Wowing Your Audience : Tips for online presentation

This post may be way past the deadline, but certainly needs to be written, especially as my point of reference for any future online presentations.

When I first heard about the RSCON 2013 E-Conference, I was awestruck by the idea of 10 keynote speakers, 3 panels, live musical performances and 100+ presentations (by educators from all around the world) convening on a single platform for a straight 72 hours in the virtual world. The entire idea seemed almost surreal.

So when I received an invitation to present at this conference, I was absolutely thrilled. But what do I present? Where do I start? How can I engage my audience? How do I even find audience? These were the questions that drove me along this technological journey. And I can tell you one thing for sure : it was an unforgettable experience!

With that in mind, I’d like use this post to share my observations on what (I think) are some of the most invaluable lessons that can help infuse the WOW factor into our online presentations. This post has been divided into 3 parts : Pre-Training, During Training and Post-Training (as how I see it), and the contents of each part are not in the order in which they need to be carried out; They’re just actions that need to be completed. I do hope it would be beneficial to you as how it was to me!

PRE-TRAINING
A. THINK OF AN ENGAGING TITLE AND ABSTRACT
The first thing that catches the audience eye is the title of your presentation. Think of a catchy title that would instantly grab your readers’ attention. Titles should be between 5 – 7 words; the shorter, the better. Use adjectives that ‘çapture’. The same goes to writing the abstract. The best abstracts are ones that are compact, concise and interesting to read. There is absolutely no necessity to explain your entire presentation in your abstract. Just remember that : your abstract is the first impression of your presentation. If the audience love your abstract, they’d most certainly attend your presentation. These links provide some useful insights on writing abstracts for presentations at conferences:

http://www.cgu.edu/pages/865.asp

http://academic-conferences.org/abstract-guidelines.htm

http://blog.tesol.org/tips-on-writing-successful-conference-presentation-proposals/

And a link for some sample ELT abstracts:

http://narva2008.wikidot.com/abstracts

B. ATTEND TRAINING TO FAMILIARIZE WITH ONLINE PLATFORMS
If you’re part of an online conference, the organizers might be kind enough to provide training to get your familiarized with the online collaborative platform that they’d be using for the conference. Attend at least 1 training, and read up the user guide on how you can make the most of the provided platform. Yes, we’re all busy with work and are probably pressed for time, but these trainings definitely helps familiarize you to the platform. I find that as an online presenter, I’ve got to work extra hard when engaging and increasing interactivity with my audience. For one, you don’t really get to see them face to face (maybe you do, but that would only be in the initial stages of the presentation) and most of the time (80%) PTT – Presenter Talk Time would definitely be high. So, how can we engage our audience,? We need to use some of the features provided by the platform which help increase interactivity, and these are some of the areas that are usually covered in the training.

C. GET REGISTERED, EXPLORE AND DO TEST RUNS OF THE PRESENTATION
This is one of the best things that you can do for yourself as a presenter. Register for a trial version of the platform (Blackboard Collaborate allowed a 1 month sign up), and try to spend some time exploring the platform and performing trial runs of your presentation. These trial runs are really helpful in several aspects: it helps you improvise on the visual aspects of your slides, the timing of your presentation, the intonation of your voice, familiarity with the platform, and most of all, to build your confidence as a first time presenter. You can also decide on how you want to increase interaction with your audience (which can be done by the features provided by the collaborative platform – features where audience can “type” on the slides, “raise” their hands, “smile” to show agreement, “speak” their question into the mic, etc).  Try to get some friends to help out as audience (there seemed to be a limit with my trial version, I only managed to have 3 people being participants) and to give feedback after the trial run. I found that to be really helpful to me. Also, convert your PowerPoint slides to a version that is supported by the collaborative platform. It makes life a whole lot easier as the slides take lesser time to be uploaded back to the platform! 

D. CONTACT AND PRACTICE WITH YOUR MODERATOR
In large conferences such as RSCON, lots of individuals volunteer as moderators. Moderators are those who will help out with the technical aspects while you focus on the presentation itself. I consider myself very very lucky because a lovely person named Deborah Tebovich got in touch with me and offered to be my moderator.I more than gladly accepted! I was so privileged because Debbie was such a passionate, focused and hardworking moderator; Although we were at opposing time zones, we worked things out and managed to practice the presentation at least once. Debbie gave me some wonderful feedback on things I had to improve on, and I could never thank her enough for this.

E. READ EVERY EMAIL SENT BY THE CONFERENCE ORGANIZERS
Sometimes I found my mailbox swamped with emails from the conference organizers. It was overwhelming, but I did my best to read all of them up (I may have missed some). I’m glad I did that!

F. AVOID WORDY SLIDES – VISUAL IS THE WAY
When I was preparing the slides, my husband asked me a question which set forth the wheels of thoughts in my mind: “Are your slides information packed or information based?” My initial slides were full of words and I didn’t realize that. Once I attended several other sessions of the conference (which I highly recommend!), I panicked and realized that my slides were too wordy. I completely changed the layout of my presentation to be more visual (not too much of it though) so that my audience would be able to understand what I’ve got to say by just watching my presentation. Of course, there’s more room for improvement (My slides can be found here)

G. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP
This is something that is most often overlooked by us. We take things for granted; we assume that everything will go smoothly and all will be well. Wrong. Positive thinking is great, but pragmatic thinking is even better. Technology can sometimes stab you in the back at the most unexpected time! So, always remember : backup your PowerPoint slides, and save it in different medias (thumb-drive, external hard-disks, Google drive). Better still, send a copy to your moderator. This really really helps to avoid problems of missing or dysfunctional PowerPoint slides. I’ve learned this from some very painful experience in my past. Trust me on this one!

H. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE YOUR PRESENTATION
The organizers do their best to promote our presentation, but that really isn’t enough. As a presenter, we’ve got to do whatever we can to promote our presentation and reach out to the audience. I’m sure you know how to : facebook, twitter, posting on various ELT SIG groups on facebook, and most of all, doing it consistently; people tend to forget, it’s good to always remind them!

DURING TRAINING
A. BE PUNCTUAL

No matter how many times you’ve practiced, it’s always good to be punctual. In this case, ideally try to enter the room about 30 minutes prior to scheduled presentation time. This would give you time to load your slides, test the sound and microphone, deal with sudden fixes, and welcome and get to know the audience as they “enter” the room. Just imagine having a home, and having guests streaming in. Wouldn’t it be wonderful being a graceful host?

B. PRESENT WITH ENTHUSIASM
Some of us may not be privileged with high-speed broadband in our areas, in which we’re advised to disable the video function for the presentation to be smooth flowing. This means that our audience may only be able to hear our voice. It can be a challenge sometimes. Our voice, then becomes, THE tool of our presentation! Show the audience that we’re enthusiastic about the presentation; try to sound as natural as possible (I had some keywords written, but because I practiced several times prior to the real thing, I was a lot more confident and learned how to modulate my voice to hold my audience attention). Practicing really helps.

C. CONTACT DETAILS
Remember to add your contact details on the last slide, extending support to audience in the case where they’d like to experiment with the ideas from your presentation.

POST TRAINING
RE-WATCH YOUR PRESENTATION – I found various areas that needed improvement when I re-watched my presentation. Next time, perhaps?

And there you go! I hope this post would be helpful when you decide to conduct a webminar. If I’ve left anything out, please feel free to add them in the comments section, and it’ll be my pleasure to re-edit the post.

Reflecting on the 6th iELT Conference 2013 – The True Story

Funny how one can feel rather disconnected at an international conference. Perhaps it was my fault to have set high expectations on the outcome of the event. Or, the fact that this was my first time at the iELT Conference which was rather small-scaled (having always attended the MELTA and ASIA TEFL conferences previously,  also the awesome KOTESOL Conference in 2012 where I met loads of wonderful, wonderful teachers (Alex GrevettAnne Hendler,  Josette Le BlancMike Griffin,  John Pfordresher, Gemma Lunn and many more, whom I immediately connected to!).

Hmmm……and to think of it, iELT Conference 2013 was something I PHYSICALLY attended. It wasn’t the virtual world. After all, I had the chance to interact with people face to face!

Yet I felt the “vacuum” in a lot of these interactions. It was almost like people reciprocated because they “had to”, or “for the formality of it”. No additional questions to build that professional relationship. Or maybe I had to be a plenary speaker for that, eh?

Absolutely ironic that I feel a great sense of belonging to a wonderful group of teachers whom I’ve never met, but have been providing such amazing support as we walk hand in hand in our own individual teaching worlds (my warm hugs and shoutout shoutout goes to Chuck Sandy, Barb Sakamoto, Icha, Kevin Stein, Rose Bard, Ann Loseva, Vladka, James Taylor, Barry Jameson and a whole lot of other lovely educators).

Oh, no no, don’t get me wrong here. Now, I DID meet a number of remarkably committed, passionate and intelligent individuals but the number was small. Wish I had met more!

So, thinking back (sorry for plagiarizing the word, Mike!) –> I came back with mixed feelings….

For these reasons (which are EXTREMELY judgmental and entirely mine):

  •  The most interesting workshops were the ones with the simplest, most workable ideas (Anthony Newman’s “Discovering your voice as a writer”, Woo Yee Saik’s “The voice of influence : Be a Trim Tab”, Moses Samuel’s “Inter-textuality in the classroom”, Derek Straat’s “Verb Tenses Live”,  to name a few). Simplicity DOES count.
  • The plenary speakers are well-read and very experienced in the ELT field, but whose speeches were B.O.R.I.N.G.  Nothing new, nothing enlightening. Good topic (professionalism and networking), but mostly very very theoretical (eg : what are the types of professional dev? DUH!). To my utter dismay, one of them just “read it out” completely from the notes. TEACHERS WANT OPTIONS FOR DEVELOPING. not theory. grrrrrrrrrrr. MOVE FORWARD, FOLKS. Learn a thing or two from the delightful Scott Thornbury or Ken Wilson.
  • I believe I missed an interesting plenary talk by Anthony Newman on “The 12 features of highly Effective Teachers”  ; my workshop was right after it!
  • Some interesting workshops were held during the same session, forcing me to regrettably chose one over the other.
  • Some teacher trainers (appointed by the Ministry of Education) were not as warm as I thought they’d be, rather arrogant and all puffed up (imposing their ideas in groupwork during workshops, walking in and out as they liked, not wanting to “listen”). Hmmm, makes me wonder how they work with teachers in school? Knowing Malaysian school teachers who can sometimes feel rather intimidated and small when working with “white people” (sorry for the rather racist comment but it’s really true!). Amusingly, their professional profiles weren’t that impressive. I ABSOLUTELY agree with Mike Griffin about avoiding to sit beside white guys above 40!
  • The international plenary speakers were very friendly. The local ones didn’t smile back when you did. They looked through you.
  • No one tweeted about anything.
  • Nothing much on tech-savvy teaching.

MY CONCLUSION : We need to move forward and keep up with the current ELT trends in Malaysia. The overall conference gave me the feeling that I “stepped back in time” in the world of ELT.

P/S : I had some great time during group discussions.

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Oh, and not to mention that the after conference street food exploration was explosively delightful! :)))))

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