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

July 31, 2020

20 Tips for presenting online

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:30

Now that we all keep our physical distance from each other because of the Covid crisis, most of our presentations are online instead of on stage. The advantage is that we do not have to travel for them. But the disadvantage is that it is more difficult to stay focused when you attend an online presentation. And it is more difficult to engage your audience when you give the presentation. So let us take a look at 20 tips that I’ve distilled from my experiences as a speaker and an attendee in countless online presentations. Ok, plus a few sub-tips.

I am doing my online presentations in Microsoft Teams these days; earlier we used Skype for Business. But these tips are mostly tool agnostic: it doesn’t matter which tool you use.

Set up the right tools & environment

1.Find a place where you won’t be disturbed.

When you are presenting, you do not want to be disturbed by colleagues, family, pets, ambient noise or anything else. This will help your audience to focus on your story, and help you to concentrate as well. Yes, I have attended presentations where we all got distracted by a washing machine, a child running up or the cat walking over the keyboard. So take the necessary steps:

  • Pick a room that you have to yourself.
  • Arrange with your housemates or colleagues that they leave you in peace during the presentation.
  • Mute your phone.
  • Close the window, if there is a lot of noise outdoors.
  • When I present online from the office, I always book a small meeting room plenty of time in advance, because the open-plan office floor is unsuitable for such presentations.

Of course accidents may happen, as we saw with that BBC correspondent, whose children burst into his office while he was live on the News. But try anyway…

1a. Switch your status to ‘Do not disturb’ before you start

Make sure your status is ‘Do not disturb’ in chat & call tools like Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, when you share your screen. This will tell your colleagues that you don’t want to be disturbed right now and at the same time block beeping pop-up messages, if somebody tries to chat to you in spite of your status. The tool should automatically switch to ‘Do not disturb’ or a similar status ‘Presenting’ when you start sharing. But check to make sure, and adjust where necessary.

Take care if you have different chat tools on your computer, like both the new Microsoft Teams and the old Skype for Business. I’ve heard many people complain about Skype chat pop-ups while they were sharing their desktop in Teams.

2.Make sure you know how the tool works and test it

Presenting online with tools like Microsoft Teams is not very difficult. But you should familiarize yourself with the tool beforehand, if you have never used it or if you haven’t used it for a long time. It may have changed, as these tools evolve continuously.

So test beforehand all the functionality that you want to use: microphone, webcam, screensharing, switching between speakers, playing a video, the Q&A or chat, et cetera. Also play around with some ‘what if’ scenarios: what if you accidentally leave the meeting for example (hint: just open the meeting again). The more important your presentation, the more carefully you’ll need to test everything.

Specifically, Live Events in Microsoft Teams tend to go wrong, if you don’t prepare them properly. Live Events are more formal and more complicated than regular Teams meetings. I have attended quite a few Live Events where the organizers had forgotten to switch on the Q&A functionality when they set up the event.
Please note: do not test a Live Event with the event itself, because when you close the Live Event after your test run, it is closed forever and you cannot re-open it for the actual event. So set up a separate test Live Event with the same settings as the real one.

3.Set up a good microphone

Use for the audio a headset or speakerphone, rather than the built-in microphone of your computer. These devices make it easier for the attendees to understand you. Microsoft is working on noise cancelation using Artificial Intelligence in Teams, but it is better to avoid ambient noise and use a device that focuses on your voice rather than trying to fix it afterwards.

Do a test before an important presentation, if you are not sure of your audio set-up: ask a colleague to listen in a test meeting and give you feedback.

4.Set up your webcam carefully

Sometimes presenters look like they are in a horror movie because of the placement of their webcam.

  • Put the light source (like a window or a lamp) in front of you, so that your face is lit. If the window or the lamp is behind you, you will show up as an anonymous silhouette.
  • Put your webcam at the right height and angle, so that you can look straight into the camera. Don’t film yourself from above or below, because that will make you look awful.

Do a test beforehand at the same time of the day as your important presentation: is it in the morning when the sun may shine into your window? Or in the evening when you have to depend on lamps? When you do a test session, you will see your own video as it is shown to the audience. And adjust where needed, like putting your laptop on a few big books or lowering your chair to get the required height and moving a lamp.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle, in such a way that your face is lit: I am facing a big window.

Prepare your story

5.Keep it short

People find it more difficult to focus on a screen presentation than on a real-life presentation. So keep your story as short as possible. If you had a full hour to present on stage, could you do it in 30 minutes online? I recently heard some presentation gurus (Bob Bejan and David Scott at Microsoft Inspire) compare online presentations to television, while on stage presentations are like theatre: it is different. And they are Americans, so they added that the television audience is used to having a commercial break every 20 or at most 40 minutes…

Don’t make your presentation shorter by talking and flipping through the same number of slides faster, because then you’ll lose your audience within minutes. But try to focus more concisely on what’s important. And take advantage of the opportunities the new medium offers. For example, it is easier to follow a demo, because everyone is close to the screen. And you don’t have to explain at length where people can find more information; just put the link in the chat window.

If you have an informal presentation that encourages discussion, then you may take that full hour, to give the participants the opportunity to interact. Don’t wait until the end for that interaction, because your audience may have left or fallen asleep before they get a chance to ask anything.

5a.Plan a break in long sessions

Anything over an hour is tricky. If you have more to say, for example in an all day training session, give people at least a ten minute break after each hour. Five minutes turns out to be too short for people to grab a coffee, unless their machine is very fast…

6.Make it varied

Especially when your presentation is longer than 30 minutes, make sure it is not just one voice droning on, reading out loud a series of boring slides. That is never a good idea, but online it is even worse. Apparently people’s attention starts to drift after 10 minutes, so something has to happen to wake them up and keep them engaged within that time frame, like some interaction.

  • Put some fun & surprising stuff in your presentation. But don’t go crazy; you want people to understand your story.
  • Structure your story in several short chapters.
  • Switch several times between slides, demo and your video for example. Don’t make it to hyperactive: stick with each at least – say – five minutes.
  • Take questions after each chapter. You expect there won’t be many questions? Prepare some other interaction: ask the audience a question, include a poll.
  • Have two speakers instead of one: each does her or his chapter. Or one is the speaker and the other leads the discussion and handles the questions that come in via the chat. Some interaction between these speakers makes the presentation more lively.

7.Make it extra clear

Because you don’t see your audience in an online presentation, or at least not as well as in an on-stage presentation, it is harder to judge if they understand your story. So you need to make it even more clear proactively. For instance:

  • Include a summary slide with the key points at the end of each section. Just the essentials, no fluff that does not contribute to the story.
  • Make the slides available afterwards, in case they want to check something back.
  • Have a logical scenario in your demo, if you have one.
  • Explain what you are trying to achieve as the user in your demo, not just the details of where you are clicking for instance.

For important presentations, you can practice by yourself: record and re-watch your presentation. Or pull in a colleague for feedback from a different perspective.

8.Get a moderator

When I do an official online presentation, I always ask a colleague to act as moderator, so that I can focus on my story. The moderator keeps an eye on the questions and comments that come in via the chat or Q&A, answering the simple or practical ones and voicing the questions we should discuss in the presentation.

