TagWebEx

Operational!

We are having some Webex issues today and I went to the status site to see if anything was reported. I pulled up status.webex.com and I am greeted by this guy.

Picture of a man in a green shirt behind a laptop with a green check above his open hand and the text Al Systems are Go! Webex is running smoothly with no issues.
Webex status man.

Now where have I seen this before…?

A woman sitting on a sofa in front of a wall with large letters saying Welcome! Everything is fine.
THE GOOD PLACE — “Everything Is Fine” Episode 101– Pictured: Kristen Bell as Eleanor — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

How to Improve Training

I had a long talk with a co-worker today about training for WebEx. There are training classes being offered and a need for people to take training based on the calls to our help desk. However, people are not signing up for the training sessions. He wanted to pick my brain to see if I had any ideas on what they could do to encourage more people to attend training.

I wish I had recorded what I told him since I was overflowing with ideas, having given this a lot of thought in my former job when I was a team of one and had to streamline my training efforts and education to a large user community.

The ideas here are about training adults to use WebEx in a government environment. But many of these ideas can be tweaked and applied to your own user community.

Find Your Allies

Somewhere in your organization people know who needs training. If you’re at a loss where to begin, start with managers or team leaders. They’ll know who could use training because they need the help or can find power users who want training. In many groups there’s a go-to person for, in this case, WebEx. They’re the unofficial support person and person everyone relies on for help.

They’re also a valuable source of information. They can tell you where they struggle and what trips people up. Is training unclear on a topic? Is that topic missed in the training? Does the training reflect reality?

Finding these power users and getting an email correspondence going, or sitting down for a 15 minute call or meeting can teach you more about what you need to be doing than weeks of struggling on your own. Everyone uses WebEx differently.

When I schedule training with a group of users, the first thing I try to find out is how do you use the tool? Because everyone uses it differently depending on their job. An Administrative Assistant scheduling for an Executive is going to use it very differently from an A/V Support professional managing a large meeting space.

Find the Pain Points

Everyone struggles with technology. The secret to better training is to find where people struggle then lessen their struggle. Talk to your super users. Talk to your new hires. A fresh set of eyes can help spot a problem you’ve overlooked because you’re so familiar with the system and its quirks.

Do you know it can take up to 24 hours for a recorded WebEx session to become available to the host? Or that certain elements such as the Multimedia Panel are not captured in the WebEx recording? What about the audio solution(s) available? Do they have the same attendee limit as your WebEx system or will you need multiple options to reach capacity? Can you accommodate international participants?

People try to help themselves before calling for help. Make sure all available documentation is up to date. Especially in large organizations, information can get siloed into different places. There may be a set of documents on an Intranet site. A SharePoint site may contain a different version of those documents. Got a Wiki? Well, those may be different as well. Be sure you’re telling everyone the same thing.

I’ve walked into situations where I had a user tell me there was a set of documentation they used I never knew existed before that moment. It’s good to get a handle on what is available to your user community. If you need to, ask them. If someone tells you “that’s not what the documentation here says”, ask them where they’re looking and get it updated or corrected.

Schedule Conflicts and Geography

Live trainings are great. There’s no better experience than being in the room with a trainer and learning in person. That may sound weird coming from someone who supports and lives in WebEx, Jabber, Lync and other collaboration technologies all day. But I still feel there’s no better way to learn something new than sitting in the room where you can look the trainer in the eye and ask questions.

That’s a perfect world. For many people, they’re never going to get into the room with the trainer. Even if the training is offered remotely through WebEx, GoToMeeting or another tool. There are still some people who will never make it to a training session.

Geography plays a big role in large organizations. Do not schedule an 8am training in Washington, DC if you expect your Seattle office to join. It’s 5am there! The problem is only compounded if you are catering to an international audience.

Even without geographical constraints, there are people in the same building who will never make a live (or online) training due to their job. Remember those Administrative Assistants? They may have a hard time blocking an hour of their time to better learn a tool they use daily, because it’s not directly part of their job. Anyone who works phone support may not be able to leave that phone. And there are still others who will simply have conflicts of all sorts during the scheduled training times.

On-Demand Content

The solution for these folks is to create content for them to consume on their schedule. Are you holding a training class? Record it with WebEx or another tool and make the recording available? Create documentation (and I am not talking about the slide deck from the training class.) Create documents that stand on their own and do not need a presenter to explain their contents.

Even more valuable than a recorded live session if you’re able to manage it, is to record a session with the trainer without a live audience that is just the content. While question can be helpful in a live session, there can also be interruptions, audio issues and other distractions which detract from the content that make it frustrating to watch.

