I received an email from the VP of Sales at Digital Samba targeted at users of the Voxwire web conferencing service. The letter states that the owner of Voxwire (Turnkey Internet) has decided to decommission the Voxwire servers and cease... ...


Voxwire Users Can Transition To OnSync and more...

Voxwire Users Can Transition To OnSync

I received an email from the VP of Sales at Digital Samba targeted at users of the Voxwire web conferencing service. The letter states that the owner of Voxwire (Turnkey Internet) has decided to decommission the Voxwire servers and cease that portion of their business on March 31 of this year. I did some searching online and was unable to find a press release, announcement, or other source mentioning the end of operations for Voxwire.

The Digital Samba letter went on to say that their own web conferencing product, OnSync, was the underlying platform that was basically white labeled under the Voxwire brand. In order to provide service continuity with no learning curve, they are offering a special pricing code for Voxwire customers who purchase a new OnSync account before March 31. The code drops the monthly rate for OnSync by 20% for life. Sweet deal!


20 Horrific Webinar And Webcast Staples That Need To End

I just read a great rant with the self-explanatory title of "20 Horrific Conference and Trade Show Staples That Need to End." I love its highly opinionated challenges to the industry, and as a former product marketing guy in Silicon Valley, I have suffered through every one of the observations at far too many events.

I got to the article through a retweet courtesy of @Lee_Potts (thanks, Lee), but the source author is David Spark on his SparkMinute blog. After reading, I wanted to generate the same kind of list for webinars and webcasts. Some of David's points translate to the online presentation world without change, but we have some additional oft-repeated issues that need to die!


I'll start with the ones that you can simply lift straight out of David's post (using his numbers). I recommend you click through to his article to read his detailed explanations, as he covers them quite clearly:

1) The default one-hour session - As I wrote in 2006, "There is nothing magical about the one-hour webinar. If you can deliver your subject in less time, do it. Your audience will appreciate the break."

2) The unproduced self-indulgent panel session - Every word of David's applies to webinars, but you need to add some technical familiarization time with the conferencing software as well.

3) Letting panelists introduce themselves in a panel session - I covered this recently with much the same recommendations: "Let's kill the long webinar intro"

15) Presenters who do not test their presentation - Applies even more strongly to webcasts, where you have to deal with technology integration and interaction. That's "Why you need a webinar run through."


The next subset of David's stamp-em-out staples need only small tweaks to apply to webinars:

6) Disengaged presenters - I keep seeing webinar articles geared towards ways to engage your audience, but I find that more often we need ways to engage our speakers! Subject matter experts who know their topic so well that they sound bored by it. People who read a script in a monotone. Presenters who speak only in the abstract, never directly addressing their listeners. Presentation is not just about subject knowledge. It's also about performance.

7) Googleable presentations - I actually think David is a little over the top on his demands with this one. Most of human knowledge is now discoverable on Google somewhere. I would change the rant a bit… Presenters must add value that goes above and beyond the presentation facts. Facts are easy to find online. A presentation offers value by creating connections, emphasizing benefits and application of the presented information, offering examples, engaging empathetically with listeners, and helping people to find a personal stake in the topic.

10) Collecting data as an introduction - At trade shows, David points out how booth workers can kill the chance for opening a business relationship by reaching out and scanning a badge as the first thing they do. In webinars, the analogy is asking for a mass of lead qualification data on the registration form. Demonstrate your value first, before you demand that your new contact proves their value to you!

11) Measuring event success only by number of registrations - This is the fallacy of "the big funnel mouth." If your goal is to increase the size of your house list, then by all means, measure success by the number of registrants. But if your goal is to actually influence people and drive them towards an action (product purchase, charitable donation, political involvement, etc.) stop measuring the number of registrations and find a way to judge the effectiveness of your entire webinar process from promotion through call to action.

12) Not following up properly - Here's another case where the emphasis changes from the physical events world that David talks about. Companies usually follow up with webinar attendees, but they may not do it effectively. Make sure you follow up with no-show registrants. Make the follow up contact as quickly as possibly after the webinar (same day if you can). And emphasize value in continuing the interaction with your organization.


We have already covered nine disturbingly prevalent webinar trends based on their similarity to things seen at physical events. But now it's time to delve into additional webinar-specific problems that need stamping out as well.

To avoid confusion with the numbering system I was previously using to synchronize with David's post, I'll switch to letters.

A) Poor audio quality - This is the most common complaint I see from webinar attendees. Above all else, they want to be able to clearly hear the presenter. Remember… audio never gets better after going through multiple electronic processing and distribution phases. Make your source audio as crisp, clean, and uninterrupted as you possibly can.

B) Poor video setup - I am so tired of looking up from a laptop webcam into a presenter's nostrils! But there are many more ways that presenters make themselves look bad on video webcasts. Think about the impression you want to make.

