How much control do you have over what attendees type in your webinar console? Probably not as much as you deserve. I find webinar vendors tend to overlook the importance of this functionality.
In this particular discussion I am using the term “Chat” interchangeably with “Q&A” – They may indeed be separate functions in your particular web conferencing platform, but my comments apply to whichever you use.
It is an empirical fact that you tend to get more interaction, participation, and attendee responsiveness in webinars when the participants can see what other people are typing. It produces a sense of community, group participation, and camaraderie.
Unfortunately, some of that interaction and participation may include questions and comments that detract from your event. It’s a shame, but I have run across abusive messages, competitive marketing, off-topic complaints, and misinformation in attendee messages. It would be nice if vendors gave you a way to open things up for audience group interaction, but still gave you a way to protect yourself from the minority cases of problematic content.
I think the following capabilities are necessary in order to pull this off. I can’t think of any vendor that offers all of them, although many products offer bits and pieces.
1) Ability to delete a single comment. I am amazed that this is not universally available. But there are subtleties that would make it even more powerful.
a) Make sure the report log captures it. I need a record of everything that was typed in, even if I choose to suppress it from public view. Too many vendors treat a delete as if the comment never was typed. I want to know after the fact who my troublemakers were!
b) Flag & delete. My first priority is to get the comment out of the public chat stream. So I don’t want anything to slow down that action. But once it’s gone, I may want to communicate with the contributor and answer their question, explain my action, or give them a warning. It would be nifty if the software immediately killed the comment, but created a queue for private response to that person whenever I get a moment free. Note, this is different from most current implementations that require you to type your response, send it, and then take action on the comment.
2) Ability to clear a group of comments at once. This is great when you ask for something inconsequential like “Type your first name to prove you can hear me.” In an event with hundreds of people, I don’t want to select each line separately. Let me pick the first and last, deleting everything between them. That is standard operating procedure for Microsoft selection (Shift-Select selects everything between)… Why isn’t it used inside of web conferencing products?
3) Ability to clear the entire chat stream up till now. But again, it needs to stay in the event’s chat log report. I just want a chance to clear the active display area to start a fresh conversational stream.
4) Suppress a user. Many products let you expel a user from the meeting. But that’s a bit harsh. Why not just shut off his/her ability to type chat messages? I can’t think of a product that allows this.
5) Expel a user. This is a last resort option and shouldn’t really be necessary if you can suppress their ability to comment. But I suppose it’s nice if you find you have a real competitor in your session.
6) Change from public to private mode. I like to be able to open up public chat for brainstorming or innocuous conversation, then go to a private moderated mode during the main presentation so you can choose which questions to address. Even better if you can keep the public and private streams separate so that your private stuff stays unseen by participants even though you open up a public response forum to a specific question or brainstorming exercise.
7) Extend this control to presenter messages. Some products let you delete attendee messages, but not those from presenters. Hey… presenters make mistakes. Sometimes they type a message in the public area that was meant for just the presentation team. Embarrassing!
8) Suppress answered questions. Once you have addressed a comment or question out loud, it is often nice to clear it out of the chat stream. It makes it easier to see what still remains to be answered. You need it to show up in the log report as answered, but disappear from the visible chat queue.
If this strikes a chord with you as a webinar user, let your vendor know. They prioritize feature changes based on customer comments. If they don’t know this is important to you, you won’t get it.