If the user has set aside time specifically to learn this content, make that content as valuable as possible. Cut out the 15 minute introduction before the presenter gets started. If there a break for a group activity in the training? Edit that out. It’s easy to take a recording of a live session and put it online for those who could not attend to watch. But there is often a large amount of dead air while people work in groups or take bathroom breaks.

The person watching the session doesn’t need to spend an hour on a recording that only has 35 minutes of actual training. Respect their time.

Target a specific group

Targeting a specific group can be useful if you’re trying to improve your training for the organization at-large or simply want to offer better training to that community. A couple of groups I identified as good places to start for WebEx are:

  • Administrative Assistants
  • Trainers
  • Help Desk
  • A/V Support
  • WebEx Support Group

In your organization, there are people who use and interact with your tool differently. By identifying them, you’ll see weak spots in your information or training you never knew existed. It’s important to talk to people with all varying levels of comfort with the tool.

Since WebEx training is my example, here is how I would target these groups to better serve them.

  • Administrative Assistants

They’re going to see weird edge cases. Executives are going to have mobile devices and different models of hardware than many other users. If there’s an incompatibility in a product, they are going to find it.

This is also a group who lives in other people’s calendars and email all day long. They’re my experts on how WebEx works in Outlook when scheduling for another user. They do this all day. They’ll know where the shortcomings are and where the system breaks down.

  • Trainers

Other trainers are a valuable resource. Especially in my field since WebEx is our tool for meetings, it’s often used for trainings as well. Ask other trainers where they struggle. Find out what questions they have or where people who attend their trainings have problems.

They’re a group who is already focused on teaching skills to other people and they’ll have their own outlook on the tools they use to do the work.

  • Help Desk / WebEx Support / A/V Support Staffs

I’m lucky enough to work in a place with a dedicated WebEx Support group. Your Help Desk may be the catch-all for all things broken. These people are a treasure trove of information about problems in the organization. No matter what you want to train people on, your Help Desk has information you need.

Who else talks to the user community every single day? There are always people within your help desk who are anxious and willing to share what they know with you. (And many times, nobody is asking them.) It’s a resource that gets overlooked. Anything the help desk staff is able to teach you about training or supporting your users will in turn help them out.

The fewer calls they get, they more time they have to focus on other problems. If there’s a recurring issue with your application, the help desk will know about it (and will be cursing your name as they field their 100th call for the week about it.)

Talk to your support staff, open a dialog with members of the team, or work with the help desk managers. They will be able to find members of the help desk who will be able to help with providing ongoing information to make your training better and lessen their workload.

Vary Training Topics

Often times, there’s a perceived need to offer the same introductory training all the time. There are always new hires to your organization or people new to your particular application. While there is value in getting those people introduced to the tool, you lose everyone else.

Remember those power users? They’ll never attend your training because they know how to use the tool. They want to use the tool better. Even people who are not power users, but want to learn more will not repeat the same training over and over. But if give them a reason to come back, they will.

I gave a couple of examples of how you could vary the schedule for a weekly WebEx training session. There are three different “Centers” in WebEx. They each have a purpose and a feature set which makes them stronger in some scenarios than others.

The Meeting Center is for meetings. Imagine everyone around a conference room table. Everyone has the same privileges and there’s no hierarchy of control.

The Event Center is for events. This allows a set of panelists to have greater rights such as an open phone line and share their webcams with a large number of attendees who are muted and unable to share video.

The Training Center offers features for training such as the ability to virtually break a single conference phone line into multiple groups for smaller discussions.

There is more than enough content to cover each of these centers in an hour-long session. There are the first three weeks of your month. Each week, a different topic. For the fourth week, offer a deep-dive into a specific topic.

How does closed captioning work? Tell me everything I need to know about recording, converting and sharing my meeting. How could I manage large events better? Hold a session for the 10 Tips to Make Your WebEx Better! Open the time for a Q&A session where anyone can join to ask questions and either answer them on the spot or follow-up in a later session. (You just got your next session’s content!)

Create a calendar

For WebEx, it’s easy to cycles through those 3 centers on a monthly of bi-monthly basis. Then fill in the weeks in between with special sessions into a single topic. It’s just as important to tell people ahead of time what to expect and when. I may not care about Training Center because I’ll never use it, but Event Center sounds like it will solve my problems with attendees unmuting their phones and talking in a meeting with 350 people.

This is also a perfect opportunity to see what new features or changes are coming and work those into your training before they happen. People hate change. Especially if it’s a tool they’ve come to rely on and have developed muscle memory about how it works and where menus are. Even for something as simple as an interface change, that could be enough to focus on for an entire session.

