The #1 Enemy of Online Conferences – Poor Audio Quality

Conference calls from noisy locations

More meetings than ever are taking place online. Increased mobility of businesses and individuals means more cloud-based webinars, team meetings, and customer service. I think audio quality is the most important element in determining the success of an online conference. Poor quality audio can result in missed communication, lost productivity, and poor customer service.

Because the brain is not good at multi-tasking, hearing is the most difficult of the senses for it to handle. Vision reaction is impacted by motion, and the brain can quickly focus on one thing. Likewise, the brain can deal fairly easily with taste, smell, and touch. Not so easily with sounds.

Typically, the brain reacts to the loudest source of input. Any combination of poor volume, background noise, line static, echo, distortions, and other impairments can be introduced simultaneously, causing the brain to work extra hard to find focus. Ever have a day of multiple audio conferences and wonder why you’re so tired? It could be “brain fatigue” from the effort it takes to get through poor audio quality.

Technology and user involvement determine the level of audio quality. Let’s look at 3 issues of each, technology first.

Noisy communication might mean no communication

When the signal, the content you’re trying to focus on, is strong and the background noise level is low, communication is easily understood. That’s called a high Signal to Noise Ratio or SNR. As lines are added, if they’re not mixed properly, they increase the noise factor, while the broadcast signal remains constant. That lowers the SNR and makes it difficult for participants to stay engaged.

Most modern bridges – conference mixing devices – handle noise pretty well. They can limit additive noise by scanning input lines, mixing the three best lines and muting other channels. Switching lines between individual speakers happens quickly, so conversation flow is maintained. The quality of the mixing device, therefore, can greatly impact the audio experience. Participants lose focus when there’s too much noise.
Echo in a canyon is fun… In a conference, not so much

Too much retransmitting, or sound echo, can severely impair understanding and even bring a conference to a halt. Fortunately, most modern audio devices, speakerphones, I-phones, etc. have built in echo cancellation. They make sure the speaker’s words are not retransmitted through the microphone.
Echo problems can arise in a conference room setting. A microphone source in the room and a voice connection over the Internet (VOIP) from a laptop microphone creates two different audio paths into the bridge. That can cause what’s called a closed-loop echo, severely disrupting the conference.

So, echo can be a result of poor audio devices that don’t do a good job of echo cancellation or conflicting connection configurations.

Let’s not both talk at the same time

Analog communication, basically electric impulses, is prone to distortion from signal loss. In digital, real-time communication where bits or packets are being sent, signal loss is not as much of a concern. However, depending on the type of connection, there can be packet loss or delays. This gets into some technical issues of Internet transmission protocols (IP), better addressed in a more technical discussion.

The concern here is the effect the delays can have on the meeting outcome. The host of an online meeting may not be able to control how people are connected or the type of network they’re using. If they’re on a real-time data connection such as VOIP, excessive delay can result in people talking over one another. That creates halted or ‘broken’ conversation. Besides potential voice overlap, pauses occur when one person is not sure another person is going to start talking. The disruption to the natural flow of a meeting creates frustration and poor communication.

Now let’s look at user involvement, i.e. conference management and human logistics:

How to keep track of participants

The conference moderator can control what happens when participants enter or exit a conference. The participants name can be announced, an audible signal or beep can be sounded, or it can just be noted to the moderator with no audio involvement. 

The entry-exit control should be based on the size and type of conference. Using name announcements is best limited to small, controlled groups where it’s important for everyone to know who is or is not on the call.

Tone announcements are fine for small groups, but can be highly distracting in a large group where there may be frequent participant entry and exit. With large groups, it’s best to let the moderator visually see the activity without any audio interference.

Could someone please let the dog out?

Remote attendees of meetings and conferences aren’t necessarily in an office. They may be in their home, car, or coffee shop where the potential for background noise is significantly higher. It’s not unusual to have disruptions from a dog barking, wind, traffic, other phones ringing, or people talking. These distractions can result in poor communication to literally shutting down a meeting.

Another issue, user and technology based, is the signal generated by a remote participant. The audio signal coming out of the handset or mobile device is the best it’s going to be. If you start with an inferior handset or a poor network connection, the resulting audio is what’s experienced throughout the conference. Moderators can monitor who’s talking and perhaps can manage those disruptions to a certain degree.

