Delivering my first webinars

The flow of posts to this blog slowed slightly this week as I spent time preparing for, and then delivering two webinars for BIW Technologies [my employer]. The first of these online seminars related to use of online collaboration platforms to manage construction contract processes – particularly those associated with the New Engineering Contract (NEC); today’s event focused on construction e-tendering.

Oddly, I found it slightly more nerve-wracking speaking online than delivering a presentation face-to-face with the audience. After a couple of dry-runs, I was happy with my presentation, I was comfortable with the WebEx Event Center SaaS technology (today we managed a pretty seamless transition from PowerPoint to sharing a web-browser for a live demonstration of BIW Tender Manager, and back again), and the cordless telephone on loudspeaker mode was evidently well up to the task of making me heard, so what was different? Well, I think I missed the visual feedback one gets from a live audience.

After all, I was sitting alone in my home office in southeast London, staring at a screen displaying only written details about an audience spread across the UK and at least three continents (we had registrations from delegates in Australia, the US, and the Middle East). Apart from their responses to a couple of poll questions, and some questions in the concluding discussion session, I had no clues as to how focused they were or how well (or not!) I was delivering the information (the same probably also applied to my co-presenters at each event).

I dare say the lack of visual connection probably also affects attendees (this is something I wrote about late last year – see article linked from Web conferencing and sustainability). Particularly if they were new to WebEx, there could be an initial temptation to play with the interface rather than listen to and watch the presentations; there is always the danger that their view of the event could be subject to telecoms issues; and they may be reluctant to use unfamiliar chat or Q&A tools to ask questions or raise issues. But as use of such tools becomes more widespread and familiar, I expect the novelty to disappear, the telecoms to prove reliable, and the reticence to evaporate. (To further help bridge the speaker/audience divide, I will be investigating use of webcams or at least photographs of the speakers, and looking at ways to encourage more audience participation and interaction).

The geographical spread of delegates was impressive (reinforcing my view that ‘virtual’ events have their place in the marketing mix, not least for their low carbon footprint compared to conventional events). Without heavy marketing (a mention in a recent BIW e-newsletter, a few emails and some buttons on the BIW website), we achieved a good number of registrations – enough to encourage us to run further events (I may even run some that aren’t BIW-specific, perhaps ones more focused on Software-as-a-Service, the AEC market, sustainability and other themes regularly explored on this blog).

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  1. Some interesting points. Personally, I find it really hard to participate in phone conference calls with more than 2 people, for exactly the reason you give – a lack of visual cues. I much prefer webcam contact, but there is a downside to this too. I cannot remember where I read it now, but people have a tendency to drift during conversations, especially with more than 2 parties involved. Webcams can make conversations more stressful as people can see when you are drifting. However, it does make conversation more efficient. I know when I Skype my mum I talk for less time than on a landline, because she would be able to see when I channel surf, flick through a magazine or answer emails. They call it continuous partial attention. Anyway, the article I read referred to avatars instead of webcams, giving the illusion of people being there without having to look alert or particularly groomed. I wish I could remember who it was – maybe Scott Berkun. I will go and search through Google Reader and see if I can find it…

  2. Not the one I was thinking of, but an interesting article from Dave Pollard

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