blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

October 31, 2019

How we organize our knowledge sharing sessions – 15 practical tips

Filed under: Adoption,New world of work — frederique @ 23:54

For several years now, I have been organizing lunch sessions for our department at the consultancy company where I work (Macaw): as consultants, we share the lessons we have learned in the projects and we share our research. And now I am also involved in a series of internal webinars we are organizing for the Office 365 champions at a construction company, as part of a user adoption programme. Based on these experiences, I have gathered a list of 15 practical tips for such knowledge sharing sessions.

In short:

  1. Pick relevant topics and relatable speakers
  2. Plan ahead on a regular schedule: “save the date”
  3. Provide the details at least a week before the session
  4. Publish the schedule
  5. Allow people to attend online
  6. Set up the online session carefully: mute the participants for large audiences
  7. Explain how it works beforehand
  8. Prepare the session. Does it still work as expected?
  9. Hook up half an hour before it starts
  10. Arrange for a host / moderator
  11. Don’t forget your online audience
  12. Make a recording
  13. Follow-up immediately afterwards: links to the materials
  14. Follow-up on questions soon afterwards
  15. Ask for feedback and improve continuously

Let’s now take a look at the details…

1.Pick relevant topics and relatable speakers

At the moment, the webinars for Office 365 champions that we are organizing are still rather “top down”: the champions haven’t had much training yet, so we tell them how they can use Office 365. But the people presenting these sessions have been working at that company for at least a year, so we know what challenges they face. Many of them already know us, and they know how to contact us.

We pick topics that people have often asked about, for example: how can you make your life easier by organizing online meetings, managing your personal files in OneDrive for Business, sharing notes in OneNote. We do not present a specific Office 365 tool and explain the buttons, but we start from a business scenario and show how to do it using Office 365.

At a later stage, we hope to invite some of the champions to show how they use Office 365 tools, their real-life examples of solutions that could be applicable for others too. This would be even more relevant for the others in the company than a story from “the IT guys at headquarters”.

We also keep that in mind in our own lunch sessions among consultants. We want to share knowledge. Not listen to sales pitches that have no relation to our work. Usually one of our colleagues shares her or his findings. Sometimes we have a guest speaker from another department or from a partner company. But when we invite a guest, we always stress the fact that we want to talk about the real experiences and challenges. Not the glossy sales brochure.

2.Plan ahead on a regular schedule: “save the date”

As soon as we announced our plan to organize a series of webinars, people started to ask if we could please schedule ahead, so that they could save those timeslots in their agendas. And they asked if we could please commit to a regular schedule, the same day and the same time, to make it easier to plan around the webinars.

Also important: book a meeting room at the same time, so that you know you have a place to set up and conduct your session. I’ve had trouble a few times with the first session of a series, when I was already too late to book my favourite room…

It took some trial and error to come up with the final day and time for the webinars: Tuesday afternoons, 13:00-14:00. We scheduled the first session separately, to gauge the response. That first timeslot turned out to be too late for a significant number of people. We had not done a poll or checked everyone’s agenda’s beforehand, because we invited 180 people and that would have taken ages… So we explicitly asked the invitees to give us feedback on the proposed time and then we finetuned based on their feedback. Once we were sure of the optimal timeslot, we send them a recurring invitation for the rest of the year.

These webinars for Office 365 champions, as well as the lunch sessions we have amongst ourselves as consultants, take place every other week: often enough to have a steady flow of knowledge sharing but not so often that it becomes a burden for the organizers as well as the attendees.

3.Provide the details at least a week before the session

Immediately after we sent the ‘save the date’ invitations for the webinars, people asked when we would give them the details on the subject and everything else. Even though we had told them in the ‘save the date’ invitation that we would make it more specific a week before the session. So I suppose this was really important to them…

We do not have a fixed programme for the webinars, because we want to talk about the subjects that the Office 365 champions want to learn about. We have asked them in a poll in Yammer, we ask at the end of the webinar and we ask around in general. But we make sure we decide on the details at least a week before the session, and we update the invitation.

