July 24, 2016 · Weekend Testing

Lessons learned from my first live webcast

Today was the two-year anniversary of our revival of Weekend Testing Europe, so we held an extra-special session to celebrate! We decided to brave a live webcast, which meant that Amy and I would be on-camera with nowhere to hide for two hours.

For the most part, it was invigorating fun, and don't just take our word for it!

However, as with all experiments, the failures can be even more valuable than a success - so I guess it's fair to say that we took a good amount of value out of the session!

In a nutshell, here are my immediate feelings about what I'd like to do better next time:

Make a plan, and then prepare for it to all go wrong.

We sensibly arrived two hours ahead of schedule, to prepare our room for the session, including testing all of the audiovisual equipment. This included running a test webinar to check the audio levels, which allowed us to position screens and microphones for minimal interference. Everything seemed as if it was on-course for smooth sailing:

And then, one minute after the Skype portion of the session began, everything died. Specifically, GoToWebinar kept deciding that the external webcam and microphone (both of which were connected through my Mac's USB ports) were disconnecting and reconnecting, causing it to select different input devices at random and generally mess everything up.

Thankfully, our original plan (prior to connecting the external webcam) was to run the session through a single Macbook's camera and on-board mic, so as we tried to continue the Skype chat without disruption, we frantically rearranged the desk to revert to the original setup. Although it was a shame we had to change our plans, it was great that we had an alternative in-place so that we could failover quickly.

Reduce your possible points of failure.

As if the above wasn't enough, I was also intending to record a copy of the video stream on my Macbook, so that we could upload it to YouTube for future posterity. Again, I'd done several dry-runs on my Macbook, to ensure everything was capturing/exporting correctly.

However, none of those dry-runs were 20 minutes long, at which point the temporary file for the video reached 3GB and apparently became unmanageable - the recording simply stopped. Thankfully I noticed immediately, so we were able to let people down gently.

I still don't really know why that went wrong either, but clearly it was asking too much of my machine to simultaneously stream-out a live webcast and also keep an entire archive of that broadcast in-memory. If I'd researched better, I'd have discovered that GoToWebinar has its own ability to store recordings, which I hadn't enabled. Reducing the number of different pieces of software would've meant less juggling of potential problems.

Silences are much more pervasive when there's audio.

In many ways, this was a fairly typical Weekend Testing session, except for where the facilitators were speaking when they'd normally type. Engagement with our attendees was at normal levels, too; their answers to our questions (and our answers to theirs) were reasonably prompt.

The trouble is, when you're on a video feed, the silences between question/response are so much more noticeable. This caught us by surprise near the start, when there were a few slightly-too-long silences while we waited for responses, but we adapted by holding conversations among ourselves while waiting for attendees to chime in.

I think we got this about right in the end, but one attendee did comment at the end that the pace of our spoken conversation meant we'd often moved onto a new topic before he'd had a chance to type his answer. Our desire to avoid "dead air" might have mistakenly led to people feeling excluded, so we have work to do here.

Preparing and rehearsals ALWAYS pay off.

I gave a lengthy overview of our preparation process when I gave a report on our first ever WTEU session two years ago, and that preparation continues to pay dividends. It's particularly relevant with an interactive event such as Weekend Testing, where there's no defined direction for the conversation; I'd produced a mind-map of potential talking points which was invaluable when we needed a quick jumping-off point for a new discussion.

Get a moderator.

Although everything went pretty much as we expected (technical issues notwithstanding), I think we failed to predict just how difficult it would be to juggle a Skype chat with talking on-camera. Basically, Amy and I ended up taking it in turns to dictate key messages back into the Skype conversation.

This would have been a lot easier if we'd persuaded an able volunteer to help with moderation duties; someone whose entire purpose for being on the Skype chat would be to dictate what Amy and I were saying. It seems like a rather obvious omission in hindsight - I'm sure we could've found someone if we'd asked. Of all the things that would be easy to fix next time, this is #1 on my list.

It's a real buzz.

The session absolutely flew by. This was probably in part due to the amount of preparation and panicking that we'd put ourselves through, but it felt (to us at least) like a much more natural, flowing session. In part this is because, more than ever, the session was very conversational: Amy and I (with input from the attendees) were talking about our thoughts and experiences. I could've easily gone on for another couple of hours!

We'd definitely want to tweak the format a bit if we want to repeat this in a Weekend Testing context, but I'm keen to do something similar in another guise in the near future - stay tuned for details about what emerges!

Here's the video that we were able to salvage:

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