Here's a personal (and painful) learning experience I had that serves as a helpful reminder to always be careful about setting expectations as a webinar moderator.
I was working a client webinar as moderator. Our presenter was a guest from outside the organization who had spoken on at least five other webinars for us over the years. He and I had always worked well together and I thought he was well-versed and comfortable in our process.
This particular webinar was tricky, as it was being delivered in Spanish. I was using my rudimentary grade-school Spanish comprehension, Google Translate windows, and the assistance of our bilingual administrative team from the client to help me support the presenter and attendees. We had a very engaged and participatory audience, typing lots of questions.
The client organizer had asked me to make sure that we stayed on time, given the personable nature of the speaker and the highly interactive crowd. We had a ton of messages flowing through our private chat window, what with translations and team communications.
At the 30-minute mark, we seemed behind the curve on where we should be in the presentation, so I wrote to the speaker in all-caps: "30 MINUTES. WATCH TIME!"
The presenter wrote back in the private chat: "ok"
Then another team member from the client wrote "Remember to answer the questions at the end." The presenter stopped talking to the audience and wrote back "I know, stop writing."
At 40 minutes, I wrote: "40 MINUTE MARK"
The presenter again stopped talking to the audience and wrote to me: "Please stop, Ken. I know. Please."
I dutifully stopped bothering the presenter and we finished the webinar. Once he had finished his presentation, the speaker wrote to me again in the chat in a series of messages: "Ken, you just drove me nuts I'm sorry. I think it was extremely rude to write in CAPS. I have a big watch in front of me. You were so distracting."
During our spoken debrief afterwards, it became clear that he was well and truly angry with me, and he continued to point out my rudeness to me and to the client.
Going back over the chat log, I was struck by the fact that his perception was so strongly influenced by only two messages from me and one from the client coordinator. I was using a technique I had used with him (and explained) in the past, where I put important notices for the speaker in uppercase so he could quickly notice them as separate from the stream of other communications going on in the chat window. But I had not reinforced that concept before we started on this day. And so he took my reminders - intended as helpful assistance - as the online form of yelling.
I really felt badly that instead of making a presenter feel supported, I had instead made him feel persecuted and defensive. My takeaway was that no matter how many times I might support a presenter, I should never make assumptions. If I plan to use uppercase to make messages stand out, I need to reinforce that it's merely an attempt to make it easier to ignore the rest of the unimportant text going by. If I'm going to provide time marks along the way, make sure the speaker expects it and is comfortable knowing that it is supportive rather than accusatory.
My dad always used to tell me that "The burden of communications is on the communicator." It doesn't matter that I felt justified in my actions. I didn't communicate them clearly enough or set the proper expectations with my intended recipient. That led to misunderstanding and hurt feelings. As the originator of those communications, the burden was on me to establish the framework. I try to be more careful nowadays.