I have to admit that for the lunch sessions between colleagues I am often late with the invites. But that is a much smaller group, of savvy and seasoned colleagues. They can handle the uncertainty better than  the large group of Office 365 champions who are still finding their way in the world of Office 365 and the newly launched adoption programme.

4.Publish the schedule

For the webinars, we have sent all the people on the Office 365 champions list an Outlook invitation. Similarly, my colleagues have received an invitation for our lunch sessions. But other people may be interested in joining; these knowledge sharing sessions are not secret. So we:

  • Publish the schedule for these sessions in a calendar on SharePoint. In Modern SharePoint, users can then add an event from the calendar to their own Outlook agenda.
  • Post a message in Yammer, announcing the event and encouraging people to request an official invitation if they want to be included in the Outlook invites. With of course a link to the SharePoint item that has all the details.
SharePoint event calendar and event details

Events calendar in Modern SharePoint. You can add an event to your own Outlook calendar.

5.Allow people to attend online

Of course it is great to join in an on-site meeting, to have some coffee together, catch up and share knowledge. However, physical meetings are difficult to schedule if people are working in different locations: we cannot spare the time to get together often enough. Fortunately, we can have online sessions with Skype for Business and now Microsoft Teams.

The webinars we organize for the Office 365 champions are online only. We conduct them in Skype for Business. Yes, we know that Skype is old school and will soon be replaced. But at that company Skype for Business is still the primary tool for chat and online meetings, the video conferencing rooms are tuned for Skype, so that is what we use for the webinars too. Later we will transition to Teams live events.

Our consultants lunch sessions are hybrids. Usually half of the participants are at our offices, together in a meeting room. And the other half joins online, via Microsoft Teams. The presenters try to be present at the office. But quite often that is not possible and the session is presented remotely.

6.Set up the online session carefully: mute the participants for large audiences

We have our consultants lunch sessions in a regular Teams meeting and the participants make sure they mute their own microphones. That works just fine, because usually we have about 20 participants and they are all savvy and used to online meetings.

But for our webinars we invite 180 Office 365 champions, who are not yet fluent in online meetings. We know that we won’t see everyone in each session, but we usually see 50 participants logged into the meeting and we know some people join as a group in a meeting room. We don’t want to hear all of these participants talking all at once in our session. So we set up the Skype-meeting with some options:

  • Select the presenters. All the others in the session are attendees
  • Mute the attendees. Only the presenters’ microphones are active
  • Disable video for the attendees. Only the presenters are visible on video. The main reason is that we are experiencing some network issues and we don’t want to overload the line. In addition, this avoids potential privacy issues, if the participants don’t like their video recorded.

The attendees can ask their questions and add their remarks via the chat. So we were very careful not to disable the chat in the Skype meeting options…

7.Explain how it works beforehand

We invited our Office 365 champions to a webinar in Skype for Business, when they had not received any training in that domain yet. Actually, our first webinar was about online meetings. But we had enough experience with our users to know that not all of them would immediately grasp what they would have to do to participate in the webinar where they would learn everything…

So we did the following:

  • Create a Quick Reference Card and help pages detailing how you can participate in an online meeting.
  • Include in the invitation text a summary of how to join an online meeting, including the tip to use a headset for better audio, with links to the QRC and help pages. Also that their microphones would be muted an that they can ask questions via the chat.
  • Include a screenshot of the chat on the start slide of the presentation, so that people could see where to ask for help if their audio wasn’t working.
  • Explicitly state in the invitation and on the start slide that we will be recording the session, including the chat. This is important for privacy reasons. Our privacy officer was very clear on the point: we can only include the chat, which displays the names of the users participating in it, if we have clearly stated beforehand that we would do so.
Sart page webinar slides,  with screenshot of the Skype-chat in the meeting

Start slide of the webinar presentation (in Dutch), explaining how to ask a question via the chat

8.Prep the session: does it still work as expected?

