My Tips for Presenting an Online Meetup – experiences from a would-be pro

Lucas Jellema 7

After presenting a three part Online Meetup series to colleagues and a three hour webinar to just over one hundred (or two thousand, I did not actually see any of them) students – and what feels as countless Team Meetings over the last six week – I have started to come up with checklist for myself to make these online presentations go as smoothly as possible. This checklist also helps me to relax more, have more grip and have more fun during the session. I would not consider myself an expert on online presenting, however I am happy to share my experience with you and future me.

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Presenting on line has some distinct disadvantages, that for me used to take all the fun out of it. It is hard to engage with the audience. You cannot gauge their response of your story. You cannot react to facial expressions. You cannot be inspired by someone’s remark to go off on a tangent, tell a humorous story, crack up the audience. You cannot see the grateful looks of eager members of the audience nor  receive their pats on the back, high fives and other tokens of appreciation and adulation. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with reality. Sorry about that. So, presenting online takes away some of the fun. However, it also introduces benefits and opportunities. You cannot see the audience – so you are not distracted by that grumpy person in the first row, or that nose picking person in the back. You cannot see smiles and nods of encouragement, but neither do you see frowns and gestures of derision. You are not annoyed by late comers, bathroom frequenters, coffee spillers and chewing gum chewers.

And you know that the audience does not see you. Sure, they may see the little stamp sized area that shows your moving face, but no one is really paying attention to it – are they? So your eyes are free to inspect speaking notes, go over your slides, check the secondary screen – because you do not use them for making eye contact. Your audience watching a screen the same size as yours – they are not sitting in the back of large room squinting at the screen and yammering for larger font size. You can easily share your screen as is – with text editors, movie clips, IDEs etc all at normal size – without issues with the AV guy in the back who does not have the audio feed plugged in or who forgets to switch between te presentation and your regular laptop signal. You are in control in a familiar environment – not just your laptop but even your very own living room/study/bedroom/garden shed.

Note: The screenshots and terminology is based on Online Webinars using Microsoft Teams. I am sure that most of the article can easily be applied to similar tools.

Prior to the Meetup

Prepare a time schedule – write down how you plan to distribute your content over the available time and keep it available during the session

Find a good location to present from – criteria: strong WiFi signal, comfortable chair, okay lighting, low chance of disturbance (children rushing in, coffee machines or vacuum cleaners being activated)

Test video and audio – ensure that the camera catches you as you want to be caught and test the audio: is the microphone configured correctly to pick up your voice. You may consider testing this with a colleague or friend who perceives you as the audience will. Consider using any kind of microphone close to your mouth rather than the build in microphone of your computer – especially when presenting in a room with an echo (… echo …. echo)

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Close all unrequired applications – especially the ones that may show notifications (email, Skype, Chat clients). In doing so I reduce the distraction for myself – as well as the chance that an email alerts or chat notification makes it into the meetup.

Open all required applications and documents – make sure that all windows, applications, tabs that you will be using for the session are open and have the right context prepared (webpage is loaded, document is open, VM is started, web server is running etc.). If you are going to be doing live polls – open the poll results window. If you are going to have a break or a lab intermission – open a timer window (for example a YouTube clip showing a count down timer or a timer site such as https://www.timeanddate.com/timer/)

10-15 minutes prior to advertised start: start the video meeting, show the title slide of the presentation, play light classical music (or any other music you think is fitting) and share

imagethe (one) screen and the system audio (at this point I keep my microphone muted, lest the early birds catch my whistling and singing along with said music)

Check the box Include system audio to share your computer’s audio with the audience. At this point they will hear the music you’re playing as well as every beep, toot and other sound your system makes.

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Set an appropriate background (either one provided by Microsoft or a custom one that fits with the subject of the meetup or with the organization you represent; see for details for example this article); Click on Apply and turn on video (using that background); position your camera to make you appropriately visible – whatever that means to you

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Copy any instructions or URLs for the attendees to the Meeting’s chat (for example the URL for the Poll that you will use)

Bio-preparation: bathroom stop, get a cup of coffee|tea|water, make yourself comfortable.