When we do (for now: did) our presentations in the office, my moderator sits in the same meeting room as me, so that we can communicate more easily. I would just look at her or him to see if there were questions. When we are collaborating online from different physical locations, the speaker needs to leave some room – or rather: time  - for the moderator to interrupt between sections of the story. And the moderator should be able to switch on her or his microphone.

When I had the role of moderator for some of my colleagues, they asked me explicitly to interrupt (at the right time of course) with questions. Questions from the chat or questions I came up with myself, anything. They just did not want to talk into a black hole without any interaction.

The moderator can also do take care of the practical stuff: give you a sign when your audio or video drops or when you are sharing the wrong screen, help people to get into the session, switch the recording on and off, et cetera.

At the start

9.Open the session early and test

Open the session plenty of time in advance, so that you can test if your audio, video and shared screen work well, as well as your connection to your demo environment or anything else that you want to include. Take at least 15 minutes, so that you have time to fix or ask others to fix any problems you may experience. More if you are not used to giving online presentations with your tool of choice.

  • Ask an online colleague to help you: can they hear you properly? Can they see your screen?
  • If it bothers you that your attendees can already enter your session and see your preparations, you can set up the invitation to have the attendees wait in the lobby before you let them into the session. At least, Microsoft Teams an Skype for Business have this option; I don’t know about the other tools.

9a. Keep an eye on who is already in the session

Regular attendees may turn up early as well in the session: people who want to be sure that won’t miss the start and who are not entirely sure if the tool is working for them. They are very welcome in my presentations, because it is a nice opportunity for inexperienced attendees to test their set-up. But you do need to be careful what you say and who is listening.

So assume that your microphone is open and people are listening, unless you have checked that your microphone is off. And keep an eye on the list of attendees who have joined, so that you can welcome new joiners and for example switch to English in an international presentation where you have been babbling in Dutch during the preparation.

9b. Start on time

Because you have set everything up and tested it early, you can start on time. Hopefully your audience has also connected early, to troubleshoot where needed, but you cannot be entirely sure they managed to do so.

Start on time anyway, but if there are a lot of people still entering the session, you can spend a bit more time on a general introductory welcome. You’ll want that introduction anyway, instead of diving deeply into the specialist content right from the first minute.

10.Record the session

There are always people who would like to attend your presentation but who are unavailable at that time. And people who would like to watch some or all of it again at a later date. For that purpose, tools like Microsoft Teams have the option to record the session. Such a recording captures all of the audio, video and screen sharing that the attendees in the live presentation heard and saw; the chat is captured separately.

A recording is quite handy, but for privacy reasons, you do have to warn the attendees that you are recording the session. If they don’t want to be recorded, they can keep their video off and keep quiet and ask their questions in another way.

11.Explain the rules of engagement

Even in a real-life presentation, you may want to talk briefly about the housekeeping rules. It is even more important when you have an online presentation for an audience that is unfamiliar with online presentations in general and your tool in particular.

So explain everything carefully, so that they feel comfortable and are able to fully appreciate your presentation.

  • How can the attendees enter the online presentation, for example by clicking a link in the invitation.
  • How can they ask a question, for example in the chat windows and/or by raising their hand, because all of their microphones are be muted.
  • Announce that you are recording the session and tell them that the presentation slides will become available, if that is the case.

For important presentations with an inexperienced audience, I provide such details in the invitation (with a link to additional information on how to use the tool). And then I put up a welcome slide with the title of the presentation, a warning about the recording and a screenshot showing how they can ask their question in the chat window.

I put up this welcome slide early: as soon as we’ve finished testing, so maybe 15 minutes before we kick off the actual session. We also usually have some small talk, mentioning when we will start the actual session and how they should use the chat. This helps the attendees feel welcome, sure that they have found the right place and that everything works as it should for them, both audio and video.

Webinar welcome slide in MS Teams

Start slide of a webinar presentation, explaining how to ask a question via the chat and that the session will be recorded.

12.Mute the attendees

Do you have a large audience of online attendees? Make sure their microphones are on mute. In small, informal presentations, the attendees can mute their own microphone, to allow for flexibility: they can unmute to ask a question or add a comment. But in larger, more formal presentations, set up the meeting with muted attendees.

Make sure your own microphone is unmuted when you start talking! Especially if you have more than one speaker and only the current speaker has activated her or his microphone. Yes, we all know we should unmute ourselves before we speak, but it happens to everyone that they forget it once in a while. One more reason to have a moderator, who can give you the hint to unmute.

During your presentation: Audio

In an online presentation, your audience cannot see you as well as when you are on stage. So your voice becomes more important. You need to set up your microphone carefully, as we already discussed, but also pay attention to how you sound during your presentation.

13.Be clear

Make sure you talk into the microphone, don’t speak too fast and don’t mumble. Ask your moderator or anyone else to give you a hint when you are hard to understand, so that you can tweak your voice when needed. We are in this together!

Also leave some pauses, to allow your audience to think of what you said and come up with a question. This will also allow your moderator to step in with questions that were asked in the chat.

14.Be natural

Avoid reading out loud a written text, because then you don’t sound natural and it will be hard for your audience to stay engaged. Talk to them, like you are in a real-life conversation. You are a real human being, aren’t you, and so are they. So it is also ok to include personal experience and mention how you felt about what happened in your project.

During your presentation: Screen sharing

15. Share what you want to share and nothing else

Determine what you want to show your audience: a slide deck? A demo involving multiple tools? And then select how you want to share it.

In Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business for example, you can share a PowerPoint presentation directly, share a specific tool (like a browser window) or share your desktop: the audience sees everything that you see on your computer. I usually share my entire desktop, because I tend to present a mix of slides and a demo in various Microsoft 365 tools. Then I don’t have to worry about switching what I share.

But if you share your entire desktop, please make sure that you close anything that should not be visible, like private documents and sites with confidential information. If you often get sensitive email, close your mail programme, or share a second screen (if you have it) where you don’t get pop-ups about the mail messages you receive.

When you have more than one screen, like your laptop screen and an additional monitor, share the correct one and remember which screen you are sharing. If you get confused and risk talking about things that are displayed on the wrong screen, just reduce it to one screen by duplicating the original one or simply unplugging the additional screen.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation; an example in Microsoft Teams.

15a.Hide technical pop-ups

Your audience should be able to focus on your story and on what you are showing them. So no technical windows or pop-ups.

In Microsoft Teams for example, you tend to see a small pop-up about the meeting itself on top of the presentation you want to show. Minimize the pop-up, so that your audience can see the presentation properly; this won’t cancel your meeting or anything.

Hide technical pop-ups, like the meeting pop-up in a Teams meeting: minimize it.

Hide technical pop-ups, like the meeting pop-up in a Teams meeting: minimize it.

16. Be aware that your audience may not see exactly what you see

If the network or system is overloaded, there may be a delay in what the audience sees. Usually audio can keep up, but video and screen sharing may be lagging behind a bit. So take care:

  • Move your cursor slowly in demos and wait a second before you click.
  • Don’t move your cursor around too hectically anyway, because that may leave a strange trail of ghost cursors for the audience.
  • If you know this problem may appear (as we did in a training series at a multinational), ask a colleague to participate and check if you aren’t moving too fast.
  • And don’t include crazy animations that may not clunky or downright confusing for your audience if the connection is slow.