The idea with offering different content is to reach the greatest number of users. So make a calendar and publicize that calendar. Make sure people know what is coming up. Take note of what popular topics are and what few people use. Then change-up your schedule or training accordingly.

Listen and Learn

Every time I host a training, I always learn something new. I see a new problem no one ever reports to our support group. I learn a new way to use the tool I had never considered (because everyone uses tools for different things). I learn where my flaws in training are and how to improve them.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your training, take the time to look and listen for feedback. Offer multiple ways to provide feedback. Host an open Q&A for the people who want to come to a room and meet in person. Provide your phone number for those who prefer the phone. Give your email for those who think best in text.

Your user community is a valuable resource and can give you everything you need to make their lives easier. Your task is to find those people and groups who will help you succeed. Once you start looking, they’ll start coming to you.

Service Smiles – Share What You Know

Share What You Know!

This is the biggest lesson I was reminded of this week. Despite being new to my team, I was able to step in and share some things I had learned.

Using Partial playback to crop a WebEx recording

First, did you know you can edit a WebEx recording straight from the server before downloading it? It only works if you need to crop out the front of back of a recording, but it works.

Access the My Files then My Recordings tab
Once you’re logged into WebEx:
1. Click on My WebEx on the top navigation bar.
2. Click on My Files on the left-side.
3. Click the My Recordings tab.
4. Click the meeting name under Topic you wish to edit.

Click the Modify button
5. Click the Modify button on the lower left under the meeting links.

Select the Partial playback option and select the time codes.
6. Scroll down and select the Partial playback option.
7. Select the Start and End time codes.

Note: This works best if you download the original file before making changes and make a note of how much you want to crop off the front and back of the file. You cannot edit in the middle of the file using this method. You can only crop time from the front and/or back of the recording.

WebEx has a 250MB upload limit on files

Second, WebEx has a 250MB limit on the file size which can be uploaded to the server. This is not documented anywhere in the site’s settings. Nor is it available in the manuals. I learned this the hard way when I downloaded a recording, converted it to .mp4 and tried to upload it again. Instead of a helpful error message, I was met with this:

Unhelpful error message

I tried many times with different browsers before I gave up and called support. Even then it took them some time to find an answer and get back to me. But at least they were able to verify the limit so I could look for other ways to deliver larger files to my customers.

In both instances, I found this information from asking our vendor about the exact problems I was having. First, I needed to edit a native .arf file from WebEx and Cisco provides no tool for this. Second, I was trying to upload a large recorded meeting I had converted to .mp4 back to the WebEx server. If I had not run into these situations, I may not have ever learned this. But I did and was able to share them with my team.

Share what you know. It makes you a better technician. It empowers your team to offer better answers and delights your customers.

Special Bonus Tip

Make your customer laugh by deviating from what they expect. There’s a lot of way to deliver the same message. Your account is unlocked. Your password is… Here is what I’ve done for you. You say the same phrases over and over until you get tired of saying them. So switch it up. No one’s forcing you to be a broken record.

Today, I told a customer: “Your old password is Green123 and your new password is whatever your heart desires.”
She giggled and said she hadn’t heard that one before. I smiled. Another small win for the day.

Not everyday is a success

I pride myself on success. I want every event I lay my hands on to be a success. But some days, you lose. This is one of those days.

Just as every win is made up of all the parts going right, a loss is made up of parts going wrong.

Here’s what went wrong today.

Unclear Information

First, there was unclear information available on the Intranet. This information led to an event being created and overbooked. The site can support 200 people and over 500 registered.

I found this out the day before the event was scheduled to start. In an effort to avoid disaster, I worked with the organizer to set up the event on a site that can accommodate 1,000 people.

Even with 500 registrants, my rule of thumb is about 3/4 at most actually take part. So the new site was setup, but this meant new information had to be sent to the 500+ registrants late in the day before the event.

I was able to get the registration list from the organizer and reformat it to import the list into WebEx. When I setup the event, I had WebEx send all of them an updated invitation to the event.

In addition, another email went out advising everyone of the change in web link. I also answered about a dozen emails from people who understandably had questions.

350 People on a Party Line

Second, due to the event’s size, the organizer had booked a phone line to handle the large number of people. I didn’t think anything of it, as I’ve worked with this group before and they knew what they were doing.

The moment the event started, I knew we were in trouble. I was hearing people. A lot of people.

The large phone line should have been booked to allow anyone with a Host code to speak, but to set everyone who dialed in with an Attendee Code to Listen-Only mode. I should not have heard anyone but the presenter.

