By Jennifer Huber, Guest Blogger
We all know that you have to take any vendor's marketing information with a grain of salt. OK, maybe a pile of salt. I was not aware, however, that I had to be skeptical of technical webinar Q&A sessions. Recently, I stumbled upon the chance to eavesdrop on some vendor planning and was surprised at what I heard.
I received an email update to attend a webinar sponsored jointly by a wireless networking vendor and an application vendor. I mistakenly thought the presentation was starting momentarily, so I webbed in and dialed into the audio portion. I quickly realized that I was listening to a dry run of the future presentation. This was mildly interesting in its own right, but I dropped off the audio conference to free up my phone line. I kept an eye on the Web meeting, anticipating that the real presentation would start up shortly. At the top of the hour, I checked back on the Web meeting and it seemed that the real webinar had started, so I dialed back in.
The presentation planning was still taking place, but I'd connected back into the audio call at the point where the group was discussing how to handle the Q&A session at the end of the webinar. First, they discussed the question of allotting enough time for the Q&A session. The conversation then turned to how to handle "controversial questions." This vendor's audience usually asks vendor-specific questions that the people on this conference bridge described as "difficult to answer." Someone mentioned that the Q&A chat couldn't be edited for content, but they could choose safe questions from the questions submitted. Someone else suggested that they could answer the question with a lead into what they wanted to talk about instead of giving an answer. This same person went one step further, adding that they could always make up a set of fake questions so that the presenter could answer scripted questions with prepared answers. The group accepted this idea unanimously. The webinar audio conference ended shortly after.
Perhaps it is naive of me to be shocked by such shenanigans. This kind of thing may happen behind the scenes of all technical presentations. I'm fully aware that marketing presentations tell only one fourth of the real usability story at best. However, I expect more from a presentation directed at technical users of a specialized application. Word to the wise: Ask difficult technical questions of vendor representatives in person whenever possible. It is much harder to answer a tough question with a convincing canned response when you're standing eye-to-eye.