Join the meeting on your phone – to be able to see on this secondary device what the attendees will be seeing as well; this helps me spot for example sharing the wrong screen

Start Recording – at the indicated start time. Try to be punctual. There is no real reason to wait for late comers – and you will not be bothered by them if there are any as you won’t see them come in and bumble around to find a seat. However, you would not be polite to people who were on time if you wait beyond the advertised starting time.

Start the Meetup

Stop the music – a real pro makes sure the music comes to a natural end at the start time of the meetup. I am not (yet) that pro.

Start talking – announce the start of the meetup

Stop sharing the screen showing the title slide – and briefly show yourself. Briefly welcome the audience and introduce you and your session. Become a face, a person, before hiding behind the slides and shared screens. This may be a good time for the usual house keeping: please keep your microphone muted, the session is recorded, slides will be available, questions can be asked in the chat and you will [try to] occasionally check; you may invite people to unmute themselves if they want to ask a question if you welcome that kind of interaction.

Back to sharing: if you are only going to show a slide deck, you need to share only the presentation’s window However, if you will be showing multiple windows – slides, your browser, a text editor etc. – then you should share your desktop; that way, anything you do on your computer, in any application window, will be visible to the audience. Read that as a warning too: anything you do on your computer is visible to the audience.

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Check your time schedule and adjust accordingly (skip or add examples, include or leave out a poll or demo, discuss or ignore [selected] chat comments and questions)

Pace yourself When you present to a live audience, the audience’s reactions help you to pace yourself. Puzzled faces, blank stares, incredulous look are all signs that you may have to slow down, repeat something or clarify a statement. Your audience helps you find the right pace (and the lady in the back with sign for 5 minutes tries to do so too).  This of course does not occur in a webinar. You do not get to gauge your audience’s faces. You need to find some other way to pace yourself.

Try to slow down, take short breaks (that will feel like long breaks but are actually quite short and quite welcome to the audience), force yourself occasionally to repeat yourself. Try to vary your tone – nothing as boring as flat, monotonous speech droning on uninterruptedly. Do not be afraid to wander a little and wonder out loud. Or suppose some member of the audience is thinking something: I can hear you say… . Do not shy away from anecdotes (some, not too many) or personal opinions and experiences. Engage your audience by using the dimensions that are at your disposal: your voice – tone, speed & rhythm, choice of words, repetition. A dramatic way to introduce some variation is an intermission of 5-10 minutes (play music during the intermission, show a timer that counts back to the moment you will resume the session).

A slightly less dramatic way to change the pace of your presentation is through the use of videoclips or live demonstrations. Another even more engaging way – that I quite like – is through interactive polls.

Interact with the audience through polls – with larger audiences it is unwieldy to do verbal interaction. Show of hands does not really work so well either (with Teams currently showing no more than four video feeds simultaneously). A useful instrument to interact with the audience and have the audience participate is through the use of polls. A quick poll, multiple choices, live results seems to work quite well. In addition to the energy and break of pace resulting from a poll, a poll may yield useful information as well.

In the past, I have use Kahoot for this purpose. However, it seems that they recently changed their conditions and are now too expensive for my limited set of requirements. I have started to use Direct Poll (https://directpoll.com/) – a free service that allows you to define multiple poll questions that are either single or multi answer and can have one or more good answers. Participants get a URL (or QR code) – I post the URL in the chat of the meeting – to go to a web site where they answer the question. In the Teams Meeting I will share my browser window that shows the live results as people are answering the poll.

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Check Chat window for questions and comments – the chat window is the main channel for your audience to seek interaction with you (especially if you have instructed them to mute themselves). It is only fair that you periodically try to check the chat for new questions and comments and try (time permitting) to go into them – if only briefly or with an invitation to discuss afterwards (only taking the discussion off line as is a common conference expression will not cut it in this era). Try to take a moment to inspect the chat at logical points in your presentation – perhaps even remind yourself and your audience with visual clues on your slides.

