Webinars (or webcasts) are becoming an increasingly popular choice for marketers. 42% of participants in a recent survey said they were pleased with the results of their webinars.
The purpose of webinars can range, from lead generation through to customer retention, but in order to be successful, all require aggressive promotion and a solid web conferencing platform.
Web Conferencing Platforms
The world of Web Conferencing software is really dominated by 3 names:
Microsoft has made their name in this market with their well-known “Microsoft Office Live Meeting”. Less well-known is Microsoft’s more recent offering, Lync.
Lync is available on-premise (through Lync Server) or online (through Office 365).
It is worth mentioning that Lync goes far beyond Live Meeting in terms of product scope. Web Conferencing is just one element of Lync, which is intended to act as a “Unified Communications Solution”.
Having used Lync for internal communications, mostly Instant Messaging and Presence, I was keen to test its ability as a Web Conferencing Platform for promotional webinars.
In this blog I explain how to organise, host and record a webinar on Lync and offer my opinion on why Lync might (or might not) suit your webinar needs.
1. Organising the Webinar
2. Hosting the Webinar
3. Recording and Distributing the Webinar
1. Organising the Webinar
There are two ways to create an Online Meeting (webinar) with Lync. The first is via an Outlook plugin (see below).
Although this way is the fastest, it assumes default settings for your meeting. For the sake of this blog, we will focus on the second way – via the “Lync Online Web Scheduler” (https://webdir0b-ext.online.lync.com/Scheduler/).
The Web Scheduler is a browser-based application where you can create and manage your Online Meetings.
Firstly you will be prompted to sign in with your Windows Live ID (see below).
Once logged in, you will have the option to “Create New Meeting” (see below).
The “Create New Meeting” link will open a form with basic meeting options, broken down into:
- Meeting Time
- Access and Presenters
- Invitations and Audio (see below)
For setting up a webinar, the most important options are those under “Access and Presenters”.
Firstly, decide “Who will bypass the lobby” (see below). The lobby is an area where attendees wait to be admitted – until this has been done, they have no access to the meeting (audio, content sharing etc.). Lobby permissions can be quite granular and will depend on how you wish to control access to your webinar.
Secondly, decide “Who is a presenter” (see below). We will explore the differences between Attendees and Presenters in detail a little further on.
Essentially, a presenter is anyone who can control the sharing of content (whether that be a presentation, application or desktop view). You can also promote Attendees to Presenters during the meeting, so I usually set this option to “Organizer Only”.
Once you’ve saved your settings you will receive your meeting link (see below). This is the link your attendees will need to use to join the webinar. Note that this link will not change and will remain active until your online meeting has expired (determined by the time set on the “Meeting Settings” screen).
Having generated a meeting link, you will now be able to review your meeting settings and “Join Info” through the “Meeting Summary” interface (see below).
One feature that is worth exploring quickly is the “Export as iCalendar” tab (see below). An “iCalendar” or “iCal” is a small file that contains meeting information. If you use Outlook, opening an iCalendar file will automatically add the meeting information to your personal calendar.
iCalendars are great for webinar promotion as they allow attendees to easily reserve time for the event and act as a reminder.
The “Export as iCalendar” link will prompt you to “Open” or “Save” the file (see below). Choose “Save”.
Once saved, your iCalendar file (see below) is ready for distribution.
2. Hosting the Webinar
Hosting a webinar with Lync is easy, but running one smoothly requires a basic understanding of:
- Lync Clients
- Access & Permissions
- Content Sharing
- Additional Features
There are 3 Lync clients with varying functionality, the full client, the “Lync Attendee” client and the “Lync Web App” client.
Full client: This contains all the features of Lync, but requires a Lync license (through traditional CAL licensing or through Office 365).
Lync Attendee client: This client contains many of the features of Lync and almost all the features a webinar attendee might require (two-way audio, content sharing etc.). This client is free, but requires a download.
Lync Web App client: This client contains only a few features of Lync and only the bare minimum for a webinar attendee. This client is also free. Attendees using the Wep App can hear audio but need to dial-in to use their microphone.
It is useful to make webinar registrants aware of the various clients as soon as possible. Those that opt for the Lync Attendee client will need to make time to download and install, those that opt for the “Lync Web App” client may need to arrangements to dial-in etc.
Access & Permissions
There are 3 key levels of access in Lync Online meetings, but they will vary depending on how you configure “Access & Permissions” in the “Meeting Settings” (see above).
The Lobby: If the online meeting has restricted access, users will have to wait in the lobby until they are admitted by a presenter (see below). Those in the “The Lobby” have no access to features or content.
As webinar registrants may turn up late, it is worth having another presenter assigned to “Admit” users from the lobby so that it does not distract you from presenting.
