What to do when your webinar or virtual class crashes

Compared to 14 years ago when I started, the success/failure rate for webinars and virtual classroom sessions today is a breeze. Still, when something doesn’t go right, it’s stressful.

Remember: Professionalism isn’t what happens when everything goes right. It’s what happens when everything goes wrong. (click to tweet)

Here are a few thoughts for taking the bumps in stride.

The big picture: Keep it in perspective

Somewhere in the world someone was late to an in-person seminar because of unexpected traffic. Somewhere else a presenter had a projector bulb go out. And a teleconferencing leader had a panelist on a mobile phone that started breaking up.

And nobody died.

As it’s happening: Don’t blame

It’s easy to want to make it “not my fault,” especially when a less-than-understanding boss or client is breathing down your neck. The temptation will be to blame somebody or something. Don’t try to offer an explanation too quickly.

As it’s happening: Do promise an expedient followup

If the whole thing goes south, the only real answer is, “What are we going to do right now?” Note that expedience doesn’t have to mean minutes or hours or even days. Give yourself time to figure out what happened and formulate an appropriate response.

As it’s happening: Start your investigation with “who?”

Who had the issue? Often its one or a few people getting nasty (though their noise raises your hackles, admittedly). Figure out if the issue was isolated to them (likely a personal or local issue) or if it affected everybody. Most of the time it’s the former.

After: Focus your follow-up message on the solution, not the problem

Whether or not you disclose why the crash-and-burn happened is up to you, but be aware that it’s easy to come off sounding like you’re blaming somebody or something.

Focus on what you’re going to do to make it right. Repeat the webinar? Give people their money back? Call attendees individually to give ’em a little additional love? Re-record it and send it out (perhaps rethinking why you promised them a recording to begin with).

After: Write in natural language

I confess a bit of personal bias here, but the last thing I want to read is something that sounds like it got scrubbed by an attorney and a marketing communications person wearing underwear that’s too tight.

Be forthright and talk to me like a human being.

After: Limit the scope of audience

Being forthright doesn’t mean you have to broadcast the fact that you had a clinker to the world. This means that you might only send a follow-up “make good” to those who were in attendance – not everyone who registered.

The big picture: Start a “what if” notebook

You can plan for some things, and you can not plan for some things. A “what if” document, however, is like carrying an emergency kit in your car or having a corporate crisis communications plan. Don’t write a book or try to cover every contingency. Do plan in advance for how you’re going to handle things.

The bottom line: Give yourself a little grace

It’s never fun to have something you worked hard on not go as planned. Dealing with imperfection, though is part of life. Breathe, give yourself a little grace, and remember the very first point: Nobody died.


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