The more formal the session, the more carefully you’ll want to prepare it and make it fool proof. Our internal lunch sessions between colleagues are quite informal and small scale. We don’t need to prep each and every detail of a demo, because our colleagues will understand it anyway. For the more formal webinars, where it is important that a large group of untrained people understand what we are presenting, it is even more important to prepare thoroughly:

  • Slide deck with an introduction and summary slides listing what we will demo demos.
  • Smooth demo script. Determine a scenario that clearly demonstrated your point: what you should do and tell, and where you should click.
    Is this a scenario that you have demonstrated before? Then it is important to check shortly before the session that everything still works as expected. In Office 365 in particular, things just change… 
  • Clean demo environment. For example: clean SharePoint site or Microsoft Teams environment with demo content, a OneNote notebook with demo content showing of the mail features, a clean set of synchronised SharePoint libraries and OneDrive folders in Windows Explorer (clean it up beforehand…). A test folder in Outlook, so that you don’t show your real email. Set your Outlook agenda to show only today, so that you don’t show your entire agenda. Close all applications and browser tabs that you don’t need. Open the applications that you need for your demo scenarios.
  • Shipshape computer, connected to the power grid and network. Reboot it in time beforehand, to make sure it doesn’t start talking about updates or freezing because it is getting overloaded during the presentation.
  • Mute your phone and make sure your Skype  / Teams is set to “Do not disturb”.

9.Hook up half an hour before it starts

Even for our informal lunch sessions, we always book the meeting room half an hour early and start hooking it all up. This way, we can solve any remaining issues before the official start, to avoid wasting everybody’s time

  • Does the beamer or screen in the meeting room work?
    If your session is online-only, you don’t have to worry about this. But if (part of) your audience is on-site, you need to reserve enough time to hook up that screen. Too often the cables are missing or the remote control is not working or the lamp has blown up or something. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong with these things…
  • Can you open the online meeting in the meeting room?
    This often causes problems: you need to invite the modern conferencing tools directly in the same meeting, otherwise the tool won’t recognize the meeting.
  • Is the presenter’s shared screen visible?
    Can the participants see the presentation slides and the demo environment? This can be messy if you want to demo something on a different laptop, or if you are working on multiple screens.
  • Does audio work and can the participants hear the presenter clearly?
    This often goes wrong. Sometimes the presenter’s audio device does not connect properly. And sometimes some of the participants can’t hear anything (Is the sound on your computer switched on? Try leaving the meeting and re-entering)
  • Is the video working?
    And do you know where the camera is, and is there not too much garbage in sight of that camera?

10.Arrange for a host / moderator

The presenter is busy talking and showing a demo. In an on-site session, it can be handy to have a moderator, who keeps an eye on the audience and on the time. In an online session, a moderator is indispensable. When I present a webinar that has to be just right, I even like to have two colleagues assist me:

  • Help to hook it all up
    It is very helpful to have an on-site host who can help hook up the screen and everything, particularly if the presenter is online while part of the audience is on-site in a meeting room, or if the presenter is inexperienced. This host also rounds up the on-site participants who are still loitering at the coffee machine when we want to get started and closes the door.
  • Start and stop the recording
    If the presenter it too immersed in the story to remember, the moderator can take care of these practicalities.
  • Moderate the chat
    In our webinars, the chat is the only way the attendees can interact with the presenters and each other. Answer individual questions and determine which questions should be addressed by the presenter. We have had some very lively chats in webinars, where the moderator was glad to get some help from a second colleague…
  • Act as demo partner.
    When we demo Office 365 functionality, we often want to show interaction: when we talk about online communication, you need to see someone responding to my chat message; when we discuss collaboration on notes, you need to see someone else typing on the OneNote page I am showing. Preferably two different people, to make the scenarios richer.
  • Keep an eye on the shared screen and audio
    If for some reason, the shared screen is no longer visual or the audio drops off, somebody has to notify us quickly. I like to have a colleague monitoring the session from a different room or wearing a headset. The moderator usually is in the same room with me, and he won’t notice if the audio disappears…

11.Don’t forget your online audience

Having an online audience is more tricky than an on-site audience that you can look in the eye. It is even more tricky if you have an on-site audience in the room with you, as well as an invisible online audience. You need to be careful that you take into account what your invisible online audience experiences.