16a.Sharing a video requires extra care

You can play a video in your presentation. But be careful. Often the video does not play smoothly for the audience. And in Microsoft Teams, the audience will only hear the video’s sound if you check the checkbox ‘Include system audio’ in your sharing options. Make sure you test it, if you want to play a video.

During your presentation: Webcam for video

Switch on the webcam, so that the audience can see you. This makes your presentation more personal and engaging. You are not a robot or some disembodied voice after all. But you need to set up your webcam carefully, as we already discussed, and pay attention to the camera during your presentation as well.

17.Look at the camera to make eye contact

Most of us tend to look at the screen where we see the video feeds of other people. But if you want to make eye contact with your audience as the speaker, you need to look into the camera instead of the screen. Well, one-way eye contact: they look into your eyes, while usually in a big presentation you cannot see them.

This eye contact is very important, even if it is one-sided: people are a lot more engaged when the speaker is looking right at them. This is especially important when you are just talking to them, video only. When you are showing your slides or your demo on the big screen, and your video is only a small thumbnail in the corner, then you can afford to look at what you are presenting sometimes.

18.Aim for a quiet video image

  • Don’t wear psychedelic stripes or patterns or too much bling bling, because it will interfere. On the other hand, don’t wear the same colour as the background, because you will blend in too much and end up as a ghost.
  • Don’t move too much, because it makes the participants uneasy and it can decrease the video quality.
  • Make sure you have a quiet background, without people walking in it. Blur your background or pick a neutral background in Microsoft Teams. Or if your tool does not have that option, pick a neutral wall in your room. It is fine to show something personal, like a painting or bookshelves in the distance. But the more formal the presentation, the less distracting your background should be. In any case, you don’t want your audience to see your laundry.
Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

19.Don’t forget your camera is on

When you share your screen with your presentation or demo, your video is still visible as a small thumbnail, in Microsoft Teams for example. You may feel unwatched, when you are by yourself in a room, but your audience can still see you. Don’t forget that and do anything that you wouldn’t do in public…

If you fear you will forget your camera and your story is focused on what you share on your screen anyway, just turn off your camera. I also turn off my camera when I am one of many attendees in a large group in an official presentation, where my face is not important. That might save me embarrassment and a messy video feed when I lean away from the camera.

And…

20.Go for it!

It may seem bit daunting, giving an online presentation. But when you prepare your presentation properly and when you get some assistance to help you out before and during the session, you will very probably be fine. If you have obviously made an effort, your audience will be quite willing to forgive any imperfections and improvisations.

In online presentations, you can connect with people with whom you would not have connected in the physical world, because travel would have been too expensive, too time consuming or too impossible in general. You see, on the one hand we are locked down, but on the other hand our world is opened even wider via online presentations.

So just go for it!

 

April 30, 2020

10 Practical tips for conversations in Microsoft Teams

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:56

Do you want to ask a colleague a quick question or give them a heads-up? Even though you are far apart and unable to just bump into them at the coffee machine? Then use Microsoft Teams to connect and have a quick conversation. Always handy, but indispensable now that we have to keep our distance and work from home during the Corona crisis.

Microsoft Teams offers us two functions for conversations:

  • 1-on-1 chat like we have (or some people by now: had) in Skype for Business. Anyone who has Microsoft Teams at their disposal can use this chat for ad hoc conversations with one or more people.
  • A ‘team conversation’ within a separate Teams environment: our digital office that you can create or request (depending on your organization’s policies) for collaboration with your team.

Let’s take a look at ten tips for such conversations in Microsoft Teams (with some associated “sub-tips”).

Tip 1: Use the chat for 1-on-1 conversations

If you really want to have a 1-on-1 conversation, open the chat section in Teams. Yes, in a Team conversation you can specifically address a particular colleague (by @-mentioning her or him -see below). However, all the other team members can see your message as well, if they happen to take a look in the Team. And yes, I have talked to enough people who were confused by this.

Tip 1a: Add a colleague if 1-on-1 is not enough

You can have more people in an ad hoc chat conversation. If the two of you can’t solve you problem, ask another colleague to join the chat via the ‘Add people’ icon at the top right of your chat.

Ad hoc conversations in the chat: 1-on-1 and you can add people

Ad hoc conversations in the chat section of Microsoft Teams: 1-on-1 and you can add people

Tip 2: Add audio and video to your chat

When you are tired of typing to and fro with your colleague, turn your chat into an audio call or a video call using the phone button respectively the camera button at the top right of the chat.

Add audio or video to the chat to talk directly.

Add audio or video to the chat to talk directly.

Tip 3: Ask your colleague if audio is convenient right now

DO NOT just click on the phone or video button when you feel like it, but ask your colleague if she thinks it is a good idea to have a call right now.

Maybe your colleague is at a very noise location or at a location where no sound is tolerated, so she has to move first. Or maybe she wants to grab a headset or a coffee first. Or she may already be in another call. And yes, I have been at the receiving end of such unannounced calls and they annoy me as much as a phone , that always interrupt at a bad time…

Tip 4: Conduct conversations relevant for the team in the Team

Do you have a question about the project for which you have a Team? Or about work for the department that collaborates in a Team? Conduct that conversation in the ‘Posts’ tab of that Team, so that the other – current or future – Team members can also see what is going on. Also, documents attached to this conversation are stored in the right place: in the Team where you collaborate.

Tip 5: @-mention your contact in a Team message

Do you want specific colleagues to see your message, because they may have the answer to your question or may need to know what you explain? Then make sure you @-mention them: type @, start typing their name and select the right person.

If the entire team should see your message, @-mention the Team name. Or @-mention the channel, if it is relevant for everyone who is interested in the channel.

@-mention the person or group (e.g. the channel) who should see the message and respond.

@-mention the person or group (e.g. the channel) who should see the message and respond.

Tip 6: Do not assume your Team message has been seen without an @-mention

Too often I see messages addressed to me like “Hey Frédérique, can you help me with this?”. Usually I see those at least a week late, when I visit the Team to help somebody who did address me properly with @Frederique…

If you do not @-mention a person or a group, then you cannot assume that anyone has seen your message. Especially if these persons do not frequently visit the Team because they are not used to the new tool (like the people I have bene training recently), or because they have way too many Teams to keep an eye on all of them (like me…)

Tip 7: Answer in the reply field, not as a new conversation

In the 1-on-1 chat you don’t have separate fields for responding or for starting a new conversation. But in a Team post, you should answer via the Reply field, so that the conversation remains in one piece. If you respond via the field that says “Start a new conversation”, your answer may get separated from the question, when the conversation continues.

Reply in the reply-field, not in the field for starting a new conversation

Reply in the reply-field, not in the field for starting a new conversation

Tip 8: Made a mistake? Edit or remove your message.

Don’t post an additional version of your message. Just fix the original one, if you made a mistake. Or delete it and start again, to keep the conversation clear and compact. Click the … ellipsis (next to ‘Like’) to get these options. Please note: you can only edit or delete your own message, not somebody else’s.

Click the .. ellipsis to get the option to Edit or Delete your message.

