With the requirements from Part I spelled out, we started to take a look at the people and system requirements needed to run a webinar, specifically, what it would take to build a podcasting studio.
First, it was pretty obvious that someone needed to have the role of webinar organizer. This would be the person whose only job was to get the podcast/webinar going, get everyone logged into it, monitor the chat window, make sure the audio was OK, monitor the video output, manage shifting presentation control from one presenter to the next and answer attendee questions about audio and video quality. We called this person the organizer.
System requirements for the organizer were pretty easy — a single computer on a wired network connection with a monitor and keyboard. This would be the machine we would use to start up the webinar and broadcast the audio and video. A desktop system seemed the logical alternative here as most of these systems had dedicated microphone/line in ports and speaker output. More on the port requirements later.
So, the first step in creating your studio is to put in an organizer computer that will be used to run the webinar, AND is your studio’s audio and video connection to the goto webinar cloud.
Monitoring the Podcast or Webinar
While a dedicated computer for broadcasting makes sense, one of the main issues with a webinar or live podcast is monitoring exactly what your audience is listening to. On numerous occasions prior to us setting up the podcasting studio, a webinar producer would be running the webinar not realizing that their screen was not being shared and the audience could not see slides. Or perhaps, despite their best efforts, the audio was muted. Or worse, an audience attendee starts chatting that they can’t hear the audio. Is the problem local to that attendee or is there a broader problem with the audio?
To solve this problem, we added a second computer to the studio as an audience monitor. The computer shared nothing with any other components in the studio except the network connection. To operate the audience monitor, we would log into the webinar exactly as an attendee was required to log in. Since this computer shared nothing with any of the components in the room except the network connection, as long as the network was operating between our office and the cloud service at GotoWebinar, the audience monitor provided the actual experience of the audience.
If you could see/hear the webinar on the audience computer, then the audience could also see and hear the webinar.
Inside the studio, we also found that the presenters also wanted to see what the audience could see. Presenters want to make sure the audience could see them. To accomplish this, we cloned the video monitor on the audience machine so the presenters could also look up and see what the audience could see. This is really important as many times there is a delay when sharing a desktop machine over GOTO MEETING/WEBINAR when a speaker advances a PPT slide. By looking at the audience monitor, presenters have absolute confidence their slide has advanced and the audience can see it. In addition, in some of the webinar setups, the presenters hang out in a room prior to going live. By projecting the audience view of the webinar, everyone in the podcasting studio knows when they are live and when they are not.
Presenting the Podcast or Webinar
Now we had our audience computer to monitor the broadcast, an organizer to broadcast the webinar, but what about the actual person presenting?
For most webinars, the presenters would show up with their own laptops and log into the webinar as a panel member. To support this scenario, our studio has a broadcasting table from Ikea which is literally a wooden kitchen table that we have drilled holes in for routing cables. The organizer sits at the head of the table, the presenter sits along one of the sides. Since we didn’t want people on the WIFI during a webinar, we have wired network connections available for the presenter to plug into. A separate monitor with both VGA and HDMI cables is also available for presenters to use if they want to extend their laptop for presenting.
Since some presenters, occasionally, would show up with a memory stick and not bring their laptop, we also have a third machine in the studio called the optional presenter desktop. This desktop has a dedicated monitor and seating position on the table. To use this system, we simply logged in as a panel member from this machine and administrator transferred presentation rights to this computer.
For the network connections, to simplify everything, we ran all the cables for all the systems to a gigabit network switch we mounted in a rack in the room. This way we only had one connection going into the network connection in the wall. We also made sure the network wall connection was also a gigbit port.
This is all you need to wire up the computers and network. But what about audio and video? Next posting we will cover what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the studio.
- 3 computers
- 42″ audience monitor for the wall
- 1 monitor for the organizer
- 1 monitor for presenter desktop
- 1 spare monitor for presenter who brings their own laptop
- HDMI and VGA cables
- 1 Gigabit ethernet switch
- 1 Rackmount Network-Grade PDU Power Strip, 12 Right Angle Outlets Wide-Spaced, 15A
- Server rack that can hold three desktops, network switch, mixer switch, power switch