The vast majority of webinars I get involved with assume that each audience member will login at his or her own computer. This makes it easy to run polls, solicit feedback, and make use of other audience interaction aids. But what happens when you want to webcast your presentation to a group of people sitting together in a room? Planning, setup, and execution become even more critical than usual. Let’s review some of the things to consider in this situation.
1) Eliminate polls. Polling features in webinar products are only useful if each attendee can submit their answer so that cumulative results can be seen. In a group audience format, your attendees can’t answer the poll and an awkward silence emerges. (Seems obvious, doesn’t it? I have seen presenters make this mistake!)
Workaround 1: Fancy audience polling devices can be rented and handed out to attendees in the room. Results are tied into a web display. This takes extra money and setup coordination.
Workaround 2: Conscript someone in the room to be your room monitor. Ask your question and ask for hand raising or clapping responses. Have the room monitor report back the results to you. Clunky and not very accurate.
Workaround 3: Incorporate more “silent challenges” into your presentation. Ask audience members to think to themselves how they would answer the question or deal with the situation. Tell them they can check their thought against your recommendation. Give them a moment of silence before you reveal your answer.
2) Reduce requests for interactive feedback. In “normal” webinars I encourage lots of typed chat. I’m always asking people for their comments as we go along, and I recognize contributions. In a large room, you can’t do that. Plan to be more one-way in your information flow.
Workaround 1: Use your room monitor to look for raised hands and let him/her call on people. The monitor may type in the question/comment, they may repeat it into the telephone, they may invite the person to come down front to ask you the question, or they might use a “runner microphone” to get the audience member on the air.
Workaround 2: Same idea, but hand out slips of paper to the audience and ask them to continually pass their questions up front to the room monitor. You get a lot of paper rustling and distractions this way.
Workaround 3: In a small conference room setting (maybe 15 people maximum), you can let them use a speakerphone in the middle of the table to talk to you.
3) Reduce reliance on screen shots, web tours, and live product demos. Computer applications are designed for people sitting in front of their computer monitors. They are almost always too small and densely packed to be visible to people sitting far away from a front projection screen in a room.
Workaround 1: Reduce your screen resolution before using screen sharing. For an auditorium environment, I would go all the way down to 640x480.
Workaround 2: Use software functionality to zoom your display. Browsers have a page zoom setting. Microsoft Office applications and PDF files do too. Zoom to at least 200% size.
Workaround 3: Crop screen shots into small sections and expand each section on your slide so it shows up big and visible. You can start with the overall picture to establish context, but quickly overlay it with the blowup sections so people can see what you are talking about.
4) Use a wired connection. Most hotels, conference centers, and public rooms rely on wireless for internet connections. They are notorious for having weak or inconsistent signal strength, overloaded bandwidth from too many guest connections, or other problems. Pay for a wired connection to be run to your display computer in the room. It’s money well spent.
5) Watch out for audio feedback. This is a killer. Your audio as the presenter will feed out over the room’s public address (PA) system. If you plan on accepting audio from the room as well (so you can hear what people are saying), you will likely create a feedback loop that produces an ear-shattering high pitched tone.
Workaround 1: Have a tech rehearsal with a dedicated audio engineer on site. Block out two hours for this. Test, adjust, test again. This is no place for amateur rigging.
Workaround 2: Have your room monitor use a computer or telephone headset to talk to you. They are much less susceptible to room feedback.
Workaround 3: Don’t take audio from the room. Have your assistant communicate with you via typed chat messages only. Make sure they know to give you a cue when it is time for you to start your presentation! You can’t hear the introductions or room chit chat.
6) Use multiple computers on both ends. I prefer to have one computer in the room logged in as an attendee. This is plugged into the projection display and nobody touches it. Then you have your room monitor or onsite assistant logged in on another computer as a presenter. He/she can type messages to you and act as a backup if the primary display computer fails. As a presenter, you should always try to have two computers for failsafe backup, but it is also nice to leave one set up to display messages and control functions while the other is purely dedicated to showing your content. It makes it easier for you to concentrate.
That should get you started with some of the most important factors. Good luck!