Click the .. ellipsis to get the option to Edit or Delete your message.

Tip 8a: Can’t edit your messages? Change the Team-settings

The option to edit or delete your own messages is governed by a setting at the level of the Team. They should be enabled. If they are not, get a Team Owner to change the settings via Manage Team > Settings > Member permissions > Give members the option to delete/edit their messages.

The Team Owner should configure the settings to allow members to edit and delete theor own messages.

The Team Owner should configure the settings to allow members to edit and delete theor own messages.

Tip 9: Format important messages to make them easy to read

A message in Teams is not meant to be a fancy news article. But if the message is a longer, structure it with for example a bulleted list and key terms highlighted in bold.

Click the Format icon (the ‘A’) below the message field to get the edit options. Otherwise your message gets posted as soon as you hit Enter.

Tip 9a: Give important conversations a title

A title helps users to see easily what the message and then the threaded conversion is about, so they can assess quickly if it is important for them. The title field is also conjured up by clicking the ‘A’ icon.

Click the 'A' icon below the message field to format the text and provide a title.

Click the ‘A’ icon below the message field to format the text and provide a title.

Tip 10: Post a link to the document that you talk about

If you ask for feedback on a document or encourage your colleagues to check out your great presentation, attach the file to your message via the paperclip > Browse teams and channels. This way, people don’t have to search for the file that you are talking about.

Tip 10a: Upload the document before you post your message.

There is an option to upload the document while you are writing the message. But then the document gets stored directly in the channel folder, while you may want to store it in a subfolder within the channel. So if the core of my message is about a file, I make sure I store the file in its proper place first, before I start talking about it.

It does seem like the link from the message to the attached document survives if you move the document into a subfolder, for example. But I am not sure if it always works. In the earlier days, the link used to break if you moved or renamed the file, In those days I learned to think about where I put the file first…

Teams-Post-DocumentLinl]k-ann

Link to the file you discuss via the paperclip, so that your colleagues can open it directly.

If you follow these guidelines, Microsoft Teams is a great tool for remote conversations. If you want to have a real meeting, instead of a chat, please check out the 12 Practical tips for online meetings using Microsoft Teams.

March 31, 2020

12 Practical tips for online meetings using Microsoft Teams

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:40

Now that many of us work from home, to avoid spreading the coronavirus and catching Covid-19, we are fortunate to have options to conduct out meetings online. We can talk with each other with the audio functionality, see each other with the video functionality and see our work with the screen sharing functionality of Microsoft Teams. Let us take a look at 12 tips based on our recent experiences, with some associated bonus tips. They are geared towards Teams-meetings, but most of them also apply to Skype-meetings or other online meetings.

1.Use Teams-meetings to meet online

In the organization where I work, we have both Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams at our disposal. Skype-meetings are more familiar to many users, but we stimulate the use of Teams-meetings. The main reason right now is that Teams-meetings are more robust and stable, especially in these times of overloaded networks and systems. Microsoft Teams does sometimes “wobble” at bit: video gets stuck, presentations don’t load properly. But Teams still works better than in Skype. Some people are using free internet tools like Zoom, but those are banned within the company, because you pay for these “free” tools with your data…

2.Use a headset or other audio device to talk

To get good audio experience, you should use a headset instead of shouting at the standard microphone incorporated in your computer. You can hear better what the speaker says, but most of all: the other participants can hear you better when you contribute. Without a headset, you also tend to get strange echoes. Many of my colleagues use the ear plugs that came with their mobile phones, so try those if you don’t have an “official” headset.

Back in the day when I could be in a meeting room with some colleagues, I often used a speakerphone to have a conference call with the rest of the team; that device picks up the other speakers as well. Right now, I am working at home by myself, so no other speakers to pick up. Nevertheless, I sometimes switch to this device, when my ears get tired of the headset: it has a smart microphone that focuses on my voice.

2a. Check your device seetings if your audio is troublesome

Did you plug in a headset but it doesn’t give you sound? Check the device settings and switch if necessary.

Check your device settings and select the correct audio device and camera.

Check your device settings and select the correct audio device and camera.

3.Mute your microphone

Make sure to mute your microphone when you are not talking, if you are in a noisy environment or if you don’t use a headset. This is particularly important if you are in a large meeting with many participants. The meeting will get very messy, when you hear the washing machines, children, neighbours with power drills or even just coughing from ten participants…

3a.Don’t forget to unmute when you want to talk!

It is easy to forget that you have muted your microphone or to “mis-click”. I am not the only one who has made some very intelligent remarks (well…) only to myself, because I had not unmuted my microphone properly. So unmute and check that you have unmuted before you tell your story.

4.Help each other

We’re in this together, so let’s help each other. Especially now that many people are forced by the coronavirus to conduct online meetings and use tools that they are unfamiliar with. For example, if you think colleagues may be talking to themselves because their microphone is still on mute, please remind them to unmute.

You can check whose microphone is muted in the Teams-meeting via the Participants button: the mute icon is displayed for participants with muted phone.

Mute and unmute your own microphone. And help your colleagues, if you suspect they are accidentally muted: check their microphone status via the Participants button.

5.Use the chat in the meeting

If you cannot talk, use the chat within the Teams-meeting to ask your questions or place your comments. The chat is the way to go, for example, if your microphone does not work, if the ambient noise is bad or if you are in a large meeting where things would get chaotic if everyone just spoke up via audio.

Microsoft Teams meeting chat

Microsoft Teams meeting chat

 

6.Don’t talk at the same time

The larger the meeting, the more you have to pay attention to “speaker management”. In a real life meeting, it is impolite and tricky to talk at the same time instead of waiting for the other participant to finish his or her sentence. In an online meeting, it is worse: the meeting becomes incomprehensible.

Use the chat to ask questions and give short comments. If the meeting is large and important, you should arrange for someone to moderate: keep an eye on the chat and pinpoint the items that need to be addressed via the audio, by the presenter or by the participant. The moderator can then give the floor (i.e. permission to unmute the microphone) to the right person.

6a.Mute all

Weird noises in your meeting from unmuted microphones? You can mute them all from the People pane. This option only appears if there are enough microphones open and there is something to be muted. Please note: everybody in the meeting who has the presenter role (the default for colleagues in your organisation) can use this ‘Mute all’ option.

Teams-Vergadering-Personen-Allen dempen-crop

7.Use video to support non-verbal communication

It is helpful if you can see each other, when you are talking. Especially if you are stuck by yourself, quarantined in your home, you don’t see anybody in real life and you are getting lonely. Switch on the video-option in the Teams-meeting and make sure your webcam is uncovered.

Please note: at the moment a Teams-meeting displays at most four video feeds: the person who is talking and the people who talked most recently. Microsoft is working on showing us more participants (see Uservoice). If you don’t want to see the current and recent speakers, you can also pin specific video image to your canvas, as a participant – this selection is only visible for you.

Update May 2020: Now we see up to nine video feeds, instead of four, in the main screen. You will some more as small thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.

7a.Check your video image

You will see your video image at the bottom of the Teams-meeting, on the right. So you can tweak things like the angle of the camera, your hair and the lighting: avoid sitting with your back to the window or other light source, or you will only show up as a silhouette. And of course this video image will make it clear if you have forgotten to slide back the privacy cover your webcam.

