Webinar Horror Stories

Guest Post by Matt Bovell, President of Vell Group, LLC, webinar production services

Webinars have lots of moving parts and when everything fits together right, the presenter and the audience have a great experience. But sometimes something goes horribly wrong. Let’s look at 5 case studies of webinars gone wrong and what can be done to avoid the nightmare.

Case 1: The Wireless Wasted Webinar

The audience sat at their respective locations eager to learn something new. This webinar used POTS (plain old telephone system) exclusively for audio. That turned out to be a good thing. The visuals failed once. Then they failed again. After the third failure, the webinar moderator advised the audience that he was using a wireless laptop connection and the wireless access point (WAP) in his building kept going down. This went on for thirty minutes until the moderator finally threw in the towel and told the audience the webinar would have to be rescheduled. Imagine what would have happened if the moderator had not been using phone for the audio. He would then have lost all connectivity to his audience. That was his only saving grace. This was a fee-based webinar. He now had to deal with issuing credits to the attendees. A real nightmare.

Lesson learned: Never use a wireless connection for the video or audio portions of your webinar. It is just too unpredictable.

Case 2: The Firewall Fiasco

This case study involved my own short-sightedness. I was trying to sell the idea of webinars to a non-profit organization and rather than physically give them a presentation, I thought it would be a great idea to pitch webinars … in a webinar! So far, so good. I sent firewall the board members instructions on how to access the webinar. I knew they would all be physically in one place so I suggested they connect with one laptop and display that laptop using an overhead projector. On the day of the webinar I got a call from a board member about six hours before show time.

“Do you realize that our board meeting will be at XYZ Company and they don’t have access to the open Internet?” My jaw dropped. It never occurred to me that they would be behind a firewall with no access to the Internet. The webinar died before it even got started. The only blessing was I had time to get out a cancellation notice.

Lesson learned: When presenting to a small group, make sure everyone will actually be able to view your webinar without being blocked by a corporate firewall. When you have an audience in the hundreds from all over the world, this of course is not feasible. At that point you just hope the law of averages is on your side and very few people will miss your webinar due to firewall problems. Note that most webinar software providers give attendees a “test link” so they can make sure they have sufficient bandwidth and access to enjoy the webinar.

Case 3: The Polling Ploy

This case study is simple. The presenter started his webinar with a poll. Then he gave another one. Then, another one. This went on for about six polling questions. Some of the questions had no relation to the topic of the webinar. I had no choice but to assume by the pollend of the last poll that he was using the webinar as an excuse to do data mining. Whether I was right or not, it left me with a very bad impression. It wasted valuable time. It replaced what could have been valuable content.

Lesson learned: Use all technical features of webinar software in moderation. Too much of anything is no good. Polling used as a gimmick or with ulterior motives is a no-no. For a one hour webinar, you would be hard-pressed to justify more than three polls. Polling should be just one way you interact with your audience, not the only way.

Case 4: Chatting Chaos

In this case study, the moderator enabled public chat within his webinar. There is some controversy over whether or not to use public chat in a webinar. For a webinar with only a dozen attendees, there is very little risk. Once hundreds of people are attending your webinar, you risk losing control of the webinar with public chat. In this case, the moderator asked an ambiguous polling question. Since people didn’t understand how to respond to the poll, they responded via chat. Before we knew it, the chat room was full of responses including some disrespectful ones. Then the audio of the webinar took a bit of a hit and that became the topic of the chat. In short, the chat overtook the webinar. Attendees stopped listening to the presenter and focused on the chat exclusively.

Lesson learned: Understand that if you use public chat in a large audience webinar, you are doing so at your own risk. Private chat still allows the attendees to interact with the presenter while not distracting other audience members from the main presentation.

Case 5: The Social Media Metaphysical Impossibility

There are certain rules of physics that transfer from physical seminars to online seminars (webinars). One of those rules is you cannot be in two places at one time. In this case study, the moderator chose to use Twitter for question submission. The problem is that he did not use a webinar platform that integrated Twitter. The result was that attendees had to switch “windows” to submit questions, thereby distracting them from the main presentation. The presenter no doubt thought he was being very clever, exposing his webinar topic and name brand to the larger Twitter population. Unfortunately he did this at the expense of the webinar audience.

Lesson learned: Your webinar audience has enough distractions without your adding to them. Don’t use technologies that force them to “leave the room”. If you insist on using Twitter during a webinar, use a platform that integrates Twitter such as Adobe Connect or omNovia.

All of these case studies involve mistakes that either sub-optimize or outright ruin the webinar experience for the audience. Using a combination of advanced planning and thinking about the webinar from the audience perspective, you can avoid these horror stories.

You can hear me talk about these cases in greater detail on my radio show or read a more detailed analyses of some of these cases on my blog.

(Image credit: firewall, poll)

Have you seen horror stories similar to this?  Share your stories below!

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