You’re in the conference room – others are not – two different experiences

Online meetings that include a group in a conference room and remote attendees has it’s own set of audio challenges. Awareness of the dynamics can help minimize communication failures.

  • Those listening remotely may not be able to hear someone who is at a white board or across the room from the speaker microphone.
  • A projector fan won’t be a distraction to those in the room, but can transmit through the microphone and be a major distraction to remote participants. Keep the projector away from the microphone.
  • Remote attendees already feel a bit disconnected. They can’t see who’s talking in the room. Side conversations can create background noise and cause them to lose focus.
  • Poorly designed rooms with hard walls and white boards can create echoing. Again, remote participants have to work extra hard to stay involved.

A fairly new technology, speakerphones with multiple microphones, can help solve some of these issues. They allow directional tuning so the sound energy can be focused at the person speaking.

Being aware of, and compensating for, remote attendee logistics will help them have a better experience and improve overall results for everyone.

Engage your audience, but don’t wear them out

The success of audio conferences depends greatly on getting participants engaged, keeping them involved, and not leaving them exhausted at the end of the meeting. If participants have to work intensely to hear everything, they may lose concentration and drift away to other activities. Fatigue will also reduce their productivity.

Poor audio quality is the #1 enemy of online conference success. ReadyTalk is always looking at ways to eliminate or minimize audio problems, to make sure customers have the best experience possible.

 

You might also enjoy:

The 8 Most Common Audio Conferencing Issues

Lost while working remote? 5 tips for virtual collaborators

 

Customers and Prospects Help Us Understand Our “Why”

Customers and Prospects Help Us Understand Our “Why”

Why ReadyTalk reads Start With WhyReadyTalk’s Marketing team recently initiated a project to refine our branding and messaging targeted at our two primary use cases: webinars and collaboration.  The initiation of this project, which has my complete support, was influenced by some candid feedback by a marketing friend who spent some time looking over our website and suggesting that our messaging should be clearer. It was also influenced by my recent read of Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start With Why

In both his book and Ted Talk, Sinek makes a great case for one very fundamental idea: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Yet most companies direct the majority of their marketing efforts toward messaging around the ‘whats’ (e.g, features and benefits) of their products and services. Sinek’s book heightened the importance of understanding our company’s ‘why’ and building our messaging and collateral in a way that authentically expresses our sense of purpose. 

The stark reality is that no company can effectively sell to everyone, particularly not a bootstrapped startup fourteen years into the making like ReadyTalk.  So, the value of identifying those customers who believe what we believe is the basis for our building enduring relationships that will pave the way for mutual and sustainable success.

In addition to our own people, prospects and customers can both provide us with great insights as to our ‘why.’ The following RFI form was recently submitted to our inside sales team.  Below are some of the specific requirements from the head of IT for this mid-sized technology company.  Some specific feature needs have been omitted and the company name is an alias (yes, I watched a lot of Road Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid), otherwise the email is verbatim:

The ACME Corporation is looking to urgently transition our web and audio conferencing traffic to a new provider.  We have had several awful experiences that wasted our customers’ time and infuriated our team.  We are making an immediate change to ensure this never happens again.

Here are our requirements:

  1. Moderator-attended meetings
    For critical meetings, we want the option of a professional, technical, and dedicated moderator.  We would expect this person to help prepare for the meeting, test the meeting in advance, monitor the quality of the meeting, and respond aggressively to resolve any issues.
  2. Training
    We need training for our key employees who organize and conduct presentations.  This training would be end to end:  from administering the service to conducting the meetings. 
  3. High-touch support
    We want to work with people, not a bureaucracy.  Ideally, we will have a single point of contact that is interested and engaged in our projects.  We do not want to go through a nameless helpdesk robot that has no empathy for our organization.
  4. Polish
    We want this experience to be elegant and simple for customers.  It should prove that we are a professional, experienced organization. 

Please provide a detailed response to these requirements at your earliest opportunity.  In addition, please include specifics about pricing and delivery time. We have a critical meeting in May that we need to be perfect; we are anxious to work with a vendor that can respond expertly and fast.

Thank you!

Using the “people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it” lens, it would be hard to find a better suited prospect for ReadyTalk, particularly for the webinar use case. We’ve built our business around a purpose to help people be productive, both within and outside our company.  And, we operate with the motto ‘Create Wow through Service and Technology,” which captures our desire to create emotionally satisfied customers through our product and services.  