End of the Meetup

Thank the audience, refer them to follow up sessions and activities, invite them to provide feedback and to approach you with follow up questions. Point out the availability of additional materials; mention the chat where you will provide instructions for downloading the slides and the session recording. Indicate in case you will be around in the chat or even live (via microphone) for follow-up chatting. Wish the audience a pleasant day and make your final goodbye.

Stop the recording. Microsoft Teams suggests that recordings are uploaded to Streams – companion to Teams – and a to the recording is included in the Teams Meeting chat. For me, this failed on all occasions I recorded a session. However, the recording was available for download from an entry in the meeting chat – in the timeline at the beginning of the session (if a session resulted in lively chatting, you may have to scroll a long way up to find this link – I overlooked it on two occasions)

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The recording can be downloaded as MP4 file that can subsequently be distributed. You can for example add it to the files section of the Teams Meeting – or post it on YouTube.

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Share links to resources in the chat One easy location for resources such as the slides for the session as well as the recording is in the Files section for the Teams meeting. Note: this is accessible to guests only when a host – a user from the organization that owns the Office 365 license – is present in the meeting.

Check the chat for unanswered questions, suggestions, criticism and try to respond – graciously, patiently – to every reaction

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Nice to have

I am sure there are many things that can make life even better when it comes to Online Meetups. A masseur comes to mind. There a few nice to have’s that are a little more realistic. I mentioned DirectPoll – the free service for doing ineractive polls with the audience. If you are located in the US can conduct your sessions in English, then you may use the Live Caption feature in Teams – that provides … well, live captions or subtitling. Two other nice to have I feel I should mention:

Moderator or MC

A Master of Ceremonies is someone who supports you in the background. The moderator can do a number of useful things:

  • alert you of glitches such as “you are still muted, so we cannot here you” (been there), “you are not sharing your screen, so we cannot see your demo” (done that), “start the recording” (yep, that one too)
  • check the chat and take on some questions and alert you of other entries
  • admit guests from the lobby
  • help you with time keeping (and suggest bio breaks)

Ideally the moderator and you have your own backchannel for communications (such as Skype Chat, Slack or some other channel outside of Teams; however, when you are sharing your desktop, the audience will be witness to the backchannel messages. You can consider using a separate device – such as your phone- for these alerts from the moderator.

Timers – for bio-breaks and handson labs

When you suspend your presentation for a period of time – to allow bio-breaks or to have attendees work on labs – you could preserve some unity and retain some control in your session by showing a timer that indicates how long before you will resume your presentation. You can use a timer tool or site or play a YouTube video of a timer. There is choice from many – of various lengths. And – took me a while to realize this – you can of course take a timer movie that is longer than you need it to be and simply skip forward to tailor it to the length you want. The videos typically come with their own sound effects. Alternatively, you can mute the video and play your own music – in the same vein as the music you used at the beginning of the session.

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Resources

DirectPoll – service for interactive polls – https://directpoll.com/ 

YouTube Timer Videos in various durations – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=timers 

Webpage with configurable Timers – https://www.timeanddate.com/timer/

Microsoft Teams – how to set a custom background – https://office365itpros.com/2020/04/06/teams-meeting-background-image/

7 thoughts on “My Tips for Presenting an Online Meetup – experiences from a would-be pro

  1. Another tip:
    Ask the audience to also mute the camera. This reduces the amount of that is data sent to all attendees and may benefit the ones with a small bandwidth connection.

    1. Also:
      – shortcut in MS Teams to fade background: Ctrl-Shift-P
      – no back light (e.g. window behind you)
      – use a desk lamp to light your face. You will look much fresher (and younger 🙂

  2. “And – took me a while to realize this – you can of course take a timer movie that is longer than you need it to be and simply skip forward to tailor it to the length you want.”

    hee hee…. we’ve all been there

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