Every so often, I write about a webinar feature that is less commonly found in webinar/webcast products. Today I'll focus on public announcements.
For the most part, vendors have not bothered adding special functionality to support visual announcements to webinar attendees. In the vast majority of cases, you can do what you need simply by writing some text in the public chat window or saying it out loud.
But there are cases where you might want specialized functionality, and a few vendors have attempted to address the need in their products.
First we need to think about potential use cases. I invite you to extend my personal brainstorming exercise with additional possibilities:
- Helping newcomers and novice users find the chat window
- Supporting speakers by showing web addresses or active links to online resources they mention in their talk
- Showing emergency messages when audio is interrupted
- Indicating when a break (or breakout session) is ending and people need to come back to the main conference
- Reminding people to mute their microphones and not to put telephones on music hold
- Making a big, obvious push for an action item such as registering for another webinar or ordering a product/service
An integrated chat window can handle most of these just fine. And in most cases, you don't want to interrupt the presenter's visual elements with distracting text. This is definitely an edge case. But in practical use, there are situations where it makes sense. Many web collaboration products hide the chat window and only show a subtle indication that a new message is available to read. I often run into users who aren't paying attention or don't know where to look to find text messages when they first join. There have been times when I wanted a way to make something very conspicuous to the online audience.
If we think about ways this could be implemented, the easiest is to imagine a little text input area that presenters and moderators can use. The text message is displayed in the main console of the webinar. If we want to get fancy, we give the author the ability to change font size and/or color, but those options are not critical. I would be more interested in an option box that lets me choose whether the text automatically disappears after x seconds, or if it remains on each person's screen until they manually dismiss it.
The next question is what happens if we add a second announcement before the first one is dismissed. Does it replace the previous message, or do they stack? Maybe they scroll horizontally or vertically?
The final question is whether we allow active hyperlinks in the announcement text. This makes me think of use case #6 above, and a unique feature I played with in BigMarker called "Offers." It isn't designed so much for ad-hoc text announcements, but it's very snazzy for preconfiguring a click-through pop-up graphic that takes users to a desired target page. Great for making a very obvious call to action enticement.
One potential way to add basic text announcements is to use "white board" or overlay annotations. In products that allow you to type text as an overlay annotation, it's a way to get some text on the screen in an obvious location. But depending on the product, it may disappear with a slide change and it certainly can't have timing, scrolling, or active links.
I don't consider this a critical feature. It would be easy to get carried away and overuse it to the detriment of a presentation. But on the rare occasions when you need it, it's a nice tool to have in your arsenal.
Sound interesting? Let your vendor know you'd like them to consider it. If they hear from enough users, it might make it into a development road map.