This is the second post inspired by my attendance at ON24’s 2011 Webinar Benchmarks online event. In the last post I recapped some of their content and findings. In this post I want to talk about my personal (and highly subjective) impressions as an attendee.
I continue to be impressed by the ON24 Webcasting Platform 10 technology (but not the name… My fingers are bleeding!). I love the fact that it allows me as an attendee to open, close, resize, and move component windows around my screen as I see fit. It feels like a graphically oriented operating system for webinars, and it’s completely unique in the industry in that regard.
ON24 loaded up the interface with all kinds of widgets for this webinar. They obviously wanted to show off the flexibility and functionality. But they never called attention to it. The component items were just there, waiting to be used if desired by attendees. The simple icons arrayed along the bottom encouraged experimentation. And there was ZERO platform instruction given before getting to the content. Do you have any idea how unusual and extraordinary that simple fact is? It was a breath of fresh air. No time wasted on talking about how to open and close chat windows, etc, etc.
One of the widgets was a Twitter connector. It showed a current stream of tweets falling under their desired hashtag. I was able to login to my Twitter account inside the widget and post tweets related to the webinar. However ON24 set up the widget for this event with a template that dedicated 98 characters for their long hashtag and a link to the webinar. That left me only 42 characters for my messaging. It was frustrating and I went back to Tweeting outside the event so I could fit more text. Watch out for killing the tool’s functionality with your own branding!
Another widget allowed open, public typed chat. It worked just fine – maybe too well. I found my concentration split between the speaker’s voice, the slides, and the chat stream. As a result I lost some fine points the presenter made at times. Public chat is a double-edged sword. Yes, it kept us engaged and interacting within the webcast platform, but did it keep us engaged with the content itself?
The other problem with open chat is that it gives the floor to individuals having problems. Early chats tended to be the usual “I don’t see video. Have we started? I don’t hear the audio. My slide isn’t moving.” These comments come in with EVERY webinar, no matter the platform. Someone will be confused, have local technical problems, or will be frustrated about some aspect of the event. If this minority becomes the voice of the audience by making their comments the things that other attendees see first, it can build an unwarranted negative impression of the technology or the event. ON24 deserves a bravery award for trying the open chat concept in an open, public webinar. At least they made sure that they had reps monitoring the chat and answering questions (and trying to deflect the inevitable “How much does this cost?” questions).
ON24 made the very interesting decision to omit live video of the presenter. That is the same decision I normally make in public-facing lead generation webinars. It is quite difficult to set up a professional-looking video feed and for a presenter to appear comfortable and professional on camera. But ON24 is a professional webcasting provider that offers videocasting services to its clients. The content also called specific attention to the fact that video is a positive feature for webcasts. So its omission in the event was obvious and was commented upon several times in the group chat box. This was a case where I think the circumstances warranted the extra time and effort for ON24 to show how it could be done well.
ON24 threw in a couple of polls, and I was not completely satisfied with them. One poll asked a Yes/No question and the answer choices included some pre-canned responses for the negatives. Something like “No, it’s too expensive” – “No, it takes too much time” – “No, I don’t have the equipment.” The problem is that this eliminates a segment of respondents who have a different reason for their NO answer. It can reduce the response rate. Think very carefully when designing poll choices and make sure you have a way to include all your attendees. I also found the results display just slightly confusing… ON24 shows answer labels stacked between the results bar graph lines for each answer. It is hard to tell whether a label refers to the bar above it or below it.
Despite some nitpicking, responses in the general chat were extremely positive at the end of the event and on Twitter. People said it was a fantastic webinar and that they loved participating. In addition to the technology, some of the contributing factors included:
- A presenter who was personable and pleasant to listen to, with a strong, confident speaking voice.
- No introductory/wrap up fluff. Time was spent on content and value delivery.
- Relevant content that directly addressed the promises made in the description/invites.
- A short duration that focused on giving value and letting people get on with their day.
- An easy ability to interact and configure the webinar viewing window to personal tastes and interests.
All in all, this was part of that far too small percentage of webinars that was a pleasure to attend.