7b.Switch off your video for discretion

Turn off the video, before you do something embarrassing (pick your nose extensively, put your underwear on the clothesline or in extreme cases go to the bathroom bringing your laptop with you… no, I refuse to link to the YouTube video of the conference where that happened…). Just click on the video button again and check that your video image is no longer visible at the bottom of the screen.

8.Blur your background – update: or use a background picture

In a Teams-meeting you have the option to blur your video background (this option is not available in Skype-meetings). This minimizes the distraction for the meeting participants, and it hides the mess you in your room or the sensitive pictures on your wall that you don’t want to show your colleagues. You will find this option under the … menu > ‘Blur my background’. If you want to show something, you unblur it again with another click.

Teams-Vergadering-Videocall -Achtergrond vervaagd-a

Switch your video on and off with the video button. Blur your background for focus; only unblur it if you want to show something.

Update: Since April 14th, Now I also get the option to use a background picture instead of blurring my own home office. Microsoft offers a set of photos and paintings, so I can choose a nice and tidy office or a beach or the galaxy for example. At the moment, there is no button to upload my own images. But you can do that if you navigate to this folder on your computer: C:\Users\[you]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads (please note, most people don’t see the Appdata folder, so go there by entering %AppData% in the address bar). And I have cropped and resized my photos to fit the 1920 x 1080 px that the standard images had, because on my first test the horizon ended up in a strange place.

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Update June: And now we also have a button to add new images to our backgrounds.

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

 

9. Share your screen

If you want to talk people through a presentation, report or demo: share your screen so everyone in the meeting can see what you are talking about. In a standard Teams-meeting or Skype, all colleagues from your organisation have the role of ‘presenter’ and the option to share their screens, but external participants can’t. Just click on the screen icon in the meeting toolbar and select the screen you want to share.

In informal meetings, I prefer to share my desktop as a whole, because then I can switch between applications and the participants can see everything I show.

9a.Share only a specific screen if you work with sensitive information

If you work with sensitive information, be careful of the screen you share. Especially if you share with a large group and/or external participants. In this case, it is not safe to share your entire desktop, because you may inadvertently show a confidential document or a sensitive email message may land in your mailbox in full view. So share a selected screen, like your PowerPoint presentation or your report.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation

10.For larger meetings, separate presenters from attendees

In a regular meeting, everyone can take over screen sharing and everyone can mute all. If your organise a meeting with many and/or unruly colleagues, invite them as attendees with only selected presenters. See the overview of the roles in a Teams meeting. You will find the options for these settings via the link ‘Meeting options’ in the body. Then you can determine who can present: everyone, only you or specific people. You can only select colleagues from your organisation, you have already added to the invitation.

Please note: at the moment, these options are different from the Skype-meeting options that you will find in the ribbon of a Skype- invitation. In Teams you cannot switch off the microphones and video cameras of all attendees beforehand. I you need to keep your attendees more in check, you should set up a Live Event.

Select the presenters via the link 'Meeting options' in the invitation

Select the presenters via the link ‘Meeting options’ in the invitation

11.Lighten the load for your computer and network

Especially video in online meetings does ask a lot from your system. Even more so in Skype than in Teams. So connect carefully, especially when you have to present something in an important meeting: restart your computer if you haven’t done that in a while, connect the network cable (instead of wifi – and negotiate with your house mates that they don’t overload the network just now) and close all windows and activities that you don’t need in your meeting. If the meeting still falters, switch off the video, especially if you are sharing your screen and your face is therefore less important at that time.

12.Look business-like in video conferences

Some of us don’t make as much of an effort to look nice when we work from home. However, if you use the video, you should try to look presentable. Comb your hair, put on a somewhat business-like top (nobody will see your pyjama bottoms…). And be understanding if things turn out a bit less business-like for a colleague, like in this BBC News interview.

Update: Troubleshooting tip to unfreeze Teams

Update April 28th: Teams froze on me a few times recently. But full disclosure: I was using my webcam with a background … on a Windows 7 laptop. Is Teams frozen solid in your meeting and you can’t get any response? Then quit the application from your taskbar: right-click the icon and then select ‘Quit’. Don’t just close the window, because then Teams will still be frozen when you restart it.

Quit Teams from the taskbar in Windows 7 (Dutch version) and Windows 10, to unfreeze the application

Quit Teams from the taskbar in Windows 7 (Dutch version) and Windows 10, to unfreeze the application

If you follow these guidelines, Microsoft Teams is a great tool for online meetings. If you want to just have a chat, instead of a real meeting, please check out the 10 Practical tips for conversations in Microsoft Teams.

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.

June 30, 2015

10 lessons learned from online presentation sessions

Filed under: New world of work — Tags: — frederique @ 23:39

I have given, organized and attended quite a few presentations online. It is very convenient that you can do a session without traveling. But it can be tricky to get your point across to the audience. A lot harder than if you are in the same room with them and look them in the eye. These are some of the lessons I learned and that I would like to share.

I have mostly used Lync and Skype for Business for my online meetings and presentations, but most of these lessons and tips are applicable to other tools as well. I use these tools, for example, for training sessions with clients in other countries, knowledge sharing sessions with my colleagues (which I discussed in a previous post), and I have attended and presented at online conferences. The more formal and important the presentation, the more important that you take heed of the 10 tips below.

1. Test beforehand if the online presentation tool works on your computer

If you have never used Lync or Skype for Business or the Webinar tool before, check if it works on your computer, your network, through your firewall and the firewall of the organiser. In short: check if it works for you in the desired situation.

In our lunchsessions, we had a guest speaker who had never used Lync before. We did a test run a week before his presentation and found out that he ran into serious difficulties when he tried to install it on his computer. So after several attempts to install Lync on his computer or getting it to work in his browser, we just ditched Lync for this meeting and switched to his favorite online presentation tool. We have also had some surprises with the demo of another guest speaker: the demo would only work if he switched on his VPN to get a secure connection to his own network, but that blocked our Skype for Business.

So test it, and do that early enough to be able to switch to another tool if needed.

2. Make sure you know how the tool works

Find out beforehand how you can mute and unmute yourself, share your desktop or your slides or whatever you want to show using the selected tool.

We fumbled a bit when Microsoft changed Lync to Skype for Business. Where has the ‘Share my desktop’ option gone? That was an internal knowledge sharing session, so no big deal. But you don’t want to look for buttons during a digital conference.

So spend some time familiarizing yourself with the tool that you are going to use.

3. Ask someone else to keep an eye on the chat

As a presenter, you want to focus on your presentation: tell your story and show your demo in a clear way. Without any distractions, that doubly distract the audience in an online session.

Sometimes we see that one attendee is having difficulties with the audio. When the presenter is handling the chat window, this stops the flow of the presentation entirely. A moderator can check if the other attendees have lost audio as well and recommend, for example, the audio-less individual to enable sound or re-enter the session.

So ask a colleague or organiser to keep an eye on the chat window, deal with practical questions and relay questions that would get lost otherwise.

4. Ask a colleague to listen in and warn you if anything goes wrong

As an online presenter, your connection with the audience is a lot more tenuous that as a ‘physical’ presenter in front of a live audience. If your audio drops, or if your video drops (your shared screen), than you may not even know that you have lost your audience.

