Best practices for presenting a workshop via Skype?
February 23, 2018 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I have a two-hour workshop I teach on Topic, which I'm an expert in. I'm a great presenter, the workshop is always fun, and I get great feedback. Now, for the first time, I'm going to be delivering this via Skype. What do I need to know about teaching in this manner?

The workshop consists of:
-- about 45 minutes of me speaking
-- an activity where I give the attendees a handout and then they have about 5-10 minutes to work on it silently
-- then we review it together, so there should be back & forth dialogue between me and the attendees
-- then I talk for about 10 minutes more
-- then a Q&A

I've got a MacBook Air with Skype installed. I'll talk to the organizer and make sure I know anything they need me to beforehand. But...what are the best practices for presenting in this way? Where should I sit in my house? I know enough to banish my kid and turn off my phone. What else?

What if I wake up that morning and my internet is down? Uh...what else am I not thinking of?
posted by BlahLaLa to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
  • Use some kind of headset if you can—it will be much much easier for people to understand you than if you try to make do with the built-in mic. Don't worry about what headset, anything will do. The earbuds that come with an iPhone and have a mic on the cord are miles better than using the built-in mic.
  • Between latency and the limited field of view from the camera, videoconferencing messes with the timing and non-verbal cues that allow conversation to flow naturally with biggish groups of people, so I strongly recommend explicitly asking for raised hands (or something similar, maybe people can queue in the chat when they want to talk) and calling on people during the dialogue parts.
  • Will all of the workshop participants be in one room together, or will people be dialing in separately? It's sub-optimal for dialogue if everyone is in the same room except you. People will have cross-talk too quickly for you to jump in, you will not be able to hear people well unless they are right next to the mic and talking into it, and when you can hear them it will be hard to know who's talking. Be prepared for that if it can't be avoided.
  • Everyone should mute when they're not talking. Mics will pick up noises that don't seem loud and make them sound very loud on the other end—things like headset cords rustling against clothing, people tapping desks or surfaces, typing sounds, etc.

posted by enn at 1:21 PM on February 23, 2018


Everyone else will be in one room. It should be about 40 people.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2018


Questions I'd ask myself in this situation:
Are you calling the organiser or are they calling you? (Ask them to be logged on early in case there are connection hiccups). Do you know their username? Have you confirmed that they're bringing a webcam so you can sort of see the audience, and a mic so the chat will work?
How are you getting the handout to the attendees- bringing it up on your screen and sharing screen, emailing it beforehand, getting someone to print it out for them?

Yeah, a big group will be hard for back and forth dialogue, allow extra time for people to come up to the mic. The organiser can repeat questions for you or type them into the chat if all else fails.
posted by Shark Hat at 2:14 PM on February 23, 2018


A few thoughts:

*Lower your expectations about how great it will be. No matter how great it is in person, it will probably be worse over Skype because of many of the things that enn lays out.

*Perhaps out of your control, but I'd really want to do this with someone who knew how to set up a videoconferencing setup. I've seen everything from a full-fledged professional camera + microphone + sound system (with noise cancellation) to someone who literally just plunked their laptop on a table in the front of the room. This makes a BIG difference, particularly if you're trying to see 40 different people. My experience with latency is that it's not a huge problem, as long as it's not an international call.

*I would aggressively investigate the quality of your internet connection. In particular, many home internet connections are asymmetric, meaning that your download speeds are faster than your upload speeds. This is fine for most of the time (and even fine for most Skyping), but it can mean that you can think that the videoconferencing is going great, but that your video is totally breaking up. I did a Skype interview recently where our interviewee was, basically, totally unintelligible, but I think we were fine for her. Test it with a friend first.

*I would sit somewhere in your house with an non-distracting background, where you are not back-lit. I think a plain white wall looks a little sterile, but you also don't want to sit in front of the family picture wall.
posted by Betelgeuse at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2018


For an audience of that many people it is worth doing a test run some days in advance. And set up the connection 20–30 min early that day too if possible.

Using a wired network connection instead of wireless reduces the number of things that can go wrong.
posted by grouse at 6:42 PM on February 23, 2018


Thanks for the tips. Very unexpectedly, I ended up traveling to the workshop site and teaching in person, so didn't get to try any of these out.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:27 PM on March 26, 2018


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