Please Excuse the Technical Difficulties

What to do to keep sane, week 2.

So like most of you, things have been a little bit cramped in the Kober household these last few days. Compounding the issue last week was that it was the scheduled Spring Break for my 9-year-old, so there was no pretending that any learning was going to happen. We made the best of the nice days by driving out into the hills of Pennsylvania to do some pretty serious hiking (it’s easy to social distance when you literally see 2 other people each hour).

On those not-so-nice days, while my son learned how to set up video chats with his friends while playing some game called Roblox, I decided to do some market research while keeping abreast of what’s happening with Covid-19.

I managed to check out three live broadcasts, each with a different focus, each using a different delivery mechanism. Here is what happened:

Broadcast 1: Platform unknown, but looked and interfaced like GoToWebinar. One presenter on video, one moderator without video, and slides. Video quality was decent, audio was clear. All was well until suddenly, about 45 minutes in, the presenter lost his connection. 30 seconds went by. Then 60. Still, nothing. The moderator had no choice but to end the webinar kind of abruptly. Takeaway for you: If you can, try to avoid single presenter sessions online. If you “lose” your speaker, you are lost.

Broadcast 2: Zoom broadcast through a proprietary link. This was more along the lines of a professional development activity, given by a colleague I’ve been friendly with for many years. What I did not realize is that all of the attendees would be on screen and would be expected to offer their input into the topics. The live broadcast started at 8 p.m. ET so I wasn’t as perfectly groomed as I usually am during the day (a shirt without stains is about what I consider “perfectly groomed”). Video and audio was OK. There were only three of us there so super casual conversation. The moderator suddenly lost her audio for about 90 seconds halfway through, but figured out how to get it back. I’d send you the link to this exciting broadcast, but well, I don’t want to. Takeaway for you: Let your audience know in advance if there is any chance they are going to end up on screen. It’s not a pleasant surprise.

Broadcast 3: Zoom broadcast through Facebook Live. This one had 4 speakers, all on video. No slides. One of the speakers had a ton of trouble with her connection. Her audio cut out frequently and she lost her feed for several chunks of time. The other speakers kept trying to bring her into the conversation, but it got a bit frustrating once everyone realized that her connection just wasn’t reliable. Takeaway for you: If you can, test your presenters’ AV setup in advance to try to minimize any issues midstream when you are live.

So basically, there were technical issues with all three of the broadcasts that I watched, which honestly was not totally unexpected. In the online setting, there is undoubtedly a loss of control. Things happen, and there often isn’t an easy solution.

Derek and I have learned over the years how to troubleshoot a lot of the issues that crop up during our live broadcasts, and yet there are always at least 1 or 2 sessions each time around where we can’t get a panelist’s video to work, or there is an echo we can’t isolate, or someone simply keeps dropping off the broadcast. Firewall issues? Poor Internet connection? Hardware compatibility? Someone doesn’t want to own up to having a bad hair day? You can’t always know.

After each CMEpalooza, we ask viewers to fill out a short survey to give us feedback into how we’re doing. Inevitably, we’ll get a handful of people who will say, “It was hard to pay attention to XYZ session because there was this buzzing noise” or “Can’t you do something to make people’s audio louder?” We are usually well aware of these issues – they are annoying to us too – but sometimes they are out of our control or beyond our level of production expertise. I suspect there may be even more grumbling for anyone who is charging for access to their broadcasts when the quality isn’t perfect, so if that’s you, you’d better be prepared with a stock answer to those who are going to whine.

(note from Derek: trust me, we are aware when there are audio/video issues. A little piece of me dies inside every time someone’s audio glitches. My laptop crashed during a session last year and I was mad about it for days.)

During our recent AV tests with various Spring panelists (which I must say have been completely bereft of any major problems), I’ve been asked a couple of times if I thought the added burden to overall Web bandwidth was going to affect the technical quality of our broadcasts. The answer is very simple.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I mean it. I don’t have a clue. Obviously, we hope it won’t, but if it does, there really isn’t anything we can do about it. Bill Gates stopped taking my calls many years ago.

Just like always, we’ll do the best we can to troubleshoot, and we’ve got enough experience that we’re always able to salvage something meaningful from our sessions even if there is a partial panelist meltdown. We’ll keep on striving, just like everyone else, for that perfect game. It’ll come eventually.

Oh, and one more thing: Don’t forget that you only have a few more days for your CMEopoly submission. Entries are due this Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. You can get everything you need by clicking on this link.

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