I have attended an international digital conference where a presenter lost his audio. Nobody could hear him anymore. Fortunately I was in the same building as him, so I could run to the meeting room where he was sitting and warn him that he had to take action.

So ask somebody to attend the session online while being in the neighbourhood physically, so that they can easily warn you.

5. In big sessions, mute the attendees

Online sessions with many participants can get very messy: people speaking at the same time in a meeting room is feasible, but in an online meeting it is a disaster. And if any of the participants suffers from some background noise, that will annoy everybody.

I’ve been in plenty of sessions where you could hear someone typing or coughing or talking to another person in the room. This is very distracting and has to be avoided in online sessions.

So if you have many attendees, configure your Skype for Business meeting (or whatever you have) to mute all attendees. If anybody wants to say something, they can use the chat window or you can unmute them for a specific contribution.

6. Use a good microphone

It is more difficult to understand somebody if they are not in the same room, because you don’t get their non-verbal communication. Also, a voice through a microphone is always less clear than a voice in real life.

Many of us have attended online sessions where you had to strain your ears to hear the presenter, if you could hear him or her at all: too faint, bad quality, words disappearing. Very frustrating and tiring.

So if you are presenting an online session, use a good headset and talk right into the microphone of that headset.
If you have a mixed session with online and offline participants, where the participants in the room are also asking questions or making comments, you need something like a RoundTable/Polycom for 360 degrees of microphone. If you just use a headset or the microphone of your laptop in that case, the online participants can not understand what is being said by the offline participants in the room and that is very frustrating.

7. Open the session early and test if it works

Take your time to set up your computer, connect to the network, open the Skype for Business session (or whatever tool you are using) and test if it is really working as you expected.

I have attended plenty of online meetings and presentations where we started late because of technical issues. This is also true for ‘classic’ presentation in meeting rooms with faulty beamers of course. The worst issues were usually in sessions with a mix of online and offline participants, where the beamer, the audio and the shared screen would go wrong independently…

So set everything up at least 15 minutes before you start the session. You need to have enough time to fix problems or ask technical support to fix them for you. Ask a colleague who is not in the same room if they can check if they can hear you and see your screen. If you have a mix of online and offline participants, check if your test colleague can also hear people talking at the other end of the room (i.e. if your RoundTable device is working). If you don’t want your attendees to see your tests (in formal sessions), you can configure your Skype for Business meeting to let attendees wait in the meeting lobby until you allow them to enter your digital meeting room. For informal meetings, I usually let everybody see my tests, because then I don’t have to remember letting them in…

8. Be careful of open mikes

With these microphones, you do not immediately see who can hear you.

We have all heard of politicians’ bloopers when they speak ill or people without realizing that they are doing so in front of an open microphone. Fortunately I have never witnessed any really embarrassing situations in online presentations, but it is still a pitfall. Especially if you are about to start a mixed session and only one colleague has arrived in your meeting room. Be careful what you are gossiping about with that one colleague, because there may be ten colleagues who have just joined online and who are listening in…

So assume that other people are listing and that a recording is running unless you are quite sure that this is not the case.

9. Take into account that the shared screen may be slow

When you share your screen in an online presentation, the visual part tends to lag behind: the online attendees see your cursor move seconds after you have moved it.

I gave a training session to a lot of online participants from all over the world; the cursor was a least 3 seconds slow and I had to be very careful of how I moved my mouse. And we once had a meeting with people that had a slow internet connection where it took even longer; we had to wait for them to tell us if they had actually seen the cursor reach the button we were aiming for – I hope I never have to experience that again.

So move your cursor slowly. Don’t move it around a lot. Just move it slowly to where it has to be. Wait a moment before you click anything. For important presentations with a lot of participants, ask a colleague to sit next to you as an attendee, so that they can signal to you if you need to slow down.

If the session has a video component showing you as a presenter, you need to be careful not to move yourself too much or too quickly either. That would be distracting and it can also disrupt the video signal, which can’t keep up.

10. Don’t forget your online attendees in a mixed session

Mixed sessions can be tricky, with offline participants who are with you in the room as well as online participants who have joined via Skype for Business for example.

Our knowledge sharing lunch sessions always have a mix of participants who are at our headquarters and particpants online who cannot make it to the meeting room. Especially if there are many participants in the room, presenters sometimes forget about the online particpants: they start to point out things on the beamer screen with their hands instead of their cursors for example.

So stick with your computer and your cursor. Don’t move around in the room and point with your hands. Somebody has to keep an eye on the chat to see if there are any questions from the online people, especially if you have muted all attendees. Unmute people who have complicated questions or remarks – talking is easier than typing.

 

For any presentation, you need to prepare your story, prepare your demo, speak slowly and clearly, and use all the regular presentation skills. But if you present to an online audience, you need to do a bit more. I hope these 10 tips will help you with that.

February 28, 2015

Share knowledge? Let’s do lunch

Filed under: Digital Workplace,New world of work — frederique @ 20:23

My colleagues and I are consultants, who usually work in different locations. But we need to share knowledge, as in our domain things change a lot and best practices are not necessarily clear cut. So we organise biweekly lunch sessions, where we get together online and offline, to share our questions and answers, tips and tricks, thoughts and results.

Of course we also use digital means to share knowledge, like Yammer groups for discussion, team sites to share more structured information, Lync for meetings and conversations when we have urgent questions. But we like to get together in an informal setting, to discuss interesting projects, new features that we are finding out about, spiffy solutions to problems that others may also be experiencing, and anything else that is on our mind.

In our department, Macaw Workplace Solutions, we have been organizing biweekly lunch sessions for several years now. Other departments are also starting lunch sessions, and the new organisers asked me for some tips. So let me share my tips and lessons learned concerning knowledge sharing lunch sessions.

Locate offline and online, live and recorded

  • Meeting room for people in the office: We prefer to meet in person, to be able to look each other in the eye as we discuss our knowledge. So we book a meeting room in our headquarters that is large enough to accommodate the people who can make it there.
    • Practical tip: Book the meeting room in advance, even when you don’t know yet who the speaker will be.
  • Lync for people who are elsewhere: When we are at a client’s office, for example, we can join online, via Lync. We are in the New World of Work after all…
    • Practical tip: In the Lync meeting, you can switch off audio for the participants, if there are too many of them and the session becomes messy. I usually ask the participants to mute themselves while they eat (it is a lunch session after all…), and unmute themselves to join the discussion when they have a question or a contribution.

      Invitation to a lunch sessions, including a Lync Meeting. Set the options in the Lync meeting according to your needs.

      Invitation to a lunch sessions, including a Lync Meeting. Set the options in the Lync meeting according to your needs.