C) Not addressing the individual - Most webinar attendees sit by themselves at a computer. They see no other audience members. Make sure you adapt to their psychological viewpoint by speaking to them in the singular voice. (The great thing about always using this style is that it remains effective even when addressing a group!)

D) Prefacing remarks in the future tense - The minute you go live, you are in your webinar and you should be demonstrating respect for your attendees' busy schedule by offering value and addressing their priorities. If you start with a long introduction about what you will talk about later and use the phrase "before we get started," you violate this trust and reduce empathy and engagement.

E) Assuming local participation - The internet is global. It doesn't matter if you only expect local interest, someone in another location is still going to see your advertisement or web link or registration page. Use clear, unambiguous time zone indicators and offer a time conversion link. While you are at it, mention what language the webinar will be offered in.

F) Building linearly - Most presentations start with some historical background, establish a current pain point, and then finally get to the solution or offering at the end. Turn it around. If someone leaves early, you want them to have heard the key thing they need to know. Give away the surprise ending right up front… Start with the key takeaway and then fill in supporting data.

G) Using meaningless polls - Too many webinar vendors and hosts use interactive polls like parents use jingling key chains to stimulate and engage their babies. Polls must contribute value for the attendees. If people don't get something out of participating, you are wasting their time.


And I'll close out my list of 20 with four particularly frustrating limitations of webinar/webcast technology. Obviously there are technologies that are better or worse at these aspects (just as there are webinar presenters and hosts who avoid the preceding traps). But these are still too common, and we should be demanding more widespread improvements to functionality.

H) Limited customization of registration pages - Registration is the first proactive step a potential contact or lead takes. Finding ways to boost the completion rate is critical. Yet many or most webinar products restrict registration page customization. I want to be able to change all labels, colors, positions, text fields, and logos to test and refine their impact on webinar registration performance.

I) Limited customization of system emails - If the webinar product sends confirmation, reminder, and follow up emails to registrants on my company's behalf, I want to control every aspect of what the recipient sees. Don't just let me add one line of custom text in the middle of your standard email template with your copyright and disclaimer footer. Give me a full WYSIWYG formatted editor for HTML emails.

J) Lack of information about typed interactions - Webinar products should treat every typed submission (chat or questions) as a data element to be included in a fully sortable spreadsheet report. I want the in-session option to label comments with “Answered in session”, “High priority followup”, “Low priority followup”, “Answered privately”. I want a report that I can open in Excel and sort by time, by attendee, by status label. I want the contact email to be associated with every comment. Include comments deleted during the session using a “Deleted” label.

K) No way to see feedback counts - If products give attendees a way to change a status indicator, presenters need a way to see summary counts in real time. How many people have their "hand up"? How many people chose the "smiley face" and how many chose the "frowny face"? Don't make me scroll through a 300-person participant list and make a visual estimate.


That's my top-20 list (with repeated thanks to David Spark for his original setup and insights). What's on your list that I didn't cover?



All Right, Stop Collaborative Linking

One of my highest traffic posts on The Webinar Blog is "Copyrights And Fair Use In Presentations." In that article, I pointed out that fair use determination is a highly subjective legal area, and that no clear and unambiguous determinants exist. If something goes to trial, nobody can be sure of the outcome. You can never rely on what you think is "common sense" and "obvious" to carry the day.

The one thing I contented myself with was the fact that rather than embedding someone else's content in your presentation, you could always avoid any hint of legal liability by simply providing a link to their content on their site. That way they always host, control, and own their material. All you are doing is giving people access to the public link they established by putting it on the web.

Today I found out that this is a misconception. You can potentially be found liable even for including a link to someone else's web content. Holy cow. Before you start screaming at me about how that is idiotic, please know that I feel the same way.

I discovered a page on legal implications of linking to web content, published by Stanford University Libraries. It points out that linking to the home page of a website is almost never going to get you in trouble. But linking to a specific piece of content and bypassing the source site's own navigation system has been challenged in court under copyright and trademark law. The practice is known as "deep linking." If you want to completely cover yourself, you should ask for permission to link directly to a specific piece of content that would otherwise be found through the site's own navigation process.

I think the use case and the damage to the content provider would have to be pretty darned egregious in order to win such a case. There are so many common use precedents on the World Wide Web for deep linking that it would destroy the internet if this was rigidly prosecuted on a widespread basis. But as with everything else in copyright law, there's no way to guess ahead of time how any given court case might play out. The risk-averse should take note.



Thinking Differently About Thinking Different

redlightrunner_1895_615519 "Think Different." The incredibly effective (and grammatically infuriating) late nineties marketing campaign for Apple is still studied as an example of how to differentiate a brand and make iconoclasm work for you.

People love pointing to non-conformist geniuses to show the power unleashed when you break away from conventional norms and boldly follow your own vision: Picasso and his cubist painting. Miles Davis and his cool jazz movement. Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi and his nonviolent non-cooperation independence movement.

