Sexy Tools + Zero Planning = Failure

Lessons on running a webinar from the voice of experience.
Written by Ramon Padilla, Contributor

Have you attended a Web conference lately? Have you hosted a Web conference? If you have, you know that attending and hosting are two different things entirely. Ever purchase a new technology and then immediately get asked why you haven’t rolled it out? A colleague and I have had some “fun” lately dealing with the misplaced notion that once you purchase the capability to do Web conferencing, it’s “easy” to make it happen.

Like every other technology that we encounter, what looks so simple to an observer is actually far more difficult than anyone could believe--typical for our line of work. The same goes for hosting a Web conference (or "webinar"). So before I turn this column into a rant, I'll try to turn this into a primer for a successful Web conference.

First, what seems obvious, but what people tend to forget:

1. It takes planning to conduct a successful, productive meeting/presentation. And I am talking about your typical face-to-face meeting--let alone a Web conference. Disorganization and lack of planning is amplified for a Web conference.

2. There are decisions and choices to be made depending on your audience. Here are a few:

  • Are all your participants going to be remote or will you have some in person as well? If you have some in person, then you have the added headache of making sure the room can hold all of your participants as well as support your webinar--internet connectivity, screen, projector, audio, etc.
  • Will all of your participants actually be in a building and have internet connectivity or will some need to participate via cell phone from their car or in an airport?

3. How technologically savvy are your participants? Are they capable of and do they have permission to install your web client on their machine? If they aren’t very savvy, can they manage well enough to participate or will they need help?

4. Related to (c) above, will you be using a traditional phone conference line for audio, VOIP exclusively, or a combination of the two? Note that all Web conferencing products are not the same, and some are not capable of bridging a traditional voice call with VOIP participants.

5. If you plan on using VOIP, does everyone have a decent headset and a properly adjusted microphone? If not, you can get some bad results; one person can effectively ruin a perfectly good conference.

Once the questions above are handled, you then get into the logistics of the Web conference:

First, send out the meeting notice well in advance of the meeting to ensure that people have time to get the client installed; they may need to get their IT department to do it for them. You may also need to send out a voice conference number and instructions on how to join your conference.

Send out (and make sure participants receive) electronic materials ahead of time. Web conferences tend to work best when the materials being presented - whether they are documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint Presentations or video - are provided and loaded prior to the webinar’s start. Although most webinar/Web conferencing software will allow you to load documents on the fly, it can take a while depending on the size of the material and the speed of the connection, which can really interrupt the flow of your meeting and make you look unprepared.

Here are some other points to keep in mind:

  • As I said earlier, a webinar will amplify your lack of preparation. Do you really have material that is worthy of a Web conference? If the answer is no, perhaps a conference call will suffice?
  • Boring PowerPoint presentations are just as boring when presented via Web conferencing software.
  • People running the conference have to know the Web conferencing client and its capabilities. They must also be willing to “touch” the technology. You can’t will a Web conference into existence, and depending on a secretary or administrative staff person makes it that much more difficult.
  • If you are going to record a Web conference, let people know ahead of time that they will be recorded and for what purpose.
  • Much of the Web conferencing software/services cannot display more than half a dozen web cam images on the screen at the same time – no matter if all your participants have a camera.

Web conferencing can be an ideal way to bring people together from distant locations. The tools available today have an amazing variety of features and almost anything is possible. Having the most sophisticated tool does not mean you will shine, however, if you don't have the necessary planning and knowledge.

If your IT department implements the technology for Web conferencing, you should create a protocol on the proper use of the tool, provide tips for running a successful web conference, and provide proper training for better use of the tool. Yes, there will be those who use it as a way to extend their boring presentations to more people, but there also will be those who take your advice to heart and make good use of the tools you have provided. And that’s what we are after in the long run!

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