    • Practical tip: Try to get a meeting room with a RoundTable videoconferencing device or something similar. We hardly ever use the video part of it, as we look at the presenter’s shared desktop, to see his or her demo or presentation. But we do use the audio part: the participants online can hear everything that is discussed in the meeting room and join in. If audio only comes from the microphone in the speaker’s laptop, the online participants can’t hear the offline participants’ questions and remarks.
  • Lync recording: For people who can’t make it at all, we make a recording of the entire session. These recordings are then shared in our digital workplace environment.
    Start recording in your Lync meeting

    Start recording in your Lync meeting

    • Practical tip: record the session from a computer that is firmly connected to the network and to a power source, to avoid hiccups. I’ve ended up with a disappointing recording when I tried to record the session from a wobbly outside network and I won’t try that again…

Time during our lunch break, biweekly

  • Biweekly: We organise a session every other week. This is a rhythm we can sustain, without taking too much time from the volunteers who present their work and ideas or from the participants.
    • Practical tip: Don’t aim for a frequency that you cannot sustain. Once you have to start canceling sessions because you can’t find enough speakers, your series may fall apart.
  • Fixed day and time: We have a regular schedule, so that people can predict when the next lunch session will take place, even if it has not been announced yet. That makes it easier to join. We alternate between Wednesdays and Thursdays, because there was no single day when every colleague could attend. If we would always pick, for example, Wednesdays, we would exclude some colleagues. Now we know that everybody can at least attend some sessions.
    • Practical tip: Ask your colleagues which days they would prefer (in a survey for example). Consider alternating between two days, especially if you know that colleagues would be unable to attend at all during the single day you pick, because it is their part-time day or because they are working at a client’s office without an opportunity to dial in via Lync.
    • Practical tip: Book the meeting room and the speaker for 30 minutes before the session is scheduled to start, so that you have time to set things up. Then you can fight with uncooperative devices without annoying a dozen or more colleagues who don’t want to sacrifice their lunchtime for delays.
  • Lunchtime works well: Years ago, we organised knowledge sessions in the evenings. But then the group of colleagues grew older, started families, and it became more difficult to claim the evenings for work-related knowledge sharing. If we organise these sessions during working hours, most colleagues could not attend due to project-related commitments. So the lunch break is a nice compromise.
    • Practical tip: Start a bit later than lunch hour. The participants usually want to go to the cafeteria to grab a take-away lunch first (no, we don’t have funding to actually offer the participants lunch during our lunch sessions…). When we started at 12:00 sharp; many participants were still in the queue at the cafeteria and arrived late….

Invite speakers who have done an interesting project

  • Don’t wait for volunteers, but ask: My colleagues don’t often come up to me and proactively tell me they want to present their work at a lunch session. But when I ask them, they are ready enough to volunteer their time and share their knowledge.
    • Practical tip: Try to get backing from your management, so that you can spend official time on this. It does take time to organise these meetings and prepare a presentation (especially for novice presenters), and if it is all your own time, the series may fail.
  • Put out feelers and ask for ideas: I try to keep an eye on the discussions in Yammer and other channels. And I spar with a colleague who has a better overview than I have of the projects that we do and the challenges that we run into. That gives us ideas that we can discuss with potential speakers.
    • Pratical tip: Put ideas in a shared list. If they don’t work out now, they may result in a lunch session later.

Advertise to the core audience and all other colleagues

  • Put up a clear announcement: Tell the prospective audience what they can expect from the lunch session, so that they can decide if it is relevant for them:
    • Practical tip: Include:
      • the name of the speaker,
      • the title of the sessions,
      • an abstract,
      • the type of session (is it about a specific project we did for a client or about the technology or tools?),
      • the target audience (for example, is it a technical session for developers, or a business oriented session that is also interesting for sales people?),
      • the level (can anybody follow the session or is it for specialists only?)
  • Send Outlook invitation to the core audience: I send Outlook invitations to the colleagues in my department and to the colleagues in other departments for who this particular session could be particularly relevant. The Outlook invitation allows these core participants to put the lunch session in their calendar, including the link to start the session online in Lync.
    • Practical tip: Encourage everybody to forward the invitation to all colleagues that they know would be interested. I don’t know all of my 250 colleagues, so I am taking advantage of our people network …
  • Post it on the intranet and/or internal discussion forum: I put the full announcement, including the link to the Lync version of the meeting, in the Events list we see on the homepage of our intranet. In addition, I post the key information in our Yammer network, in the All Company group. This post links to the event page for further details and the Lync link.
    • Practical tip: Post the invitation about a week before the session, and add a reply on the morning before the session to pull it back up to the top of the page.

So let’s do lunch, in person or virtually, and share our knowledge!

March 30, 2014

Roads are blocked? We can still work in our digital workplace!

Filed under: Digital Workplace,New world of work — frederique @ 17:06

The Netherlands hosted the Nuclear Security Summit this week. To safely accommodate and transport 58 world leaders and associate crowds of delegates, a lot of roads were blocked. We were all advised not to commute in this area. So could we all please work from home or anywhere except the offices in the NSS area? Yes, we can, in our digital workplace in the New World of Work!

This is not just a theoretical answer, but an empirical one. As it turned out, a lot of people did work from home during the summit. As a result, there were actually less traffic jams on the roads and the trains were less full than during a normal rush hour…

A lot of people concluded on Twitter and other social media that now we have proven that working from home in the New World of Word does work and we saw a lot of “workplace selfies” of people working from home in a very professional home office, or for example

Digital workplace on a train

…on a train….

Digital Workplace outdoors

… outdoors, grabbing some fresh air (it’s spring time!)…

So how about the messages we get from companies like Yahoo, who are asking their employees to stop working from home and get back to the office? Well, nobody said that the New World of Work implied working from home all the time. We can work anytime and anywhere and we should pick the time and place that suits the job at hand. For me, working from home is often more efficient and productive, while working at our own offices or a client’s offices may be more effective and innovative, depending on the day’s tasks. For example:

  • I work from home when I need to focus on writing documentation, configuring a lot of sites, performing administrative tasks, or something else for which I don’t want to be distracted or waste time on traveling.
  • I go to our office when I want to be inspired by my colleagues and inspire them to be innovative: serendipity works better if you can simply join a discussion at the coffee machine or ask colleagues sitting near you if they have an idea when you are stuck.
  • For working or training sessions with a group of clients, I prefer to be at the client’s location, to make sure we communicate seamlessly. We can look each other in the eye and pick up non-verbal clues, for example, when we are putting together the requirements for a solution, or when we start building and we think that some requirements needs to be discussed on the spot.
  • But when my clients are dispersed over a wide geographical area, then we do our session online and use the video conferencing options to look each other in the eye. It would simply be impractical to gather in real life for more than an initial kick-off or at most a once-a-year joint session with the key people, if even that can be managed given the budget and everybody’s agenda.
  • Usually I start from home and commute a bit later, to avoid the rush hour.
  • And when I go and see a client at their location in the afternoon, I work from home in the morning, to save traveling time.
  • En route to a presentation or meeting elsewhere, I do the last minute preparations on the train, so that I make productive use of my traveling time and have everything at my fingertips when I arrive.
  • And while I am waiting for my train or anywhere else, I can deal with my e-mail, check my to do list, manage my calendar, join in on discussion forums and of course talk to people on my smartphone.
  • Plus of course: I can keep working when something happens on the roads or rail roads, like a Nuclear Security Summit or a bad snowstorm. I work from home, so I don’t get trapped in traffic.