When, as with ReadyTalk, a team bootstraps a company from a starting point of no revenue, no customers, and no institutional financial backers, it’s hard to have any other model – any customer loss feels like it could be the beginning of the end. So creating a satisfied customer by helping people be productive and feeling like they have a true business partner is at the heart of our business model and core to our ‘why.’  My absolute favorite point among the requirements is # 9 and the prospect’s desire to identify a company with real people that are committed to the customers’ success. In fact, there is no other quality that allows ReadyTalk to shine in a crowded market quite like this one.  And while it’s hard to market and message differentiation around service, ReadyTalk’s customers know it when they experience it.  

This prospect did sign up with ReadyTalk this past week, and we expect our companies to mutually benefit from the relationship.  And maybe the answers to our branding and positioning project are already being effectively expressed by the customers that find us.

 

[NEW RESEARCH] Content Marketing Institute on Webinars

Last week, I read a new Content Marketing Institute research report (generously made available by Adobe) that summarizes findings from a February 2014 survey that support CMI's hypothesis that webinars can be an effective way to engage prospects throughout the funnel. CMI states: "Webinars present myriad opportunities for marketers to change and interact in experimental ways. You just have to think beyond the traditional uses (simple screen sharing and demo-types of interaction) and find new ways to use webinars to build and engage audience to ultimately drive marketing success."
 
Here are a few key takeaways from the report:

Create a Webinar Strategy to Drive Results

Instead of treating each webinar as a one-off program, CMI recommends that marketers document a high-level strategy for their webinars and tie their webinar goals into their organization’s overall content marketing strategy. The study found that only 38% of marketers surveyed have a documented webinar strategy, but those that do are more likely to cite webinars as “effective” than their peers without a documented strategy (71% vs. 42%).

Think Beyond Lead Generation

68% of survey respondents cited “Lead Generation” as a goal for their webinars. However, CMI found that “Content marketers who are finding success with webinars are broadening the scope of how they use them and are applying them across the full spectrum of the buyer’s journey.”

Think beyond lead generation and look for ways to incorporate webinars throughout the buyer's journey:

  • Thought leadership and brand awareness at the top of the funnel
  • Engagement and product demonstrations mid-funnel
  • Training/education and customer retention at the bottom of the funnel

Marketers' Top Goals for Webinars

“Webinars can be a great way to explain valuable concepts your buyers care about throughout the entire buying process. With audio, visual, and (hopefully) not too much text, they can help your customers become more engaged and spend more time with your company’s ideas every step of the way.”
—Ardath Albee

Broaden Usage to Drive ROI

80% of marketers surveyed said they view webinars as a cost-effective tactic and 61% says webinars produce a good return on investment. CMI found that leveraging webinars at the top of the funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom of the funnel can help marketers drive better ROI and make webinars more cost-effective. By expanding the use of webinars to all stages of the sales cycle, you can do more with your webinar platform and drive more value from that investment.

“We shouldn’t be looking at a delivery mechanism as a content type. Just because webinars are great at delivering demonstrations and trainings, it doesn’t mean that’s all they should be used for. We’ll get the greatest value out of our tools if we figure out how to continually focus on building a more engaged audience.”
—Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute

Top Challenges for Webinar Users

The Top Challenges are Connected

The CMI study found that marketers conducting webinars consistently cited their top challenges as driving attendance (58%), securing registrants (44%), and creating compelling content (43%).
 
To address these top challenges, CMI recommends: “Instead of looking at webinars as an end point, view them as another channel where content can be repurposed across different phases of the consumer’s engagement journey. When you have a documented strategy in place outlining how you will distribute content across all channels (including webinars), your effectiveness increases and audience development becomes less of a challenge, which gives you more time to focus on content creation.”
 
Developing high-value content that resonates with your target audience and finding expert speakers who can deliver that content in an engaging way can help you solve the problems of attracting registrants and driving attendance.

In which stages of the buyer's journey are you using webinars? What are your top goals and challenges?