  • Before you start, check if the online audience can see and hear you
    Preferably before the official start of the session, but in any case: don’t just start talking before you know that you will be heard.
  • Only point with your cursor
    Don’t point with your finger at the screen, wave your hands or otherwise use gestures.
  • Don’t walk away from the microphone.
    When I present for a live audience, I tend to move around. This may mess up the audio experience for the online audience, if you are not hooked up to a portable microphone. It is better to sit down and stay near the fixed microphone.
  • Move your cursor slowly
    The online tooling (Skype or Teams) cannot keep up with fast movement, especially if the network is slow.
  • Allow time for questions and ask if there are any
    When you are in a meeting room, you will notice that people look puzzled when they get lost. You don’t know if your online audience is still alive, unless you ask them. So include a short break between sections of your talk or demo, to ask if there are questions about what you just showed.

For me, the advantage is that the webinars for the champions are online only. And our lunch sessions among colleagues usually have at least have of the audience online (and I almost always join them online myself…). That makes it easier to remember the online audience, and we optimize the sessions for an online experience. However, I have experienced in other knowledge sharing sessions how bad it can be for online participants: sessions where they forgot or did not manage to hook up the audio, organized in a meeting room where you could not hear the questions from the audience in the room, where the presenter was pointing at things we could not see… Very frustrating…

12.Make a recording

There are always invitees who would love to participate in your sessions but who cannot make it at the scheduled time. And there may be participants who would like to hear & see the session again. Fortunately the Office 365 tools for online meetings (Skype for Business and Teams) allow you to make a recording of the session.

You can then publish the recording. The best place in Office 365 now is Stream. We have a Stream-channel for our webinars. At Macaw we also have a channel for the recordings of our lunch sessions.

Make sure the participants know you are making a recording and publishing for anyone in the company who wants to see it – that is the default for knowledge sharing. In a webinar, you only hear the presenters and only see a video of the presenters. But, at least in Skype, the chat is also included in the recording and there you see the names of those who participate in it.

13.Follow-up immediately afterwards: links to the materials

Participants often like to check back the presentation, watch the recording again, share it with colleagues, take action on what you mentioned. And often they cannot find the materials easily by themselves. So make sure you follow up on the session with links to the relevant materials, preferably as soon as possible, on the same day. We do the following after our webinars.

  • Publish the recording in the appropriate channel in Stream.
  • Publish the slide desk on the information portal about Office 365, on the page that also links to the webinar channel in Stream/
  • Post a link to the slide deck and the recording on Yammer.
  • Send an email to everyone I the Outlook invitation, with links to: the recording, the slide deck, the Yammer group where they can ask further questions, relevant help page in the information portal.
    Yes, email is very old school, but we want to make sure that everyone has the information at their finger tips and we know that for many people email is still the best way to reach them. Many of the participants have asked if we could please email them the links to the recording and the slide deck. We will try to wean them off email later…

14.Follow-up on questions soon afterwards

We try to answer as many of the questions as we can during the knowledge session. But there are always some questions cannot be answered right away, because we are running out of time or because they are too complex.

At Macaw, we know where to find each other in Teams or in Yammer, so we post our follow-up there. The Office 365 champions at the construction company do not have these reflexes yet. However, we try to reach them via a Yammer group, which we promote at every opportunity. We post our answers in that Yammer group, so that everyone can see them and respond to them.

The key bottleneck is that we need to make more time to take note of the open questions from the chat (we copy the chat history into the OneNote notebook of the adoption team), figure out the answers and post them. It all takes time and energy, but it is important that we follow up and not leave our participants with open questions.

15.Ask for feedback and improve continuously

As always, nothing is carved in stone. Situations change, insights change. And there is always room for improvement.

Especially with online webinars, where you don’t look the audience in the eye, it is important to ask for feedback. Are we talking about topics that are relevant to them? What do they want to hear about? Do they like our approach? Is bi-weekly the right frequency? Could they understand the explanation or was it too fast? Did they learn anything new or was it too slow and obvious?

So far, we have successfully held a poll in Yammer, asked the participants in the webinar chat and asked individual participants one-on-one afterwards. Our general request for feedback in Yammer did not yield much; maybe people don’t want to commit themselves in public. At a later stage, we will set up a survey in Microsoft Forms.

In any case, we will keep organizing our knowledge sharing sessions, and we will do our best to keep improving them.

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