The thing is, that I am and feel responsible for my own work, so I can decide for myself where and how I can perform it optimally. My managers and colleagues trust me to do my job; they don’t have to see me in person do it. And they support me by placing an open and powerful digital workplace at my disposal.

In a way, my main workplace is digital, regardless of where I am physically. At our company and at clients, we use Office 365 in the cloud or SharePoint and Office on-premises versions, from laptops and other devices. Jasper Oosterveld has recently published a series of blogs on Office 365 from mobile devices. Tools in my digital workplace that I use a lot include:

  • SharePoint team sites for projects and ongoing department work, where we share information systematically: one version of the truth. We collaborate on documents with versioning and, for example, assign tasks and issues and track their status using lists. We can always get to these sites, wherever we have an internet connection. When I am traveling light with my iPad, I can still do the basics in my team sites. The screen is big enough to read and work comfortably. Site management and heavy-duty contributions can be a tricky on non-Microsoft devices.
  • Classic Office software like Word, PowerPoint and Excel integrate with these team sites: I can open a document from a team site, edit it, and save it back to the team site as the latest version. The options keep improving: the 2013 version allows for multiple authors to work in the same document at the same time in the browser, so you don’t even need Office on the device you are working on.
  • OneDrive and the sync option in SharePoint 2013 sites allow me to take documents offline (to work on while I am traveling by train for example) and synchronise them back to the site as soon as I am back online. I have some issues with this synchronization, maybe because I have connected too many different clouds to my laptop. But I hope this sync option gets more stable, as it can be very useful to me.
  • Outlook is a very powerful tool to manage my e-mail, calendar, tasks and address book. I have customized it with views, rules, short cuts and other options to suit my needs, and the search allows me find any item. When I am working on a client’s computer, inside their firewall, I can still access the online version. And I when I am away from any “big” computer, I can do all of this on my smartphone.
  • Lync enables me to chat with colleagues and clients who are also on Lync: see if they are available, ask a quick question, and then share my screen with them if I want to show them what I am talking about. A lot of my meetings take place in Lync, because for those meetings it is not worth the travel time and we can work more efficiently in the digital workplace. I don’t have to go to the Instant Messaging client separately, because it is integrated with the rest: it’s one integrated platform.
  • OneNote is getting more and more interesting as a tool to take notes and gather information as a team and share them in a team site: offline and online are integrated seamlessly. And the Office integration allows me also to, for example, add relevant mail messages or contacts to the notes in two clicks.
  • Yammer is becoming the discussion forum of choice for informal announcements, Q&A and brainstorming within the company. So far, it is only partly integrated with SharePoint, but as we move forward, it is getting better.
My digital workplace

My digital workplace: Office 365

Actually, I’ve been doing this for years and not just because of the Nuclear Security Summit that blocked the roads. We talk about the New World of Work or the New Way of Working, but it is not all that new.  But it is getting more and more relevant: easier because our digital workplace is getting better and better, and more and more widespread. We can work any time, any place and on any device and get the job done….

So when people ask if the Digital Workplace in the New World of Work actually works, we can answer with a resounding YES, we have seen it work!

January 31, 2013

Can you share your desktop?

Filed under: New world of work — Tags: — frederique @ 22:25

It’s funny how important some tools are for my daily work. And how I take them for granted… until they don’t work.

Sharing my or your desktop is very useful to me

I collaborate with, learn from and teach information workers. The desktops we work at may technically be those table-like things, but they are mostly our computer screens. So when I want to see what they are talking about, I ask them to share their desktop with me. I don’t have to leave my table-like desktop to see what’s on the computer desktop of people who are in a different building, different city, different country or different continent.

  • When somebody in the business calls me with a strange question about a team site, they can show me where they are in the site and what behaviour they see. This may be very different from what I had imaged when they started talking.
  • When experts gives an interesting presentation, I can follow their presentation and their demo by looking at the screen they share. A picture is worth a thousands words, and a live demo that actually shows you what’s going on is worth even more. And of course I do the same thing when I am the expert giving a presentation or training.
  • In a project team meeting where we discuss a list of issues that need to be solved, we can be in different places and still have the same overview and the same live view of changes we make on-the-spot

For this purpose we used MS Communicator and Live Meeting, and now we use MS Lync.

But it doesn’t work if my Lync and your Lync bite each other

This week I was caught flat-footed when I clicked on the Lync link (huh…) in an Online Meeting invitation and got: “An error occurred”. Help!
And even worse, I was planning an important meeting about a technical subject with that same high-tech partner. So I actually had to waste time travelling to their offices and sit at a table with them, because I could not risk not sharing my desktop with them. How old fashioned is that?!

The problem was that their Lync and our Lync are not friends (ok, I mean: they are not federated). So when I click their invitation link, it opens my Lync, but my Lync does not recognize them.

Fortunately we can keep them apart

To my relief, I found a way to keep those unfriendly Lyncs apart and still see their desktop:  copy the Lync Online Meeting link from the invitation and paste it into a non-Microsoft browser (in my case Firefox and Chrome worked). This opened a web version of Lync, where I could enter as a guest.

Note to self: pasting the link in Internet Explorer does not work, because the Microsoft browser starts to be smart and recognize the Microsoft Lync stuff and then it tries to connect the unconnectable Lyncs.

So that should be the end of this error…

November 30, 2011

Metaphorical interlude: my blackberry is frozen

Filed under: New world of work — frederique @ 23:48

Ok, this sketch is almost a year old. But when I rewatched it recently, it still made me laugh out loud, so let me share it here…

And no, my phone’s not a blackberry, but it still gets frozen….

While we’re at it:

Dilbert.com

Dilbert.com

The New World of Work huh….

December 31, 2010

Last day of 2010

Filed under: New world of work — frederique @ 15:22

This is the last day of 2010. Ok, I am talking about the year 2010. I wish you all an enjoyable new year’s eve – champagne and all – and then of course all the best for 2011!

This definitely not the last day of “twenty-ten”, 2010 as in SharePoint 2010, Office 2010 and what have we. Twenty-ten is full swing: launched officially, used in real life and talked about a lot.

Actually, what is making my day this last day of 2010 is not twenty-ten as such. It is The New World of Work, which allows me to work from home.

We don’t need the latest & greatest technology for that. The client who I work for today is not using twenty-ten, but SharePoint and Office 2003. But I have a laptop that connects me to their network. And we have an agreement that working from home is perfectly fine, as long we get the job done.

In any case, most of my project contacts at this multinational client are based in other countries. So we work in team sites rather than in physical locations. We discuss our projects in Live Meeting rather than real life meetings. We talk via e-mail, communicator and, when things get complicated, over the phone.

Today our conversations mostly pertain to champagne, fireworks and other holiday related subjects. I could easily interrupt that to open the door for the delivery guy who brought me my party ingredients for tonight. But over the last weeks I have been working from home more seriously. The bad weather blocked the trains or at the very least delayed them substantially. And I was extremely pleased to be able to work from home and actually get things done, instead of wasting my time on freezing platforms, waiting for trains that did not arrive.

So I’m all set for the new year, even if we get more snow and ice. And I have interesting things to look forward to in 2011: my client is going to leap from 2003 straight to 2010 in 2011, and we’ll have a huge new productivity platform to conceive, create and get adopted.

Happy New Year!

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