New from ReadyTalk – PDF Upload Support

We are pleased to announce the addition of .pdf upload support in your Chairperson Meeting Controls. The .pdf file joins PowerPoint, audio, video, and image files as another accepted file type for upload. We hear feedback all the time from our customers who love using our slide deck for their presentations. Rather than blindly sharing apps on their screen, they can see their upcoming slides, videos, polls, images, and now .pdf's while they are presenting and managing other meeting functions. Well we've given you one more reason to use our slide deck for presentations vs. just sharing your screen. 

Uploading a .pdf is simple. Just open your ReadyTalk Meeting Controls and upload as you would normally upload slides. 

1. Simply click the "Insert Slides" Button from the Presentation area of your controls. 

2. Select a .pdf file from your file system to upload. 

3. That's it, the .pdf file will convert and be placed in your slide deck along all of your other content. 

From there simply double click the thumbnails to present the specific .pdf file pages. All of the annotation tools for slides are also available for your .pdf files. What do you think of this feature? What other file types would you like to upload in your controls? Leave your comments below! 

Are webinars a tired marketing tactic? 9 questions answered to help combat the fatigue

Are webinars a tired marketing tactic? 9 questions answered to help combat the fatigue

 

Seventy-three percent of marketers produce more content than they did just one year ago. In fact, the average American spends almost 10 hours a day consuming content – but there is a threshold to what we can actually retain. With content creation skyrocketing, marketers must now break through the density of information to make their message stick. Sadly, most content is invisible because it’s not worth seeing. Webinar Fatigue - the dangers are real.

Webinar production is a great way to create content, but audience fatigue has slowly crept in and getting your webinar noticed has become a challenge. So how do we combat it? We must make it worth their while. Think about the value you place on your own time – not many appointments merit canceling your lunch hour, but that's exactly what most marketers (myself included) are asking audiences to give up. Time to rethink our format AND the value of webinar content we are producing.

In one of our recent events with Scripted, we tried to do just that.We still ran the typical 45 minute webinar for this, however, we changed the style and are hoping to launch a new format from it. We're really focusing on breaking the webinar into chapters. You can see the difference if you view the full recording OR you can listen to each section below by clicking on the bold text below. Each segment is about 6 – 8 minutes long. But, in order to save you some time and stay true to what I'm preaching, I'm giving you the condensed version with top takeaways and some relevant Q&A that came out of each chapter:

  • CHAPTER 1: Content for Leads, Not Just Views – What does your content tell you about where the audience is in the funnel, and how to use webinars at any of the buying cycle.
    • Do you have any recommendations for creating a compelling topic title or subject line for promotion?

Eric MacColl, from Scripted, had some great suggestions: Copyblogger recommends coming up with twenty-five different titles before you finalize it. It forces you to expand your mindset on that topic and not become pigeon-holed on your initial idea. Think of hook type words “secrets to…”, “how to…” etc.

I found some additional tips from Ken Molay at The Webinar Blog:

  • Tell your audience exactly what you’re going to present – succinctly and clearly
  • Create or name a challenge and provide value on how you’ll address it
  • Don’t get too cute – alliteration killed the title star
  • Is there a typical percentage of people that go from invite to register to attend? What kind of initial list size should I aim for?

I’ve had a lot of people ask this one and I always refer them to the same article – there was a great write up a couple of years ago on the Topliners Community (Eloqua’s community portal) where a gentleman broke this down. He’s got some solid logic and probably says it better than me, so hopefully this helps:

http://topliners.eloqua.com/community/see_it/blog/2011/03/31/how-many-webinar-email-invitations-does-it-take-to-get-a-registration

  • CHAPTER 2: Digestible Webinar Formats – Rethinking the typical 60 minute presentation and start creating something that's digestible or 'bite size.'
    • Does ReadyTalk facilitate Google hangouts?

We don't currently have an integration with Google Hangouts within the ReadyTalk platform, however, this idea has come up in numerous conversations as we are seeing more customers break out of the typical webinar format and try add-on options like this. 
 
We do currently integrate with Microsoft Lync, which could facilitate a similar “hangout” atmosphere – you can start a web meeting or conference call directly from a contact in Lync and also end invites to contacts as well. They are able to join directly from the invite by entering their name and a phone number and our platform calls out to them. You can learn more about our Lync integration here.

  • If webinars aren't a full hour, does that mean the content isn't as engaging?

