The recent bad weather may have prevented quite a few speakers from reaching their events, not to mention audience members. However, where there are tools to amplify and event beyond the venue’s walls and out to a wider audience, there are also tools to bring a snow-stranded speaker into those walls.
Whilst the tools are there and often free and easy to use on a personal basis, I have seen event organisers struggle to facilitate a remote presentation to a large physical audience in a professional way. Although my emphasis as an event amplifier is normally on the outbound message (including live streaming), here are my tips for getting the inbound message across clearly if the worst happens and your speaker cannot make it….
1. Know your technology
There are different tools available, such as Skype, GoToMeeting and a whole host of others. Familiarise yourself with your preferred tool and write some instructions so that you can talk your speaker through any issues. You are facilitating, so you need to know the tool. Don’t rely on a tool which your speaker claims to know, but of which you have no practical experience yourself.
2. Check the bandwidth
Do this both before the event and when your audience has arrived with all their smart phones and other wifi enabled paraphernalia. You can use http://speed.io to test your speed. Get your speaker to check the speed at their end too. Check the website of the tool you are using to find out what the optimum upload and download speeds are for that tool.
3. Hardwire your internet connection
No matter how good your venue claims their wifi to be, always ask for a wired internet connection. We do this when we are live streaming out from a conference and it makes such a difference. The hardwired connection will be far more reliable, particularly if you have an audience with lots of wireless enabled devices. Even if they don’t, other people elsewhere inside or outside the venue may be using the wifi.
4. Keep the amount if data involved to a minimum
Rather than screen sharing with your speaker, make sure you have a local copy of their slides and control these on their behalf so only their voice or video is being transmitted via the internet connection. This will reduce the amount of data involved and make the line more reliable.
5. Have a backup plan
As the old adage goes: fail to plan, plan to fail. Things can and will go wrong. The only time this will be a problem is the time when you have not got a backup plan.
Make sure you have a telephone number for your speaker and an appropriate microphone so you can call them and amplify their voice via the traditional phone line, if necessary. This may sound a bit tinny, and can be expensive if you are calling internationally from a mobile telephone. However, it is a quick way of making sure the presentation can continue with minimum disruption for your audience.
Failing that, ask your speaker to provide a video or audio recording of their presentation in advance so that you can present this or switch to it quickly if the connection is poor. Make sure you have an instant messaging service, twitter ID or a telephone number so the speaker can take live questions from the audience at the end to ensure that they get the full benefit of the presentation.
It is always good to have a mobile broadband dongle on hand as an additional backup. Whilst this might not have a strong enough signal to support a video call, it will help you to get online if your venue’s internet connection drops entirely.
6. Check your sound
If your speaker is going to take questions, make sure they can hear the audience as well as the audience can hear them.
7. Agree a protocol
A speaker who is presenting remotely will not be able to see your usual cues to aid their time keeping. Agree a protocol in advance so that you can manage their session and communicate with them if there are any problems with the quality of the connection. It is best to do this via text rather than shouting over them to interrupt. Remember that there will be a slight time delay. If you are moving on slides for your speaker, agree a protocol or rehearse beforehand to make sure this is slick and does not get in the way of your audience’s enjoyment of the presentation.
8. Remember to shut everything else down
Don’t leave your email or Twitter or superfluous internet browser windows open. These will not only divert bandwidth, but they could also pop up messages or make alert sounds at inopportune moments. If you are using Skype, don’t just mark yourself as busy – add a “mood message” to emphasise to your other Skype contacts that you are facilitating an event and should not be contacted. You really don’t want friends, family or colleagues popping up to get your attention whilst your speaker is presenting.
9. Manage the your speaker
Just because they were not there for the sound check or the pre-event briefing does not mean that you should not make an effort to manage your speaker and ensure the quality of their presentation. Provide advice beforehand about effective ways of structuring a remote presentation – including allowing pauses to minimise the impact of any buffering issues and taking questions at set times. Some speakers ask the audience to shout out questions as they go along, which is fine during a live presentation, but won’t work as effectively for a remote presentation due to the time delay. If you know what your speaker intends to do, you can make sure in advance that this will work.
10. Don’t panic
Stay calm and make sure you are properly resourced. One person should be dealing with the technical aspect of facilitating the presentation, whilst another should be chairing the session for the audience.
I am sure there are other great tips out there too, so please feel free to comment if you have any practical experiences or useful tools that may help event organisers to facilitate remote presentations more effectively.
Photo Credit: Freefoto.com.
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