will be hit by a power outage.
7) A presenter will lose internet or phone connectivity during the presentation. Anything from tripping over a cable in their office to a system-wide outage in their area.
8) The conferencing software system will crash. “Not me… I use big reliable companies!” Forget it… Microsoft Live Meeting, Cisco WebEx, Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToWebinar have all had unplanned system downtimes lasting from seconds to hours. As will any piece of software hosted on the cloud. Not often, not for long, but if it happens to hit you at the right time, you’ll hate them forever.
9) Presentation slides will not display properly. Shame on you if you don’t test a complete runthrough of your slides ahead of time! Conferencing software that uploads and converts slides may mis-convert certain fonts or animation effects. Screen sharing software may display too slowly to properly show movement animations or slide transition effects.
What would you add so we can make this a standard “top ten” list?