Some Shortcomings of Live CLE Webcasts

Recently I was on the panel for a live webcast—you know, with panelists joining in by telephone and everyone looking at PowerPoint slides on their screens. I didn’t exactly cover myself with glory. Partway through, the battery on my cordless phone expired—thankfully not while I was speaking. I thought it would be safest to call back in on an ancient landline phone, but it proceeded to emit a howl of antagonized feedback. I found that it dwindled to just an annoying buzz if I retreated from my computer, so I made my main contribution crouched on the floor in the middle of my office, apart from those moments when I darted to my laptop to advance to the next slide. It was with great relief that I switched to cell phone for my final utterances.

As Sartre said, hell is other CLE panelists. This time it was I who was the chump who couldn’t manage to use a phone that worked. But it seems fitting that I should have turned in, it seemed to me, a Bronx cheer of a performance, as I’ve long had reservations about live CLE webcasts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the last one I do for a while.

As a panelist, I feel like I’m speaking into the void—that whatever I say is instantly sucked into deep space. The audience is both there and not there.

And what other panelists have to say might make all the sense in the world, but it just drifts by me. In part, that’s because I’m focused on my contributions. But I think the problem is broader than that. With only audio, you lose the rhetorical cues and invitation to engagement that come with in-person discussion. That’s exacerbated by the improvised nature of most live contributions. So the “live” in “live CLE webcast” just means that it’s not prerecorded. It doesn’t connote engagement—“Live at the Apollo” it ain’t. It’s live but tends to be lifeless.

And needless to say, the shortcomings of live webcasts persist when the recorded version is subsequently accessed on demand.

So live webcasts offer the worst of two worlds. You want information? Read. You want someone to help introduce you to a complex topic? Take in an in-person event.

Since we don’t all have the time, patience, and resources for live in-person CLE, there’s a place for webcasts. But I find prerecorded webcasts superior to the live sort.

For one thing, they somehow manage to be less dead. When Chris Lemens, Glenn West, and I recorded our webcast on confidentiality agreements—available here, at no cost!—it was as if we were having a conversation, albeit a very nerdy conversation. We didn’t have the distraction of a crowd of listeners lurking in the ether.

I feel the same way about the new series of “Drafting Clearer Contracts” webcasts that I’m recording. It’s just me and my script, but I can focus on my performance, if that isn’t too grand a term. My pacing. My intonation.

And recorded webcasts can be more polished. With the new “Drafting Clearer Contracts” webcasts, I can do as many retakes as I want. And I get great audio, compared with audio over the phone or even recorded on my laptop. (I have Osgoode Professional Development to thank for that, as I’m taking advantage of their facilities and their expertise.)

I’m also able to add simple video effects to highlight the text on a given slide. The technology used in live webcasts allows you to do that, but I’m always too focused on what I’m saying to start futzing with the cursor.

And we’re adding some talking-head video clips of yours truly. I’m not suggesting that my ravaged mug is much to look at, but the clips should break the PowerPoint monotony and help convey that a real person is behind the webcast.

Do live webcasts offer anything that prerecorded seminars don’t? Nothing but stumbles and is-this-thing-on glitches. If I’m listening to someone say something but have no way of engaging with them, the fact that it’s live is of no consequence.

Of course, you can ask questions at the end of live webcasts. Well, in addition to running my webcasts on demand, Osgoode Professional Development has occasionally asked me to be available to answer questions after a special running of a webcast. And guys, if you have questions, you don’t have to wait until I make an appearance in a webcast. Instead, just get in touch. I’m alarmingly accessible.

Please note that I’m not criticizing organizations that have hosted live webcasts in which I’ve appeared—they’ve been very professional. And I expect that plenty of people won’t feel as I do—it’s perhaps a matter of taste.

Of course, we know that the guy in the video below certainly wants to Do it live!

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.