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

November 30, 2015

Skype for Business – I cannot work without it

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:26

I work on different locations, with colleagues and clients who are not always at the location as I am. When I want to discuss something with them, I use Skype for Business. Recently, we got an error message instead of the conversation we wanted. That made me realize just how much I depend on this tool in my daily work. Let me explain what I like about it and how I use it.

In a previous post, I discussed some tools Office 365 offers for collaboration. Tools like Office 365 Groups, SharePoint Online and Yammer allow us to write things down and share them with a group of people, who can read them and contribute to them. But sometimes you just need to talk to somebody about the problem at hand.

But isn’t that what telephones are for? Yes, but I prefer Skype for Business, which is also part of Office 365, as a tool to talk with colleagues and clients. Why?

Chat: direct but not necessarily immediate

First of all, when my phone rings, I have to pay attention to it RIGHT NOW. Yes, the all caps shouting is intentional, because that’s what a phone call feels like to me: somebody shouting at me that I have to drop everything and listen to them at that very moment. I can either pick up the phone or ignore it, no middle ground.

But if somebody uses the chat functionality of Skype for Business, I can finish my sentence, save my work, grab the cup of coffee I have been aching for and then pick up the conversation. Those 5 minutes are almost always perfectly acceptable.

Of course this advantage does not apply when people immediately use the call functionality in Skype for Business. But if you want to talk to me, I highly recommend that you send a chat message first, to check if this is a convenient time to talk :-)

Presence status tells me if you are available

Skype for Business does not just give a busy signal like a phone when you are already on it. If you want to talk to someone, the presence status in Skype for Business tells you if that person is already in a call, or in a meeting according to his or her Outlook calendar. If they have stepped away from their computer (and for how long) or if they have left their digital workplace altogether (i.e. if they are offline). If they are busy or do not want to be disturbed.

This allows you to either pick the colleague who you can ask your question now, or to pick your moment to contact a particular colleague.

Switching from written chat to a voice call

All this typing chat messages is well and good, but sometimes it is easier to just speak with someone, and listen to what they have to say. That is the call functionality of Skype for Business. This is a bit like a phone, but in a Skype for Business call I can invite additional participants as we speak (literally…)

Share your screen

While you are talking via Skype for Business, you can also show what you are talking about. This is the killer functionality for me… I work in a digital workplace, so a lot of what I want to discuss is on my screen or on your screen: functionality on Office 365 that we are discussing, a list of open issues, examples in a presentation…

I have been in telephone conversations where it turned out that we were not talking about the same thing at all, because it was so hard to describe verbally what we each saw on our separate screens. I want you to point out what you see and what you significantly do not see. I want to see it for myself.

This is what recently broke down for me. We wanted to discuss some functionality in Office 365, and the Skype for Business meeting on my interlocutor’s computer would not go beyond the message that she had to connect a microphone – this was not a laptop with a built-in microphone. Even though we talked over a phone line and only wanted to use Skype for Business for screen sharing. Aaarrghh! It was so frustrating not to be able to look at the same screen. Fortunately then someone found a microphone at her office. She plugged it in and, even though we did not use it, she could finally get the Skype for Business meeting to share the screen.

I can’t live without Skype for Business? That is an exaggeration. But I can’t work without it. It is a great tool that helps me collaborate effectively and efficiently.

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.

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