Italians are getting creative dealing with the national lockdown but there have been some hiccups. This week, one priest livestreamed his sermon to quarantined parishioners while wearing a large neon space helmet.
Not a real helmet mind you. He accidentally left his phone’s cartoon filters on.
Like the well-meaning priest, many of us are fumbling around for solutions to stay connected with colleagues and customers during the global pandemic. Luckily, there’s a bit of old technology that’s been quietly working out the kinks and is finally stepping up in a big way. Say hello (again) to the webinar.
In Italy, video conference apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts are being downloaded at ten times the rate before COVID-19 — even outstripping downloads of popular stay-at-home entertainment apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Worldwide, the Zoom app was downloaded an incredible two million times in just one day on March 22.
While all the attention is new, the tech for video conferencing — or webinars – has been available for years.
Microsoft and Xerox introduced webinar platforms in 1996, and in the next few years, companies like GoToWebinar, ClickWebinar, ClickToConference and other companies with no spaces in their names offered services for hundreds of attendees.
But the industry never quite fulfilled its early promise, and over the years, the average length of webinars was declining steadily.
It didn’t help that working from home never took off like everyone expected in the computer age. According to the US census, only 5.2% of Americans worked from home in 2017, hardly budging from the 3.3% who did so in 2000.
Then things changed, and this was well before the world was assailed by COVID-19.
Eric Yuan was working at Cisco’s webinar unit Webex, fed up with the industry’s problems. The technology was slow, expensive and buggy. He left and founded Zoom in 2011.
By 2019, he had built a video conferencing service so loved by customers and investors that it had 50,000 corporate clients, over $330 million in revenue, and an IPO that valued the company at $15.9 billion on its first day of trading. Not bad for a video conferencing industry that had been spinning its wheels since the mid-1990s.
Clearly, webinars were getting traction before COVID-19 forced us to work from home. What changed?
Simply put, webinars now provide more services much faster. A quicker Internet and better software have swept aside spotty coverage and the once clumsy process of accommodating different devices.
As speeds improved, webinar companies added services. Companies like WebinarJam provide a laundry list of goodies including group and private chats, sticky announcements, payment gateways, polls, and the ability to bring an attendee up onto a virtual stage.
One of Zoom’s most popular features is a virtual background that can put the speaker in front of a company logo or on a beach in Bali. Some students have figured out how to loop a recorded video of them paying attention, while another feature can let you know if someone has navigated away from the screen for more than 30 seconds.
Even as feature availability grew, prices came down.
Most webinar companies offer free trials while Google Hangouts Meet is free for video calls involving up to 10 people. It’s since increased its limit to 250 participants per call now to support the corporate and education professionals who are working from home.
Basic plans from companies like GoToMeeting that provide a decent suite of features including analytics, automated emails, branding and payments from attendees are usually less than $100 a month.
More premium services that provide dedicated company representatives, transcripts, custom urls and bandwidth for thousands of attendees can set you back around $500 a month.
Now, with COVID-19 leaving many workers desperate for video conferencing, some companies are even offering services for free. Zoom scrapped the 40 minute limit for schools while Microsoft is providing its paid version of Teams for free. Tencent’s Meeting is free for up to 300 users.
So we’re stuck at home and video conferencing looks like just the thing to get the team back to work. Here are some tips to make a perfect first call.
The obvious ones
Set up your laptop or phone in a quiet room. Don’t run programs that compete for bandwidth and be sure to have working earbuds or headphones.
Welcome everyone individually as they join the call.
Schedule your invitations to arrive on Tuesday morning. That’s when most webinar registrations take place.
While Tuesday is the best day for invites, Thursday is the most popular day for the actual call. The sweet spot is 11am followed closely by 2pm.
Not everyone might be able to make the call, so make a recording that can be viewed later.
Some services allow everyone to add notes to the screen.
Sync with Slack
You can schedule and launch Zoom webinars from within Slack.
Spruce up the call with attractive visuals. Use OBS Studio to add graphics, scenes, and branding to your live stream. It works with both Windows and Mac.
It’s not clear when daily social and work interactions will go back to normal. It may never go back to the way it was and working from home might become the norm for many employees. Getting your webinar solutions right today will ensure you’re ready for whatever the future holds.
Late update: our friends at Splice Media did an online event this week (late March ‘20) and used Google Hangouts after testing a few platforms. Here’s why.
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Click2View is Southeast Asia’s premiere full-service independent B2B content marketing agency servicing clients like Microsoft, Google, Visa, Prudential, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.