I heard everyone. And everyone heard everyone else. What happened next was 20 minutes of:

  • Babies crying
  • Hold music
  • People talking over each other
  • People yelling at those people to be quiet
  • People asking everyone to mute their phones

It was a disaster. There’s no civil way to handle 350 people on an open phone line. We were handling questions over a text-chat in WebEx so there was no need to have the attendees be audible.

We got an operator on the line and she informed me she could not mute the participants as it was not setup for her to do so. She pleaded with the mob to mute their lines as well. And most people did. She was able to silence some hold music from two lines and find a line causing static.

So eventually the presentation began, 25 minutes after it was scheduled.

Poor Planning

Third, there was poor planning between myself and the person presenting. I should have contacted them beforehand and made sure they were comfortable with what they needed to do. I should also have reminded them about a bug with our WebEx setup cause by a Microsoft Patch which broke Application Sharing.

I did not. And they tried to share the PowerPoint slides, a new wave of I can’t see. Can you? and “Where are the slides, all I can see if a green screen? Is something wrong? Along with the people who knew what needed to be done providing advice.

Meanwhile, in an effort not to talk over the people on the line, I had emailed the organizer and was using the WebEx chat to relay instructions on how to solve this problem.

The presenter did figure it out shortly and shared the slides by uploading them straight to WebEx and the event could begin.

Timeliness

The organizer gave me the name of the person who I would turn the event over to. We agreed to get dialed in no later than 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.

I started the event 20 minutes before the start time and waited. And waited. 20 attendees. 50 attendees. 100 attendees.

I emailed the two contacts I had, including the person I was supposed to turn the event over to, no response, which didn’t surprise me since they were preparing for the event.

Finally the presenter logs in, about five minutes before the event was set to begin. There were over 150 people on the line when she did. Any hope I had of talking things over with her were already drowned out by the people having problems.

I tell everyone I work with to give themselves extra time before their event. And if they’re unsure of any part of anything, to allow even more time. There are a lot of things we can do to troubleshoot an event, but the options narrow drastically without time.

I made too many assumptions.

I do this all the time. I spend my days planning, scheduling and supporting events and meetings. I forgot about all the things I know and take for granted.

I assumed a level of knowledge that wasn’t there. I assumed I didn’t need to remind the organizers of certain things. I should have.

This failing was a group effort. Though the event did eventually started and the people on the phone quieted down. There was some great information shared and good questions asked.

So in the end, the event did take place and did end somewhat successfully. But it wasn’t something I want to replicate.

Fixes

I’ve gone over what went wrong. Now here’s what I did the prevent this from happening again.

  • I located and updated the information on the Intranet which gave unclear information.

The information was all correct, but it was unclear and I saw how people were assuming they could host large events themselves. I rewrote part of the page to make it crystal clear how to requested a large event and who to contact in for scheduling and help.

  • Next time I work with someone to book a large phone line, I will make sure they’ve set it up as an Operator-Assisted call.

This gives us the benefit of having Host codes that presenters can dial-in with to discuss and plan the event prior to the start. This also allows us to mute all attendees by default. If the organizer wants to have a verbal Q&A session, it can be conducted with the operator managing the phone lines and opening lines upon request and muting them again.

It’s how we’ve setup other large events and it works very well to keep the event quiet, focused and without the crying babies and hold music.

  • I won’t assume the presenters or organizers know what I know. I will review with them best practices and stress the importance of showing up early.

I need to be more proactive. I need to remember to approach every event as if its my first one. I need to look at it with fresh, beginner eyes and not assume things or overlook details. With a little extra planning and if I had been more proactive, this meeting could have been more successful than it was.

Did you know remote meetings can be good?

Do you hate meetings that run like this? Do you know there’s a way to fix every technical problem in this video?

Are you an aspiring event planner?
Do you consider every detail?
Do you anticipate what’s needed before the organizer knows?
Are you patient?
Are you comfortable working in front of crowds?
Do you sweat the details?
Do you take pride in your work?
Are you OK with doing a great job, mostly anonymously?
Will you do what you need to do to get the job done and make a great event?

Are you reasonably technical and can work with such cutting-edge technologies as:
– Telephones
– The Internet
– Microphones
– Speakers
– WebEx
– E-mail

Are you eligible to work in the US?
Can you tolerate sitting near me for up to 8 hours every weekday?

Then you too could be a WebEx Support Specialist for the US Department of Labor! APPLY TODAY!

Seriously, our contract changed hands and there is another WebEx Support position to fill. You’d be working with me (perk or punishment depending on your outlook). You’d be setting up WebEx events large and small, answering questions about WebEx capabilities and assisting in planning large events.

If you’re interested, let me know. E-mail me at peroty@gmail.com. This is a real job we’re trying to fill.

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