What many people miss in these stories is that to break away from tradition effectively, each of these people studied, practiced, and understood the traditional approaches first. Picasso didn't start out painting crazy flattened faces with both eyes on one side of the nose… He spent many years learning and practicing realistic painting techniques. Miles Davis studied music theory and trumpet technique at Juilliard. Gandhi studied law and jurisprudence in London.

What does that strange introduction have to do with this blog's focus on web presentations? Lately I have heard an uptick in people asking "How do I make my webinar stand out?" Often the subject is brought up by the technology vendors themselves. Web conferencing companies are always pushing for greater use of features. When they started coming out with interactive polling, every vendor said you need to incorporate polls in order to make your webinar great. When webcam video became practical, the vendors said you need to appear on webcam in order to stand out. There's currently a big push to include video clips from services such as YouTube or Vimeo as webinar content. If a vendor has another unique feature, you can bet they will tell you it is the thing that is going to let you "Think Different" and deliver a great presentation.

I'm not against the use of any of these features. Judiciously applied, they can indeed add flair to a presentation and recapture attention from an audience. But don't think that you can skip over a good, solid grounding in the basics of the art form. In our context, that refers to fundamental presentation skills.

  • Structure content to address audience interests and priorities
  • Practice your presentation, refine, and practice again
  • Create supporting visuals that concisely emphasize and support key concepts
  • Demonstrate interest, enthusiasm, and empathy
  • Make sure listeners grasp the value they receive from your presentation

If you can't confidently and unambiguously say that you have these five fundamentals thoroughly in hand, adding a video or a poll will just be icing on a bland cake.

Once you understand how the science of presentation works and can deliver a conventional presentation competently and engagingly, you can move on to examining opportunities for alternative approaches. You can play with audience expectations and add specialized content.

If you haven't seen it yet, take a look at this wonderful comedic video by Pat Kelly satirizing the structure and delivery of an on-stage TED Talk:

Pat Kelly TED Talk

Some would say that this demonstrates how formulaic and mundane TED Talks have become. I say that you could take every… single… word… of Mr. Kelly's stage instructions and apply them verbatim in your next presentation. You would receive a standing ovation and acclaim as an incredibly polished, confident, and effective speaker. Mr. Kelly has done the analysis for you and created a point by point guide to effective delivery.

Once you mastered this presentation style, you would be ready to branch out into Lawrence Lessig territory or maybe even try your hand at a Dick Hardt slideshow:


Don't be seduced by flashy features or unconventionality for its own sake. There are plenty of bad performance artists nobody cares about. If you are going to Think Different, make sure you know what you are being different than. And that you have a darned good reason for using the difference to be more effective. It can work. You can be the next Marlon Brando and change the face of acting forever. You'll just have to be sure there is a method to your madness.



Let's Kill The Long Webinar Intro

Why do you start your webinar by introducing the presenter? No, honestly. Think about it… People come to a webinar for two main reasons. Either they really want to hear the information that has been promised or they really want to hear from a particular speaker who has been advertised. In neither case do they need or want to start the session with a biographical backgrounder on the speaker. If they care about the speaker, they know the person's credentials already. If they care about the topic, you are wasting their time in getting to the promised value.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating against a moderator leading with some necessary introductory comments and then handing off to the presenter by name. But this should be a one-liner: "And now, let's hear from Bob Loblaw, head of social discourse for AggroCorp. Bob, take it away." Name and title is all you need.

  • "But a strong biography builds credibility!" - Unnecessary. The presenter has perceived credibility associated with her by the mere fact of her function as the presenter.
  • "But people expect it!" - Not as much as you think. They are delighted to start receiving value more quickly.
  • "It gives latecomers a chance to join without having missed anything!" - Yes, let's penalize the people who cared enough to show up on time in favor of an unknown number of people who may or may not show up an unknown number of minutes later.

Several webinar technologies have the ability to add biographical text for each presenter. Attendees can click on it if they want more detail. I encourage the use of this feature. If your technology doesn't have that, make a PDF with the presenter names, pictures, and biographies. Include contact details if the presenters agree. Make the PDF available as a handout in the session. Does your technology not allow handouts? Make a dedicated web page with the same information. Publish the link in the chat.

A single-topic webinar is NOT the same as an all-day symposium or TED Talks conference. People are not sitting around waiting to be surprised by the next topic and the next speaker. They have made a commitment to listen to a very specific topic and presenter. Do them the favor of respecting their priorities and ruthlessly trim anything that delays delivery of value.

I hereby pledge that from now on as a webinar guest speaker I will request that my hosts eliminate my biographical introduction. I'll try to earn credibility and respect from the value of my content and the quality of my presentation. I may not always win the battle, but it's worth the fight!

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