I recently felt like this wistful gal during a recent online seminar- isolated, lonely, and wishing to go outside and play. With nose-diving budgets and more work moving online, it’s time to raise the bar on how we run online events.
Like a horrendously designed PowerPoint, no one sets out with a plan of creating a deadly dull online seminar, but they seem to happen often enough. Frankly, since the first kinds I recall seeing in the late 1990s, even with new software, little seems to change and the form feels as tired as a lecture on fungi:
- Speakers talking non stop over long series of slides; which geometrically and via audio dominate the environment,
- Audience participants are marginalized to passively listening or ignoring the content while they fritter away on a small text chat area. Or they leave themselves logged in while they go outside to wash their car or check the weather.
I am not writing this like I have all the answers or to ridicule the efforts of others, but I have organized more than a few of these, and wish to share just my ideas based on that experience. There are guaranteed more ideas out there or more people that know more than me.
The session I attended was hosted in GoToMeeting (or technically GoToWebinar) which has been around a long time; I’ve only used it before to do a small conference meeting with a vendor showing me a product. And it is very likely the limitations I saw were more an issue of the convener struggling with the meeting options, but the result was not very conducive
So if you want to run a really deadly online seminar, and don;t know how to do that, here are some pointers.
- Make it hard to even get inside. Maybe it was vestigal issues with my now upgraded Firefox 3.0, but every link I tried to access the meeting for both a preview and the day off, failed to load the java client, and kept bopping me to a FAQ page where there was a link to “join meeting”, resulting in an endless circle. I got in fine in Safari.
Technically I understand why there is a big handoff for these Java based apps, but in Elluminate I hate ending up littering my desktop with meeting.jnlp files and no matter how many times I tell Elluminate I trust them, I have to click through a dialog box.
This is minor, but it puts a speed bump into my experience.
- Don’t let your participants know who else is there. This meeting I was in there was a box to list participants, but all it had as a number at the top .Talk about isolation, not being able to see who else was in the shared space was so isolating. Does anyone get what the “social” part of social software is about? People, relationships, proximity.
- Make it hard or impossible for the audience to communicate with each other. This seminar was set up with a common set of tools I see also in Connect. Rather than having an open chat area for free flowing conversation, it has a question box- participants can enter questions but no other participants can see them, instead, they are queued to a moderator who is supposed to respond in an orderly fashion. It is audience filtering.
This may seem logical in some sort of flow chart instructional design world of arrows and boxes, but is a killer for the audience experience, and layers even more isolation on the experience,
I never use these tools in my seminars. I leave an open chat because my audience are adults who can engage in conversations, answer questions, etc, without some hall monitor filtering their voices.
- Don’t greet the audience or make them feel welcome. I got into this session 15 minutes before it started, and there was no chat message, no welcome screen (the presenters were flipping slides), and on one greeted or welcomed the audience. In fact, all I could hear on the audio was someone keyboarding, probably IM-ing or tweeting. Another layer of isolation for this deadly seminar cake.
This is so easily managed, do I really have to spell it out?
For our online events, I try to be the first one in the room. As people arrive, I greet them in text or voice, if I know them I can see something in reference to what I know, if not I can extend a welcome message. Also (and I stole this idea from EDUCAUSE) because often people cannot tell if their audio works, I play a track of audio as background music- I play from a 30 minute collection of music from open content sources.
What you want to avoid is the enemy of radio- dead air.
Once there is a group of people, I may ask them to respond in chat to a simple question like, “introduce yourself and let us know where you are from?” or “How about letting us know what you see from where you are sitting now.” or “I just finished lunch and had a turkey sandwich- what is in your lunch plans?”
I learned so much about this from Johnathan Finkelstein’s Learning in Real Time (book and web site), especially a portion that compared running an online event to hosting a dinner party. In his work I have seen at LearningTimes, Jonathan is not only a virtuoso in hosting, he is an expert at using the technology well to have people be actively engaged.
Get the book now if you do real time events. And want them to be of the non deadly variety.
- Ignore your audience, make ’em wait til you fill the hour with your voice, do not involve them at all. Most online sessions are so focused on moving through a slide deck, they marginalize people to some 3 minute Q&A after the allotted time has ended. If you want an audience, interact with them. break up the presentation. Create an activity. Let someone from the audience lead the show. Use a game, a tool, a survey, a whiteboard.
I am sure there are more ways to be deadly, but I hope you see my point.
Just like classroom lectures, there are a minority of people that can be enaging, interesting, in an online monologue mode, but most of us are not. An online seminar is a different venue than an in person audience, and we ought to be taking advantage of what the environments provide, not shoe horning old presentation modes into new boxes.
Frankly the slide flipping presentations with marginalized audiences just about bore me from the start.
As much as people can scoff or say “harrumph” at Second Life, over at NMC we have been running our online conferences in a virtual world space for almost 2 years, and can see categorically (and have feedback collected) that the amount of social engagement feels an order of magnitude higher because, even with the cheesy graphics, there is a real social presence that happens there, In a web based seminar, as soon as a session ends (or before) people peel off and log off– at our virtual world events, people linger, share, converse between the sessions. They engage in informal session just be virtue of being social.
The amount of social interaction in a narrow marigin chat window on the side of slides is extremely limited.
We can do better.
Unless… you really want to be deadly, then you have at least my 5 tips.
Bonus Update! Five ways not enough? A new one is to sign up people who log into your seminar to an email list! People love getting unsolicited sales materials!
The post "Five Ways to Run a Deadly Online Seminar" was originally squeezed out of the bottom of an old rusted tube of toothpaste at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2009/07/deadly-online-seminar/) on July 6, 2009.