No. In fact, I think they have the opportunity to be more so because you have shortened amount of time to truly convince the audience that your webinar is worth sitting on. That content should be interactive, regardless of the length of time, but with a shorter event your  topic has to be more concise – people know exactly what they will get in the session and in turn, I think will help keep them engaged. You are responsible for delivering on your promise as a speaker and keeping yourself on track. I believe there are still plenty of opportunities to bring your audience into the conversation (polls, chat, etc) to deliver an engaging webinar in a shorter time span.

  • CHAPTER 3: Crowdsourcing Your Webinar Content – Utilizing your social channels to create topics; crafting a message around what they want to hear, not what you want to talk about.
    • Have you found post-webinar Twitter Chats and/or Google Hangouts to work for all target audiences (like CFOs or CIOs) or mainly for a CMO/marketing type role? And what happens if someone in your webinar audience doesn’t have a Google Account?

To be completely honest, this is something we’re just diving into ourselves with our webinars, so I don’t have a ton of stats to share. I do think there is value with both a technical community (CIO / CTO) and also with the marketing based roles. 

Same goes for the technical role – I think they prefer forums actually to get their voice heard, interact with peers, discuss their challenges & dive a little deeper into discussions – I’d say Google hangouts more so than Twitter for them.

Here are a couple of blog posts I found that might help (both you and I) to get a better idea of what is and isn’t working in this space:

http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2012/02/my-gradual-shift-from-skype-to-google-hangouts.html (this is comparing Skype to Google Hangouts)

http://www.jeffbullas.com/2013/12/04/10-tips-on-how-to-use-google-plus-hangouts/ (advice on who should and can utilize Google Hangouts on Air)

http://blog.qstion.com/google-hangouts/google-hangouts-on-air-live-qa-is-launched (offers some comparisons between Google hangout and Qstion)

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/twitter-chat-guide/ (some tips on Twitter chats)

http://www.nestivity.com/10-reasons-your-brand-should-host-a-twitter-chat/ (why you ought to host a Twitter Chat)

  • CHAPTER 4: Webinar Inception – The (content) gift that keeps on giving – re-imagining your webinar recordings for new content and more mileage.
    • What type of attendance rate have you seen to the on-demand webinar version?

We’ve seen 3 – 5x  as many people listen to the recording as the original live event because we’re able to put it out to so many additional channels. We do our best not to just let it sit on the archive page by typically running additional prospecting campaigns around the on-demand recording and which increases our reach with new audiences to get our content in front of (blog, social, email, YouTube, etc).

  • Our webinars topics are fairly in-depth and sometimes hard to "edit" into chunks and tend to go on the longer side. They fill up fast but are rarely watched later in their entirety. Would conducting them live but organizing them into parts (for easier editing lately) be helpful?

I would suggest the live format, but think about splitting them up into a series of events versus one long, difficult to edit version. This would make each topic more digestible – people can walk away with actionable items to make their job easier. If people know it’s going to be a series, you’ve made your content that much more ‘sticky’ that they’ll come back looking for the next event. This will make the recording more appealing as well – it's much more likely to be watched in its entirety if it a 'video-size' type snippet (think of your own attention span when it comes to watching content on something like YouTube or Vimeo). I think this would help boost the engagement and keep your message clear. 

Then you can take advantage of all those smaller recordings and string them together in something like an email campaign or blog series, create an eBook where each chapter references that specific topic and points back to your recording, etc. The possibilities are vast!

  • Does ReadyTalk provide the means to cut up an existing webinar recording into chapters – what formats do you offer? 

We do have an awesome editing tool that allows you to easily cut your webinar down into more of those digestible snippets, like I mentioned a few times. You can find some additional information here:

https://www.readytalk.com/products-services/recording

There isn’t a way to automatically chapter them out within the tool, but you can work with our support team to make as many copies of the original as you’d like to then edit and repurpose as you’d like. You can host them on the ReadyTalk server for a small monthly fee, or you can download them in a number of formats and host on your own site.

The most commonly used formats and available for ReadyTalk recordings are Flash, MP3, MP4, .wav

  • Do you have any recommendations for webinar captioning or transcription?

We’ve used 3Play Media in the past for transcripts of our webinars and they’ve worked well.

Whew! Hopefully there are some actionable tips in here for you. What other questions do you have related to these four areas? Or better yet, leave us your suggestions – the more we can stack best practices list the better! I know there are many webinar experts among us, don't be shy. What would you add?