Thursday, 28 March 2013

In cyberspace, no-one can hear you scream (or snore)

Andy Osborne
Consultancy Director, Acumen
Author of Practical Business
Continuity Management
On Friday I presented a webinar, on scenario-based exercising, as part of the Business Continuity Institute's Business Continuity Awareness Week 2013. And I have to tell you, it was one of the most nerve-wracking things I've done for a long time. 
 
Which is a bit bizarre, really, as I do presentations all the time, to audiences of various sizes (that's numbers of people, as opposed to body mass). I'll admit that there are often a few butterflies just before the start, but nothing particularly serious. 
 
The difference with this one was the strangeness of it all. I was effectively presenting to an empty room and it felt like I was talking to myself - into my 'phone but with no-one on the other end. Except I wasn't, because there was quite a decent sized audience out there, somewhere. All I knew was that there were 76 of them. I only knew that because there was a little green "76" on my computer screen. I didn't know who they were, what they looked like, where they were, why they were listening or what they were expecting.
 
The strangest thing was the absence of any feedback (aside from the online polls I did in an attempt to discover some small snippet of information about the audience). I didn't have the faintest idea whether people were nodding in agreement, smiling, shaking their heads, falling asleep, going off to make a cup of tea or checking their e-mails (heaven forbid). All I could see was that little green number telling me that 76 people were at least still logged in and all I could hear was a deafening silence on the other end of the line.  It was very disconcerting for someone who likes to see the whites of his audience's eyes.
 
It didn't help that, having logged in, as instructed, well in advance of the start time, the webinar system then insisted on telling me, every minute, via one of those awful "press one to be ignored for a bit longer" recorded voices, how long was left until show time, followed by a final countdown that did nothing to ease my pre-match nerves. 
 
Then there was the system itself. I'd had a trial run - which was just as well really as when I tried it with a headset the sound quality was awful and I had to revert to the 'phone's handset. Which meant I couldn't move further than the length of its cable, and that severely curtailed my usual habit of going for a bit of a wander when I'm presenting. And some of the system's features weren't available on the test site so I was learning as I went along on the day. All in all I found it just a teeny bit unnerving. I was out of my comfort zone, I suppose. 
 
I ended up standing up for most of the session, adopting a sort of 1960s horror film manservant hunch over my computer screen and mouse, along with a sort of side-to-side shamble. So it's just as well my audience couldn’t see me either. But, after a bit of a wobbly start, I got my act together, my nerves settled and I got on with the job in hand. In the end I received a pretty decent score, along with some very complimentary comments, so it can't have been that bad - it just felt like it to me at the time.
 
Afterwards I couldn't help thinking that there were some parallels with exercising and testing our business continuity capability, which was the topic of the webinar.

 
Because it's not unusual for exercise participants to stumble around a bit at the start, as they often don't know what to expect beforehand. But they usually get into their stride after a while and, by the end of the session are working quite well. 
 
Sometimes the participants are operating outside of their comfort zone, which can be a bit unnerving until they get used to things. 
 
Different situations often require different skills or different approaches to those that we're used to. For instance, crisis or incident management isn't the same as normal day-to-day management, and business recovery is often quite different to business as usual. 
 
The more we can make our exercises like the real thing, the more prepared we'll be for it. If the first time you've tried something is when you're doing it for real, with the pressure well and truly on, you're unlikely to perform as well as if you'd practised it thoroughly beforehand. 
 
The whole reason that we exercise and test and practise and rehearse is to give us a fighting chance of getting it somewhere near right on the day. 
 
My first foray into the weird world of the webinar was an "interesting" experience. I think I got away with it, but I guess that's not for me to say - have a listen and let me know what you think.  Having now been through it once I'm sure the next time will be much slicker - assuming, of course, that I'm invited back for another go!  
 


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