Can we recover from webinar technology problems? This is critical because it is only a matter of time before something goes “snap” and our webinar technology fails. Earlier today before writing this article I was put to this test.
I was conducting a webinar today with GoToWebinar, which is usually a very reliable webinar system. Then the dreaded technical failure struck. Today’s problem was a new one I had never seen before. It started immediately after I logged in to the live webinar, turned on my webcam and audio and started the broadcast. I casually asked if the participants could type “yes” in the chat to indicate that they could hear me without problems. In fact, I asked at least three times and then I asked the same question through the chat.
Each time, the response was a deafening silence. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. I hate crickets. “We have no response, Houston”.
Now normally I have a second computer or device within arm’s reach which I use to login to the webinar as a dummy participant so that I can always verify that what I think is showing on my screen is in fact what my participants are seeing. I did that during a test immediately preceding the webinar, but I turned it off for the real show today to minimise the potential for bandwidth issues. I did this because I had colleagues in the next room whom I knew were attending my webinar and whom were sharing the same Internet service as I was using.
Perplexed about my crickets problem I excused myself to the gathering group of webinar participants and I went to investigate what my colleagues were seeing. I discovered that although my video and audio was being transmitted clearly, for a mystery reason their (and others) chat messages were not coming through to me. Given that I rely heavily upon chat to create engagement with my participants this was a confronting realisation. The number 1 way that my participants were going to communicate with me during the webinar was gone. It was analogous to going into a classroom training situation to discover that all your class were gagged and could not talk to you. Grrrrrrr.
To explain myself, the problems were:
- The opportunity for participants to ask me questions using the chat during the webinar – Gone.
- The scope for participants to alert me using the chat to problems they were having during the session – Gone.
- My plans to ask questions to the participants to confirm their understanding and solicit feedback via the chat – Gone.
I made a quick decision about how I would proceed forward. I immediately communicated to the participants that I could not see or read any of the chat. I apologised for the technical failure and I moved on to create the best webinar I could under the circumstances.
If you like watching my videos (perhaps in preference to reading my articles) then I am saddened to tell you that I haven’t produced an article to accompany today’s article. Instead, I have produced a Super Bloopers video for you. Please enjoy a laugh or two at my expense by watching this video.
How did I Rescue my Webinar?
In some ways I knew that this was a pending disaster, but I decided that it was retrievable. I knew that my ship was taking water but I felt that I could get the pumps working and get us safely into the harbour.
Fortunately, I had setup four polls to potentially use during the webinar. I used the participants’ responses from all four polls to capture their thoughts and I relied upon this information more than usual to create engagement with my participants.
Although it had not been my plan, due to a tight timeframe, I also decided to open up the audio and give the participants the chance to ask questions using their microphones. This gave them the chance to provide feedback and it created a more engaging experience. They were able to get their questions answered and the nature of their questions reassured me that they had understood the content I was presenting.
Should I have Logged Out and then Re-entered the Webinar?
In the heat of battle inside my head I thought about logging out of the webinar and then coming back in to find that hopefully my problem had dissipated. My instincts told me not to do this although I still had 10-15 minutes before the scheduled webinar starting time and I was confident that doing so would resolve this unusual technical problem. After the webinar had completed I queried myself about that decision and came to the conclusion that perhaps I should have taken the time to do that. Then I carefully thought through the consequences and realised that to simply jump out of the webinar would have been total disaster. This is because when the presenter leaves the webinar everyone else is also ejected. GoToWebinar does warn you about this when the presenter clicks to leave the room, so there was little chance that a panicky decision by me to leave would have killed off the webinar. A clever alternative (and curiously, I would have probably done this if I had been using Google+ Hangouts on Air or a Hybrid system) would have been to setup another webinar then give those details to the participants and then left the room. However, this would have certainly delayed the start time as I would have needed to either wait for or contact the late arrivals to inform them of the change in virtual venue.
Could I have Handled this Better?
After the webinar I read all of the post-webinar surveys, asked for feedback and advice from some participants, and had some thinking time. On reflection I wish I had done two things differently.
- When I made the decision to continue the webinar without being able to access the chat I used only the microphone to communicate my challenge to the participants. After the webinar, I reviewed the feedback from an unhappy survey respondent. Fortunately, they were the only one. They grumpily (but totally understandably) identified that they had been unable to access any of my audio. Further, they complained that their chat requests for help were ignored. They were not a happy camper. Because I had only indicated my problem through my microphone this participant was unaware that I was unable to receive the chat messages. Our curious combination of technical problems was a disaster for them for which I have subsequently apologised. In hindsight, it would have been clever if I had taken 30 seconds to also identify my problem by posting a message to the chat.
- I apologised for my technical problem too many times. I didn’t turn the session into an apologetic rant, but I did remind my participants several times of my inability to access chat messages primarily because I had several slides that included a written request for them to respond via the chat. I think I apologised too much, which is not something I endorse.
How do we Prevent Webinar Technology Problems?
Deliver webinars where you can be confident that you have sufficient Internet bandwidth. If you have choices select a location where you have better Internet speed (especially on your upload). You might also choose to deliver your webinar at a time of day when you reliably have greater speed. You are now only two clicks away from checking your computer’s current upload and download speeds for free by visiting speedtest.net.
Minimise other drains on your Internet bandwidth at the time you are presenting your webinar. Prior to today’s webinar I conducted a meeting with our other team members and circulated an email asking everyone to be careful with their Internet usage starting 30 minutes before the scheduled webinar start time until I was finished. No Netflix, YouTube surfing or Blabs during my webinars please.
Adopt Risk Management 101 practices and have back-up systems in place. Just like I do when I deliver face-to-face courses, I have a printed copy of all my slides within easy reach so that with a moment’s notice I can grab my notes and continue presenting if the technology fails at my end. Computer monitors do die and systems can freeze. However, if we are the only one affected then there is potentially scope for us to continue on even though we are flying blind.
How do we Rescue our Webinar from Technology Problems?
There are five positive steps you can take to help you rescue yourself from webinar technology problems.
- Proactively identify back-up plans and procedures for when technology problems occur.
- Take a deep breath and give yourself permission to be calm and take a few seconds to think. You need to brainstorm options and identify solutions that will minimise the negative impact of the problems.
- Don’t take it personally. I doubt that the Universe is determined or organised enough to decide to conspire against you personally by attacking your webinar’s technology. Also, you should not assume that the participants will blame you for the technical failure. Don’t drop your bundle or get angry because it is unlikely to help. You don’t have time to swear or cuss or punch the computer. You need to get focussed on producing a positive outcome.
- Get help. If you can easily access someone to do some troubleshooting or to phone a technical support option on your behalf do it. It might even be someone you know on the webinar who would be happy to help you out.
- Keep all your options open. It might be that the best solution is to advise the participants that you need to setup a brand new webinar with a new registration page or that you need to reschedule to another time.
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- What are Webinars?
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- Where is the Software?
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