After doing a few Webinars I’ve had some thoughts on things I’ve learnt. These were done using Zoom.us and viewed on a national level. My colleague does them on a global scale using other tools. You never know, maybe I’ll try going worldwide next year!
Zoom is a fairly popular and respected tool for giving meetings worldwide. It also has a webinar feature. The key difference between meeting vs webinar is whether or not attendees can steal your screen. With a meeting; potentially anyone on it can take over. With the webinar; people can attend as ‘view only’. They can see and hear, but not take over or interfere with the presentation. With a license you can have between 100 and 10,000 on a webinar (zoom does have a free meeting option but it’s for 40 mins only). There are a couple of useful features, as you might expect, you can have polls, chat, Q&A, and annotation tools. You can also have ‘panelists’. These are people with co-hosting and elevated viewing rights. They can answer chat or Q&A as you are focused on presenting.
This was my first experience using Zoom. I’ve used other meeting and screen share tools (Connect and Skype for biz). The back end of the zoom website, when signed in to start or edit the webinars, was pretty simplistic (in the good way). Most things could be found either straight away or after a small rummage about. For a ‘dive in, get it done, present and go’ situation, I think this is pretty good. People joining get an email they can click a link on. There’s a free sign-up required so best to send this out early and ask people to sign up ahead of the sessions.
Key lesson one: upload speed. When presenting on a busy network, the sound and visual quality experience for attendees was quite poor. A slow speed upload and a slow speed download, the double bottle-neck, made it a poor experience for some.
The fix: Transferring to a fast line for upload had an immediate improving effect on just how good it was for those in low internet bandwidth regions. With a bottle neck on only one side it helped and it looked good and crisp.
Key lesson two: the unexpected microphone. There were 3 laptops in the room. One was for me to present from. A second laptop was signed into the webinar as a panelist through a Wi-Fi network. Partially so I could glance over at incoming questions (or visually ignore as needed) and partially to get an idea of what the experience was like for outside viewers. (The second device as attendee was recommended to me by someone far more experienced in webinars than I, and was excellent advice). Between the speaker/mic unit on the table and the three laptops, there were possibly four live microphones. Two of the devices did have headphones plugged in but the ‘host’ laptop did not and the table mic was on. The sound was going out with a crazy echo like an old 90s satellite phone, and every keyboard button press was broadcast quite loudly (since presumably the laptops own mic was right by the keyboard!).
The fix: we swapped to a headset with mic, this raised the sound away from the keyboard, and we ensured every extra device in the room was muted. It also helped that the headset had its own mute button – for quick sips of water.
Lesson three: the wonderful assistant. Having a second person with you makes so much difference to any webinar. They can field questions, they can pass you notes on any key items raised in chat to address or answer. If computer things go splat they can grab help or run around wiggling cables and swapping mics as you stall for time. If you can’t be in the same room, or even the same country, having a co-host or panelist to help makes a great safety net if your own systems fall over.
The fix: there’s not a fix for this one, simply an alternative. If you cannot have a co-host, you can have a faux-host. A friend does his sessions under two names. One as himself and one as an alias. He has found people are more willing to tell to an ‘assistant’ that they’d like him to speed up, slow down or repeat, than they were to tell him directly.
The Most important thing. The most important lesson I learned (and had been told to expect) was that you have NO IDEA what it is like for the people on the other end. You might not know if they can see or hear you. They might tell you, they might not. The very best thing you can do for any webinar is to try and fix as many things on your side as is possible (only one live mic) but know that outside of your four walls, there is nothing you can do. For me, as a minor perfectionist, that can be a tough one to let go!
Transparency note – This is not an advertisement. Zoom did not sponsor or write any part of this post. I did get in touch with them through their website to fact check the numbers were accurate at the time of writing.