Attendees: Attendee is the default permission for users joining the meeting, either directly or after being admitted from the lobby (see below). Attendees are able to participate in Instant Messaging and Audio / Video but are not able to share content (e.g. a presentation, application or desktop view).
Attendees can be promoted to presenters by existing presenters.
Presenters: Presenter is the default permission for the meeting organizer and any users the organizer has specified in the “Meeting Options”. Presenters are able to “Admit” or “Deny” those in the lobby, promote Attendees to Presenters, share content and more. They are the meeting administrators.
Presenters are able to share 3 main types of content:
- PowerPoint Presentations
- Programs (AKA Applications)
- Desktop Views (Main, Secondary or All Monitors)
This content is shared with attendees and presenters on an area of the Lync client referred to as the “Stage”.
For the purpose of this blog, we will explore sharing a PowerPoint Presentation in more detail (see below). Although some webinars may include software demonstrations – for which the Programs sharing is ideal – most if not all involve PowerPoint Presentation sharing.
Having selected “Share > PowerPoint Presentation”, you will be prompted to locate a PowerPoint Presentation on your machine for upload. Although the upload speed is pretty good (it’s never taken me longer than 5 minutes per presentation), it is worth uploading your presentation in advance – particularly if you have multiple presenters or large file sizes (see below).
In my experience of hosting webinars across a number of Web Conferencing platforms, I’ve always found that:
- Many of your registrants will turn up around 5 minutes late
- Some of your attendees will have technical difficulties
For that reason, I tend to begin my presentations with a couple of opening slides.
A pole is a good way to keep early attendees engaged whilst you wait and can provide valuable insights (see below). These can easily be set up and configured in the “Share” drop down.
A slide with some instructions can help frustrated users with technical difficulties (see below). Encourage them to use Instant Messaging to describe their problem and yourself or another presenter can address their issue.
With your presentation uploaded and your attendees settled you can begin your webinar. Simply use the presentation navigation (located in the bottom-right hand corner of the client) to move between slides (see below)
To add some extra interactivity and creativity to presentations, you may want to take advantage of the “Annotation” tools. These allow presenters (or presenters and attendees, depending on permissions) to annotate and highlight the slides being shared (see below).
If you would like to share promotional material with your attendees, such as a PDF or the presentation itself, you can use the “Attachments” tool to upload these and make them available for download (see below).
Recording and Distributing the Webinar
Recording a webinar is a great way to increase the number of views your presentation ultimately gains. Contacting those registrants that were for some reason unable to attend your webinar with the offering of a recording can also be a great conversation starter.
There are 2 elements to Lync’s built-in recording capabilities:
- The recording functions within the Lync Client (these include Audio, Video, Instant Message and Shared Content recording)
- The publishing functions within the “Lync Recording Manager”
Note that recording and publishing is only available through the full version of the Lync Client, not through the “Attendee” or “Web App” clients.
Before your webinar begins, you or another presenter will need to “Start Recording”. This can be done through the “Actions” drop down (see below).
Once recording has begun, you will be alerted with an icon and tooltip in the top-right hand corner of the client (see below).
You will also see the “Pause” and “Stop” controls appear on the bottom-left hand corner of the client (see below).
Once you end your recording session by pressing the “Stop” button, your session will be logged in the “Lync Recording Manager” (see below).
Within the “Lync Recording Manager” you will find 2 panels:
- “Lync Recording”: This area contains all of your source footage from recording
- “Windows Media Recordings (.wmv)“: This area contains published versions of your source footage in .wmv format for distribution
To publish a webinar recording, start by navigating to the “Lync Recordings” panel (see below).
From here, select “Publish” to open to the publishing window (see below).
Next, select “Options” (see below).
The “Content in video” section will provide you with a number of tickboxes to configure your source footage for publication (see below).
You may decide that the “Instant message” section draws attention away from the “Shared content”. Perhaps you would like to remove the audio and re-record a new audio track separately. Alternatively, you can keep all of the content for the publish. Once you have ticked the boxes accordingly, click “OK” to start the publish (see below).
Your recording will now exist as a .wmv file in the “Windows Media Recordings (.wmv)” panel of the “Lync Recording Manager” (see below).
I hope this blog has helped to explain how you can effectively organise, host and record a webinar using Lync. We use the platform to host our own webinars (as well as for internal communications) and will continue to do so.
I will summarise with what I see as the key advantages and disadvantages of using Lync to host webinars:
- Very easy to set up webinars, particularly with Outlook integration
- Built in recording and publishing functionality
- Easily (and cheaply) available through Office 365 plans
- Lync is not well known, the interface and functionality takes some getting used to
- Multiple client options can confuse attendees, most typically use the “Web App” client for convenience at the expense of the features in the “Attendee” client