Virtual presentations that work
CEOs of Fortune 100 companies are directing their organizations to hold more meetings using electronic conferencing software (eg Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, WebEx). Technical communicators worry that the limitations of the environment will seriously reduce the effectiveness of their presentations. They want to prepare to develop and deliver e-meetings that are engaging, interactive and motivating.
I believe that it is not the medium that creates compelling communication; these are the communication strategies used. Electronic meetings have several inherent disadvantages (eg, lack of visual feedback, more difficult social interaction), but also strengths (eg, the ability to collaborate over long distances, not limited by time). Flexibility and creativity allow technical communicators to duplicate all the benefits of a physical meeting in a virtual meeting.
The following are plenty of ideas that are helpful in organizing virtual meetings.
Start your virtual meeting with a well-thought-out introduction. Introduce yourself and, if time permits, invite participants to introduce themselves. Ask them to share background information, including professional and personal interests and hobbies. Post your photo and, if possible, photos of participants. Use innovative methods to collect and share basic information about participants (eg, matching unique experiences with the appropriate participant).
Survey participants to determine their background and interest in the topic. Use a wide variety of media. These can include animations, background information, current events, cartoons, articles, thought-provoking questions, quotes and stories.
Include the same types of multimedia presentations that you would in a face-to-face presentation. Use different types of media such as text, graphics, animations, video and multimedia presentations, illustrations, diagrams, diagrams, models, audio presentations and concrete objects. Consistently refer to the meeting schedule you presented at the beginning of the presentation and provide summaries of content throughout the session. Present information in short chunks and in a logical flow, changing pace and format every five to six minutes.
Incorporate engaging communication strategies that include:
o Telling stories
o Presentations by guest speakers, which can be virtual
o Case studies
o Discovery training
o Examples and non-examples
o Graphical images
o Tips and cues
o Physical models to represent connections
Support your main ideas with graphics whenever possible. Keep the information simple, especially if you’re using PowerPoint. Be careful with colors, white space, and fonts; limit the use of different fonts and colors.
Tell the participants what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. This should be easy since you have a lot of media to play with. You can set the scene in a multimedia presentation, then introduce the topic through a whiteboard presentation, and finally review the topic in a discussion using a chat or poll feature.
Allow participants to download documents instead of handing them out. Be sure to use PDF files as they display and print more predictably than other document formats. Use the whiteboard as you would a flipchart. Point, mark, draw and annotate on the whiteboard. Refer to websites and other resources; use them as valuable sources of information, references and practice materials. Presenting information from another perspective (eg customer, competitor, user and engineer). Anticipate and prepare for participant questions. Build job aids that distill relevant information.
Use case studies related to real-life situations. Ask participants to research the controversial issues. Ask participants to share their own experiences related to the content.
Show photos or video presentations of important parts of demonstrations and use drawing and text tools to highlight and annotate. Use screen sharing to demonstrate computer applications and drawing tools to label and highlight sections of the screen. Choose examples and activities that reflect the setting in which participants will apply their new skills.
Include practice to maintain involvement and interest. Divide participants into groups and ask them to collaborate on specific tasks. Group size should be no more than four participants. Assign and change roles within each group to ensure sharing and collaboration. If applicable, synthesize activities completed outside the meeting. Encourage lively presentations of no more than five minutes. Encourage participants to use the whiteboard. Use case studies, role plays, and simulations that mimic real-life activities.
If participants cannot interact with real systems, provide links to training databases or test sites. Show the screens to participants if you want them to demonstrate using apps or share information as part of interactive demonstrations or exercises.
Inciting and managing discussions
Open discussions with provocative commentary. Seed ideas by asking a leading question on the whiteboard or in a chat window. Conduct structured discussions by including a suggested discussion plan. Keep the discussion flowing in the course by clarifying the topic of the discussion and the topics you expect to cover. Manage discussions carefully. Use the microphone, whiteboard, chat window or email as a medium in the discussion. Give learners “interesting” roles during discussions. Always close discussions by restating the goals of the discussion, summarizing the results, and indicating how the results relate to the next topic.
Assessing participant engagement
Use frequent survey questions to check understanding, wake up participants, determine their level of engagement, or determine where participants stand on specific issues. Ask questions that are clear, relevant, short and challenging. Use the polling feature to ask true/false or multiple choice questions and see how many participants chose each choice. You can keep these results for yourself or share them with all participants. Include questions with a level of difficulty that matches the level of the audience. Avoid feedback that is short or abrupt. Participants may interpret such feedback as angry. Have groups use materials and assessment tools located in a shared folder to complete exercises in the basket (eg, performing customer service transactions in different situations).
Development and implementation of exciting and motivating activities
Create constructive conflict or “creative erasure” by:
o Asking guiding questions
o Presenting other points of view
o Explore the content in a new context (eg in George Orwell’s The Farm, the author uses the metaphor of a farm to illustrate the dangers of unbridled capitalism)
Get positive results out of difficult situations by:
o Directing the question to the group
o Asking the group for solutions or methods of finding solutions
o Calling on specific participants to help
Build tension by creating activities (eg discussions, games) where the outcomes are not predictable. Also feel free to change the rules while the activities are still in progress. Do this by using chats, selective emails, and multiple shared folders to give different groups different rules and instructions.
Encourage participant collaboration by creating group activities. Allow groups to communicate through chat areas or emails. If you’re brave, you can have groups set up their own virtual meetings to work together. Be sure to designate a leader for each group.
Good luck and enjoy!
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