Struggling to find a good webinar platform? We did too.

We thought we wanted a tool to conduct webinars. We were wrong and found a better option instead.

Jason Goncalves·

Cliniko live broadcast with Joel Friedlaender, Heath Williams, and Wade Brennan.

With COVID-19 making business as usual virtually impossible for most, being nimble has never been more important for companies. In our case, we quickly decided we needed to pivot and help our customers as much as possible through this crazy time. So, we launched a new telehealth feature, online payments and wrangled plenty of blogs about adapting to a socially-isolated world, all with the aim of keeping our customers trading for as long as possible. However, the written word can only go so far when it comes to offering the quality of support we pride ourselves on delivering.

We wanted to find a way to engage our customers in real-time, so we could try to answer their questions that we wouldn’t think of on our own. We needed a way to share a lot of information in a format everyone could absorb, with few constraints on the number of people we could reach. We also decided that we would use our network to find more experts to join us and help us provide a variety of high-quality information. Webinars - or live broadcasts as we prefer to call them - seemed to be the ideal medium to achieve our goals.

There was just one problem: We were shocked that every webinar platform we tried, for one reason or another, fell short of what we needed.

Before I get into the process we followed to overcome this challenge, I should stress: it wasn’t easy. Separating the good platforms from the bad is time-consuming and, spoiler: most of them are bad.

What we were looking for

Our basic criteria for a new webinar platform was that it had to be:

  • Secure
  • Easy to use
  • Nice to look at
  • Able to host thousands of participants
  • Easy to moderate
  • Browser-compatible

Zoom was our first choice. We did use it for our first call. As you know, Zoom was put under the microscope, and there were many security and privacy issues with it, so with that, we decided we could not feel good about requiring participants to use it.

We found that it is very difficult to avoid using Zoom. Zoom’s functionality is a step above its competition, and it’s no surprise that so many are using it now. If Zoom was rubbish, it would have made it much easier to not use it.

A couple people on the team started looking at different options: popular ones, unpopular ones, start-ups, massive companies, really nothing was off the table. Many of the popular tools were almost perfect, but they were missing key features that we thought were necessary, like the ability to watch the webinar without needing to download any software. We’ve all been there; your calendar notification goes off to tell you that you have to join the webinar that you registered for. You quickly click the link in that notification, only to be prompted to download an app, create an account, jump in a circle three times, find the meeting code, enter it wrong a couple times, and finally get into the meeting, missing the first 10-15 mins. Frustrating.

The search continued

We also wanted the option to have multiple presenters - Seeing as we are inviting professionals to be on the calls with us, it was obvious that we needed that. This is something that many platforms have failed to do gracefully. Most of the tools that we found had a tricky interface for the presenters, making them difficult to navigate. Seeing as we were trying to be mindful of people’s time, this was a learning curve that we didn’t want to impose on our guest speakers.

Being optimistic about finding the perfect platform, we booked a webinar with a couple of guest speakers and told ourselves that if we couldn’t find another platform, that we would just use Zoom; as much as we didn’t want to use Zoom, it was hard not to compare its feature set with those of other platforms.

We signed up for nearly everything, GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar, Bluejeans, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Webinar Ninja, Livestream, Hangouts, and so many more. None of them got there. Poor video quality, clunky designed, and forced app downloads were the norm. Trying to find a tool that allowed us to have a conversation with other hosts while having an audience chime in to ask questions, was seemingly very challenging.

After a few solid days of trying to find something (really anything at this point) that would work - Joel stumbled upon the idea of a broadcasting tool that he’d run locally, and stream to an online service like Youtube. It seemed a bit absurd and over-the-top when we first looked at it. This is the type of software that you may see a newscaster using on their broadcast. The thing is though, in our hours of searching we did find some solutions that were close. YouTube live was nice but didn’t allow multiple hosts or presenters. There was also the problem of questions to be asked during the stream. Finally, we wanted a way for people to register for the event, so we could send them a calendar event, and follow up with any extra information that was needed after the broadcast.

Maybe one tool wasn't the answer

A lightbulb clicked, and we decided that maybe it wasn’t one tool that was needed, maybe it was a combination of a few.

We managed to pull this all together in time for the event we’d planned, using Telestream’s Wirecast as the broadcasting tool. After using Wirecast for two of our webinars, we loved the direction it was going in, however, Wirecast had a few technical hurdles that we couldn’t easily overcome. It was causing our broadcasts to be unreliable, with guests regularly experiencing dropouts. In the most recent broadcast, we tried OBS as the tool to drive it. It required a bit more learning, and a fair amount of time to get it set up as we wanted it, but as you can tell from our more recent broadcasts, it was well worth it.

Our overall solution for these live events is now a combination of five tools; OBS, YouTube Live, Mailchimp, Skype and Slack.

  • OBS is a broadcast software tool that’s used to pull all the video, audio, and images together to create the stream.
  • YouTube live was used to broadcast, take comments, and host the webinar for people that want to watch later.
  • During the broadcast, others in the team, pluck out questions being asked in the comments and post them into a Slack channel, so Joel (the host) can quickly scan them and see what needs to be asked of the guests.
  • Mailchimp was used to set up a landing page to collect registrant details and email them all webinar-related communication.
  • Skype is used for the calls, which are pulled into OBS. OBS itself, does not handle bringing a guest into the stream.

One thing to note is the sheer amount of effort that happens “behind the scenes”. Some of the main tasks we have to do during the broadcast are:

  • Control the broadcast; getting screens set up and bringing in audio and video sources
  • Connect the broadcast to YouTube, stream it, and then broadcast it live
  • Moderate and watch for questions that come in from YouTube comments
  • Follow Slack for feedback from the team regarding the broadcast and questions
  • Handling these tasks, while continuing to engage the guests speakers
  • Dealing with reflections in people’s glasses (This is harder than you think)
  • Responding to questions that are asked by viewers, and ones that were submitted before the broadcast

It's not easy

As you can see, it was not easy. Many times throughout searching and testing, we found ourselves saying “I see why Zoom is used so much”. It’s simple to set up, works really well, has all the features you should need, and is really affordable. The only real complaint we had, and it was a showstopper, was the low attention to detail with regards to security and privacy.

For us, security is the cornerstone of everything that we do. We always want to make sure that we are building or using things that also do not compromise security. In the end, we are very pleased with the outcome that we came to. As we’ve found many times before, constraints can be the catalyst for exploration and results that we couldn’t foresee when starting the process. Dare I say that what felt like countless wasted hours ruling things out, in the end, was just steps towards the right result? I think I dare.

Author information

Jason Goncalves works on a little bit of everything at Cliniko, but mostly making it better for everyone. When he's not in front of his computer, you'll find him in his gardens, riding a bike, gaming, or cooking!

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