On the 22nd of June, 2013, I nervously began speaking into the microphone, carefully positioned in corner of the home office. On the other end of the line were 30+ members of the audience. I saw, nor heard, not one of them. The notes and slides were ready, the rehearsals and introductions done; this was to be my first webinar.
It began a few months previously, when Lucinda Brooks invited me to put together a proposal for a web-seminar, or webinar, on sales in translation. Lucinda had kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Translation sales handbook 6 months prior to this, and has been running her online CPD training business, ecpdwebinars, for a number of years. While I had watched many presentations, both online and off, I hadn’t attended (let alone presented!) a live webinar in person.
The proposals were accepted, the blurb was written and slides prepared with a few weeks to spare for practice. The rehearsal date rushed up and suddenly I was loading the webinar app onto my PC for a trial run. We didn’t go over the content in the end, but I was kindly guided through the whole webinar process and completely reassured by Maia and Lucinda, testing for technical issues along the way.
We ironed out the wrinkles and agreed to log back in 20 minutes before the webinar start time on the day itself. The start time was set at 11:30am in order to cater for audience members around the world (!). I spent that morning setting up my ‘booth’, applying the little I’d picked up from reading around audio engineering in the Sound on Sound magazine over the years, not to mention the hours spent rigging up mics and mixing desks for various local ceilidh and am-dram groups over the years. Ahem.
To reduce desk noise, keyboard vibrations or basically any odd ‘bangs’ from being sent down the line I decoupled the mic from the desk, resting it on my home-made tripod mount. The mount’s intended use is for a laptop as a bit of a ‘stand up desk’ experiment, but that’s another story. The mic itself is the handy little Zoom H2, capable of recording in stereo via it’s two front-facing crossover mics, or in ‘3D’ using all 4 of the internal mics. The recording quality of this affordable gadget is at broadcast level, so I hoped that this would give the audience members a clearer listening experience.
I added the wind muffle as a makeshift pop-shield to dampen the ‘p’ and ’s’ sounds (plosives and fricatives, I think they are called) that I would inevitably make, and which can be a pain to listen to. I then set up reflection-dampers (i.e. cushions) behind and to the side of the mic, as my booth on this day was a reflective corner of a room and those cross-over sound reflections bouncing all around and back into the mic at slightly different times can make for an almost imperceptibly uncomfortable sound.
Finally, I used headphones to monitor my sound levels and to check that I wasn’t deafening everyone. I found out how to turn my in-headphone volume down just before the webinar, something that was troubling me in the rehearsal; I was very loud in my own earphones, to the point of becoming a distraction. The volume switch on the H2 was all it took, not affecting the mic’s gain levels (set to high).
It could have all been much simpler, of course, had I just opted for the headset approach. There would have been next to no set up involved, but then I do like a technical challenge. And technical challenges I had, come the start of the webinar.
I had shut down every application on the PC (and their processes to be sure). The netbook was wired into the router via ethernet cable, so no possibility for wifi-dropout. Most of the 6GB of system RAM was available. I even saved the Powerpoint slides to PDF to avoid running the resource-hungry app during the presentation. Yet none of this stopped the slide changes from lagging some 30 seconds behind my audio on the screen-share. Ever the professional, Lucinda let me know and covered with the audience on my behalf (‘we were forced to listen more’), making an executive decision to not stop to find a technical fix but to let the webinar continue with the lag in place. The slides were distributed afterwards, and I had tried to make them comprehensive, so hopefully the key content was communicated thoroughly enough to audience members by the end.
Since the webinar I have replaced the 7200 rpm hard disk drive in the PC with an SSD (solid state drive, like a USB stick but bigger and with more technical whistles and bells), making apps like Powerpoint now open in under a second, and files now load almost instantaneously. I’d be keen to test this set up again in the webinar, but alas, the moment has now passed. Confusing as it was, I put the lag down to either some work being done at the local exchange, slowing the (usually) fast office connection for the day, or to my not using the latest version of Java that the webinar software relies upon - even if rehearsals went more smoothly. It is a resource hungry app, alright, but to share screens and audio in real time does take a fair amount of computing, I’d imagine.
The webinar itself went as rehearsed, with the interactive-polls sections proving quite intriguing. I would like to share the results of those in another post, but I ought to clear it with Lucinda and the team first! I worked my way through the content with a mixture of freely talking and ‘scripted ad-libbing’.
I wrapped up the talk and fielded some interesting questions from audience members, with Lucinda finally signing off at the very end. I wasn’t told about the feedback feature they had at their disposal (which was probably for the best), but fortunately it was largely positive, as were the few Twitter comments I picked up afterwards. Phew!
A follow-up email from Lucinda finalised the event and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Webinars may be virtual, but I can assure you that the nerves certainly aren’t :)