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TalkPoint Convey Review: Making Webinars Simple

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Convey also offers extensive email options that I made good use of during my webinars. By default, the system creates a registration confirmation message and a reminder email sent the night before the event. To these, you can add custom emails to the registrants any time before the event, which I used to let them know that they could download the handout and some example files before the event from my website. After the event, you can add follow-up emails customized and targeted for those who watched the live event, those who watched the VOD event, and those that watched neither event. I really liked the email feature; it was very easy to use and communications is obviously key to promote attendance and ensure follow through.

Driving the Event

Another rough edge is that you can’t connect your audio/video gear until one hour before the webinar, a policy TalkPoint implemented to limit demand on their servers. In practice, this means you’ll create a practice webinar to make sure your gear is working, which is kind of a pain, but doesn’t cost any extra on the monthly plan. Within that final hour, you can choose which audio and video gear to use during the webinar and test audio/video quality.

When the start time comes, you press Start webinar to get things going. During the webinar, you control the content via the controls shown in Figure 4. That is, you use the Next and Previous buttons to advance slides, and click the Overlay Videos and Surveys tabs to launch that content.

Controlling the webinar

Note that you can easily configure in multiple administrators to monitor Q&A and perform various other functions. You can communicate with them using the Chat function beneath the video window in Figure 4. In the Q&A on the lower right, click the second icon from the right to open all questions in a separate window, which is a much more convenient view.

The Viewing Experience

On computers, viewers watch using Flash with no required download. The player delivers the prototypical webinar experience as shown in Figure 3, PowerPoint on the right, video on the upper left, with easy access to speaker information, downloads and Q&A. I experienced no problems testing on Mac or Windows computers.

Under the hood, you encode and send a single stream to the TalkPoint servers for Flash playback and transmuxing for delivery to iOS and Android (Chrome browser only) viewers. On an iPhone, and presumably an Android phone, you see only the video portion, not the slides; on an iPad, you see pretty much what you see in Figure 3.

Android is the problem child for all video apps; TalkPoint was no exception. Though the webinar played fine on my old Toshiba Thrive Android tablet, probably because it still runs Flash, the video component wouldn’t play on my Samsung Nexus 10. Note that TalkPoint has multiple demo webinars available on their website; if you’re concerned about Android playback compatibility you can test your own devices there.

When encoding using the webcam option, as I did, you have no control over video data rate. According to the company, the data rate ranges from 500–800Kbps depending upon the resolution; at these parameters, quality should be very good for the typical talking head webinar shots. This was the case in all my webinars.

Convey delivers the video using a blend of CDN providers based on the media format being delivered, the event status (live vs. archive) and for redundancy. These providers include Mirror Image, Limelight Networks, Fastly, and Amazon Web Services. Ingress points run on Wowza Media Server.

Editing and Analytics

Once the webinar is complete, Convey immediately converts it into an on-demand presentation. However, it preserves all the components separately so you can switch or move slides, trim the heads and tails of the audio or video, and even swap new content in for old. While the editor won’t be confused with Adobe Premiere Pro anytime soon, it’s functional and responsive.

Convey doesn’t have live analytics that show engagement, as some systems do, or even a traditional drop-off report showing how long users stayed on the line. The company is working on a live drop-off chart to track when viewers disconnect (no pressure, presenters) and will add a separate final report for post-webinar measurement.

Otherwise, the system offers an extensive range of reports with a nice ability to slice and dice the results; for example restricting reports to live attendees, or those who watched the simulated live or VOD event. Specific reports include conversion rates, registration data, viewing durations (live, simulated live, and archive), Q&A, survey responses, media selection (iOS, Flash, Windows, HLS) and geographic viewing locations.

The report generation menu

My Experience

As mentioned, I produced three webinars with the system. For those who care about such things, I produced the webinars on a second generation HP Z1 All-in-One workstation, using the integrated webcam, which produced much higher quality than integrated webcams in all notebooks that I’ve worked with. For lighting, I kept my office fluorescent lights burning, supplemented by a clamp light with a CFL bulb with a similar color temperature clamped to a nearby monitor (Figure 6). You can check the lighting in Figures 3-4; I think it came out well.

The exotic lighting setup I used to produce my three webcasts.

For audio, I wore an AKG condenser mic headset, powered by a PreSonus AudioBox 44VSL pre-amp, which I plugged into the Z1’s microphone port. The Z1 was running a 4-core (8 with HTT) 3.6 GHz E3-1280 v3 CPU, and was more than up to the task, with CPU utilization running under 10% for all events.

The first two events came off flawlessly; I found usability excellent. Even a novice computer user should have no trouble running their own webinars very competently with just a few moments to learn the system. In this case, the third time wasn’t so lucky. That morning, thunderstorms came through my area with lots of vicious lightning. Towards the end of my event, Comcast started doing some repair work that dropped my outbound bandwidth down to 1-2 kbps, which wasn’t sufficient for even the audio stream. Convey performed really well, automatically attempting to reestablish the connection multiple times; clearly this scenario had been planned for. But Comcast didn’t restore the bandwidth in time to complete the webinar.

Interestingly, I could have worked around this problem in Convey by establishing a telephone input to switch to when the bandwidth dropped, with another presenter in a different location to change the input from webcam to phone, and then to change the slides. Or perhaps have had a computer connected via 4G ready to take over.

So take two things from this review. Number one, Convey is a highly polished, highly competent webinar system that should be considered by any company seeking to produce their own webinars. Number two, always have a backup for internet connectivity, and all other production elements and components to your mission-critical webinars.

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