Reboot After Virtual Classroom Tech Traumas

Prepare, keep calm, carry on when webinar glitches strike

By Kathy Gurchiek October 2, 2013

From earthquakes to fire drills to dropped Internet connections, webcast presenters have faced a litany of technology challenges. Cynthia Clay, author of Great Webinars: Create Interactive Learning That Is Captivating, Informative, and Fun (Pfeiffer, 2012), shared best practices for overcoming such obstacles during her September webinar “Handling Technology Trauma in the Virtual Classroom.”

Murphy’s Law—“What can go wrong will go wrong”—inevitably holds true during webcasts, said Clay, president and CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions. Webcast attendees related some of their own presentation horror stories, such as the person who muted herself, instead of participants.

Another recalled a guest speaker who lost connection when an earthquake hit; one woman recounted the time she was bumped from the session she was hosting and couldn’t dial back in. Other disruptions cited were caused by a fire drill, a tornado and a software platform that crashed five minutes into a presentation.

Clay, who has encountered her share of computer glitches during presentations—including having her computer crash 12 times in 50 minutes—noted that human error, software failure and the lack of a contingency plan are among the primary causes of webcast fumbles.

Experience has taught her that there is no perfect software platform. Instead, it’s important to focus on what you can control and influence.

“The bottom line: You have to be calm and not let technology throw you off track,” Clay said. She advised participants to:

  • Anticipate problems and be prepared to deal with them.
  • Stay calm and focus on the webcast’s objectives.
  • Acknowledge the problem, apologize once, and move on.
  • Call on their host to trouble-shoot the problem.
  • Activate their backup plan.

Clay also offered some practical ideas that audience members could tuck into a figurative black belt.

“We’re going to become martial artists in the field of webinar delivery and production,” so that with a “Hi-yah!” and a deft kick, she said, “we can handle anything that is thrown at us.”

Best Practices for Presenters

  • Know how to use the Web conference platform. “You don’t get to show up and say, ‘I can’t drive my slides; I can’t open polls; I can’t handle chat.’ ”
  • Follow a checklist, like a pilot does before operating a plane.
  • Rehearse the presentation the day before to test everything.
  • Practice breakouts live, and learn how to bring attendees out of a breakout room.
  • Give the host clear instructions for each slide, chat, poll or use of status icons, and be ready to “pass the baton” so he or she can smoothly step into the presenter role if necessary.
  • Send the slides to attendees before the presentation.
  • Join the meeting room three minutes before the event to make sure everything is working properly; there's little time to react if a problem surfaces.

Best Practices for Event Hosts/Producers

  • Follow a checklist.
  • Be ready to trouble-shoot problems.
  • Participate in the rehearsal.
  • Practice breakouts live, and learn how to bring attendees out of a breakout room.
  • Keep written instructions nearby.
  • Print out a copy of the presenter’s slides.
  • Record clear instructions for each slide, chat, poll or use of status icons.
  • Be ready to run the show if the presenter is accidentally bumped from the presentation.
  • Clarify your responsibilities.
  • Introduce the presenter; monitor chat to see if people are unable to join the meeting room.
  • Provide contact information to learners who need extra technical assiatance.
  • Contribute questions as appropriate during the question-and-answer session.

In addition, attendees should be prompted to log in early, test their equipment and software in advance, and follow any instructions sent to them.

“I may not be able to influence everything,” Clay stressed, “but I can have contingency plans—that means I have to prepare consciously to deal with [anything that is] happening.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor for HR News.

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